Movie Review ~ Cinderella (2021)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A modern movie musical take on the classic fairytale of the orphaned girl with an evil stepmother. Our ambitious heroine has big dreams and with the help of her Fab Godmother, she perseveres to make them come true.

Stars: Camila Cabello, Nicholas Galitzine, Billy Porter, Idina Menzel, Pierce Brosnan, Maddie Baillio, Charlotte Spencer, Minnie Driver, James Acaster, James Corden

Director: Kay Cannon

Rated: PG

Running Length: 113 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review:  Back in the pre-pandemic days, when a film by-passed theaters and went straight to the home video market (‘straight-to-video’, if you will) that was the sure sign it was a turkey. It was the equivalent of a high-profile movie not screening for critics.  Either the studio was trying to cut their losses and cash in on consumers having to buy their product in order to see it or they simply didn’t find the financing the justify paying the marketing costs to open the film in theaters across the country and foreign territories.  Nowadays however, you can never really tell what a movie skipping a theatrical run could mean so it’s never wise to assume anything.  I’ve seen just as many great films (and not unexpectedly great, either) that didn’t bother to go to theaters because they know that during this uncertain time they’d net more viewers/receipts if the film was released on a streaming/subscription service.

That’s why I didn’t give much thought when I read that Pitch Perfect writer (and writer of #2 and #3) Kay Cannon’s new version of Cinderella that was set to be released by Sony got snapped up by Amazon after its original studio dropped it.  I mean, you can hardly go wrong with Cinderella, one of the all-time-most-loved fairy tales from French writer Charles Perrault that has been made countless times and used as the basis for any number of modern storylines.  Disney made it an animated classic in 1950 and then worked its magic again with a breathtaking live-action remake in 2015.  I’m not entirely precious about the piece so I say, go for it if you think you can put your own spin on it.  Add in some appealing performers and a few modern tunes while you’re at it and you can call it a Cinderella of your own.

Why then, is this Cinderella, such a giant pile of, well, cinders?  I’ll go back to what all of the judges say on every singing competition on television: song choice.  It’s all about the song choice and that’s the first mistake. Cannon’s version of the fairy tale makes a critical error, causing it to run right off the track, never finding its way back.  Opening with a group of well-dressed peasants recruited from the local Orange Theory furiously “and-a-5-6-7ing” their way through Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” (begging the question, why are they a part of the Rhythm Nation?), it’s our introduction to Cannon’s reimagined world where our Cinderella (Camila Cabello) doesn’t want to marry a prince so much as open up her own dress shop.  If only her horrible “Material Girl” stepmother (Idina Menzel, Frozen) and stepsisters (Maddie Baillio & Charlotte Spencer) would let up on her and treat her like an equal.  Also feeling misunderstood is Prince Robert (Nicholas Galitzine, The Craft: Legacy) who is being forced by his father (Pierce Brosnan, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again) to not only marry but stand firmly in the line of succession, much to the chagrin of his ready and willing younger sister (Tallulah Greive) who is denied that right because of her gender.  The long-suffering Queen (Minnie Driver, GoldenEye) can only look on with silent disapproval…mostly because she doesn’t get a song until so close to the end I was honestly worried Driver was going to be denied the chance to sing.

Instead of the King throwing a ball to find a bride for the Prince, this time around it’s the heir’s idea for the big dance in hopes that he’ll find the mystery woman who so enchanted him when he snuck out of the palace for a day to walk among the common folk.  I can only assume Cannon got an adaptation of Aladdin mixed up with her Cinderella script because this “day with the rabble” development is strangely similar to that film but at least it puts more autonomy in the youngsters of the film and gets us back to Cinderella needing all the furnishings for her big night.  She gets decked out by her Fabulous Godmother (Billy Porter, Like a Boss, in the film so little you’ll be shocked considering how much he shows up in the advertising) and is sent to the ball in a glam gown, glass shoes, and accompanied by three mice turned men, including executive producer James Corden, Into the Woods, who inexplicably shows up for absolutely no reason whatsoever.  I think you know the rest…home before midnight, if the shoe fits you must marry it, etc., etc.

Amongst all the familiar beats are placed a truly bizarre selection of familiar songs (and two new ones) that feel either on the nose or shoehorned in…like the filmmakers took what they were given and asked no questions.  I almost choked on my drink when Queen’s “Somebody to Love” began…how many more times can this be used in a movie for this same purpose?  Is this the honest best they could come up with for a song to use to show that the prince longs for something more?  While Menzel sings the heck out of “Material Girl”, it’s such an obvious number for the Stepmother/sisters that the creativity seems to be countered by a feeling of laziness.  The best part of the movie are the proclamations from the Town Crier (Doc Brown) written by Cannon and composer Keith Harrison Dworkin – fast talking wordplay that has the energy the rest of the film sorely lacks. 

All of this might have worked a tad better with more convincing leads.  I’m not sure if this was meant as some launching pad for Cabello to transition into acting but this is not the type of showcase that bodes well for future projects.  The singing is also underwhelming, with Cabello either slightly under pitch or with a voice so throaty you expect a legion of frogs to be following her around.  I’ve liked her music quite a lot in the past but if this was the first time I heard her I wouldn’t want to investigate further.  As the romantically tortured Prince, Galitzine might make sense as a TV royal but for film he comes up short. Let’s not even go too far into the total lack of chemistry between the lovebirds.  To the great shock of no one, it’s Menzel and Porter who look the most comfortable both selling their songs and interpreting them, but Porter is also given a bit of stinker song to roll with.  At least the gorgeous gown he was given by Ellen Mirojnick (The Greatest Showman) looks stunning.

