Talking Movies

November 5, 2018

From the Archives: Quantum of Solace

Another dive into the pre-Talking Movies archives pulls up from the depths Daniel Craig’s pointlessly reviled outing; whose problems derive from the strike everybody knew about but affected not to.

Daniel Craig returns as James Bond in Quantum of Solace, which features a lot more action than Casino Royale. It doesn’t quite measure up to its mighty predecessor, but it does offer an intriguing re-invention of Bond’s 1960s foes.

The opening establishes that this is less the talk-talk-bang-bang formula of Casino Royale and more bang-bang-bang-BANG! The opening sequence is an incredibly frantic car-chase, after which we have to put up with the godawful Jack White song and sleazy silhouettes of naked ladies, but then it’s straight into the interrogation of Mr White, the villain Bond caught in the final scene of the last film. This scene features a shock so good it took me 20 minutes to get over it. 20 minutes of action as Bond travels to the Caribbean for a vicious Bourne style fist fight in a bathroom and a boat-chase. It really is surprising just how much action Marc Forster, the director best known for Stranger than Fiction and Finding Neverland, has crammed in here. He only comes unstuck with an aerial dogfight which comes perilously close to returning the franchise to Roger Moore style campiness but just avoids doing so, and only displays art-house leanings with a silent shootout in Vienna wonderfully sound-tracked only by the opera the characters have been attending.

The sheer preponderance of action over meaty drama though makes this film feel like a victim of the writers’ strike. Paul Haggis’ rewrite of the script was infamously delivered mere minutes before the strike began last year and it could have used more character beats, even though there are great unexpected moments throughout. There is an absolutely priceless gag involving Bond’s distaste for cheap accommodation amid many other quotable lines. The CIA is depicted as morally bankrupt, willing to turn a blind eye to any right-wing dictatorship’s human rights abuses if there’s a plentiful supply of cheap oil to be had, while a high-ranking member of the British Government is revealed as a member of Quantum, Haggis’ reinvention of super-villain organisation Spectre. The rights to Spectre are owned by Irish writer/producer Kevin McClory so Haggis has re-imagined Bond’s 1960s foe as a network of ex-spooks and shady businessmen and politicians. This film pays further homage to the 1960s with the death of a major character, a score which evokes the softer, and more sinister, moments of John Barry’s scores, and a desert lair in Bolivia which is pure Ken Adam in its set design.

Mathieu Amalric, a god of French cinema, is slightly underwritten as Quantum villain Dominic Greene but makes his ‘environmental philanthropist’, who’s secretly plotting to seize control of the natural resources of Bolivia, a worthy foe for Bond. Olga Kurylenko, who graduated from taking her top off in French films (Le Serpent) to taking her top off in Hollywood films (Hitman), miserably fails to escape the shadow of Eva Green’s Vesper. Her character has an intriguing back-story but the parallels between her search for vengeance and Bond’s search for closure evaporate due to her inert screen presence.  The best relationship is between M and Bond who develop almost a fraught mother/son bond by the end. Craig is once again magnificent as Bond; physical, but also offering glimpses of the inconsolable grief behind his driven pursuit of Mr Greene. This is a good film and well worth seeing, and the consistently brutal action combined with some clever conceits left unresolved suggest that Craig’s next Bond film may surpass Casino Royale.

3/5

May 7, 2018

From the Archives: Shine A Light

A dive into the pre-Talking Movies archives finds a review of a Rolling Stones concert movie directed by Martin Scorsese, and hopefully their upcoming gig in Croke Park is better…

The first thing to be said about this film is that it is ear-piercingly loud, so, just like any real gig then. The next thing to be said is that this is a fine concert film, until the gig starts. Scorsese, doing his best Woody Allen impression, is driven demented by the Stones’ refusal to give him a set-list until the last possible moment, making it impossible for him to plan his shots… This sequence, shot in black and white, is endearing and funny and is lamentably ended when Bill Clinton introduces the Stones who roar on stage to ‘Jumping Jack Flash’. Then they play 3 songs you’ll never have heard of but then Jack White appears as a guest, hurrah! And sings a duet on a terrible song you’ll never have heard of, hum. But wait, ‘Tears Go By’, it’ll just be hits for the rest of the gig right? Sadly it won’t.

It is a full 90 minutes into the film before the first recognisable song since ‘Tears Go By’ appears and it is the sublime ‘Sympathy for the Devil’. It is miserably followed up by a duet with Christina Aguilera before the Stones exit on ‘Start Me Up’. They then encore with ‘Brown Sugar’ and ‘Satisfaction’ before leaving the building, allowing Scorsese a very silly CGI aerial swoop up from the theatre to observe his beloved NYC. The title track ‘Shine a Light’ appears as the soundtrack for the closing credits. This film is wretched beyond belief because the Stones set-list aggressively ignores their hits. Instead we are trapped in utter boredom, unable to wander off for a pint as you do at real gigs when the band gets obscurantist.

Boredom is a dangerous thing, which makes you ask bothersome questions. Is Keith Richards wearing a Pirates of the Caribbean badge while modelling homeless chic? Why is the front row entirely made up of Aryan buxom blondes? How does poor old Charlie Watts, the most grounded of the Stones, put up with the others? Could Mick Jagger look anymore of an idiot buzzing about the stage like a demented fly when he’s pushing 65? Why does Jagger persist in trying to sound like a black Southern blues singer when guest Buddy Guy shows just how brittle his affectation really is? Would backing singer Lisa Fischer win the cleavage of the year award if TV3’s much missed Popcorn was still running? Why can I only hear the saxophones amidst the general feedback and amplification? Is Richards’ guitar even plugged in?!

Scorsese intercuts the gig with absorbing snippets of TV footage of the Stones over the years. Not the smartest of moves though as the gig is so boring that by the end you begin to think you’ve been sitting in the cinema since the late 1960s….

1/5

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