I wish everyone involved with this had the ambition to be more fun with turning this into a full-on jukebox musical.  If they were going to go for it, just go for it and don’t hold back.  Unwilling to commit to a certain type of sound or mood, the choices are all over the map and that leaves this Cinderella dancing totally on its own and without any partner to come calling.  If you’re looking for a musical update to a chestnut that works like gangbusters, I implore you to check out 2020’s Valley Girl – here’s a film that understood the assignment and went all the way across the finish line with its selection of hits.  This Cinderella can’t scrap together a decent playlist.

Movie Review ~ Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: Five years after the events of Mamma Mia!, Sophie will find out more about her mother’s past, including how she fronted The Dynamos, started her villa on the island from nothing, met each one of Sophie’s dads, and raised a daughter.

Stars: Meryl Streep, Julie Waters, Christine Baranski, Amanda Seyfried, Dominic Cooper, Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgård, Colin Firth, Lily James, Alexa Davies, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Jeremy Irvine, Josh Dylan, Hugh Skinner, Cher

Director: Ol Parker

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 114 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: I happened to be in London in January of 2000 and was able to catch the original London cast of the smash hit, Mamma Mia! It was one of the most exciting nights I’ve had in the theater, not just because the show was enormously entertaining but because the audience just went absolutely nuts for it. I was in the highest point of a steep balcony and watching grown men and women shaking their groove thing to the finale megamix without fear of falling was a sight to behold. In touring productions over the past 18 years I’ve seen the same effect, audience members that came in looking glum but leaving with a crazed look in their eyes.

2008’s Mamma Mia! was a surprise hit, though anyone that didn’t expect a global phenomenon starring one of Hollywood’s most A-list stars to rake in some kind of cash likely isn’t still working in the industry today. Released in the summer months when people were tired of explosions and CGI, it was a perfect (if slightly underwhelming to me) summer antidote to the loud and noisy fare ticket buyers were bombarded with. If anything, it showed us how star Meryl Streep (Hope Springs) could turn even the silliest project on paper into a fully-formed performance with feeling.

When a sequel was announced, I was fairly surprised. After the box office success of the first one, it’s not that a sequel was unheard of, just unexpected. Hearing the gang was getting back together again with a few new additions was interesting and with new songs from the ABBA catalog being added the stage was set for a repeat of the fun frivolity the original almost outright encouraged.

Look, times are hard enough as it is so when movies like Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again are released there’s a certain amount of goodwill restraint I believe critics should utilize because while this is far from an equal, this prequel sequel has its heart and, often, voice in the right place.

So now we reach the point where we can’t go on without a few spoilers, but nothing that hasn’t already been hinted at by the trailers.

It’s been five years since about-to-be-wed Sophie (Amanda Seyfried, Love the Coopers) invited three men she thought might be her father to a taverna on a remote Greek island without telling her mother they are on their way. Comic and musical hijinks were the result and the film, like the stage musical it was based off of, ended with a spandex and platform heeled finale set to ABBA’s Waterloo. Now, Sophie is re-opening the hotel one year after her mother’s death while harboring a growing secret of her own. As the guests arrive, the film bounces back and forth between the present and 1979 to see how Donna (Lily James, Cinderella) came to the Greek fantasy island and made a life for herself.

It’s rough going for the first twenty minutes or so as the film dives headfirst into exposition and a few lesser known ABBA songs. A strange musical opening set at Oxford has valedictorian Donna doffing her cap and gown for a lycra bodysuit to bump and grind through the sunny but silly When I Kissed the Teacher along with her fellow Dynamos, Rosie (Alexa Davies) and Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn). It’s an off-kilter and gangly way to introduce us to Donna and the film stays safely in idle mode until she lands in Paris and meets young Harry (Hugh Skinner, Les Miserables) before heading off to Greece where she’ll sail away with young Bill (Josh Dylan), and fall in love with young Sam (Jeremy Irvine, The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death).

While we’re getting this backstory, the events taking place in the present aren’t always as sunny. Sophie and Sky (Dominic Cooper, Dracula Untold) are halfway around the world from eachother and experience the stress of a long-distance romance (explained in a sketchily sung One of Us) and other dads Harry (Colin Firth, Magic in the Moonlight) and Stellan Skarsgård (Avengers: Age of Ultron) can’t make the re-opening due to business commitments. Tanya (Christine Baranski, Into the Woods) and Rosie (Julie Walters, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool) do arrive and try to brighten Sophie’s spirits when a storm threatens to derail the proceedings.

It’s all set to a songlist from the ABBA canon, many repeated from the original film to lesser results. The old songs new to the sequel are clearly B-sides for a reason, though Baranski and Walters have fun with Angel Eyes. The biggest success is likely Dancing Queen, a highlight here just as it was in the first outing. It’s a huge production number set on land and sea, you’ll wish all boat rides had such excellent choreography.

The overall problem I had with the movie is that it feels like a project crafted around the availability of its returning cast. The movie was shot in London and plenty of it is done on green screen to recreate the Greek setting. Add to that a handful of cast members that feel like they filmed their scenes in several days (no surprise many did) and the film feels a bit clunky and unkempt. That being said, it takes about 90 minutes for the film to find any kind of rhythm or shape and that just happens to be the time that Cher (Mermaids) stops by.

It’s widely known Cher turned down the role of Tanya when produces approached her about it but we should all be glad she signed up to play Ruby, Sophie’s grandmother (try not to do the math when you consider Cher is only three years older than Meryl Streep), a Las Vegas entertainer not much for family gatherings. Not long after Cher shows up and sings a bang-up version of Fernando, none other than Streep herself appears in a scene/song you’ll need some tissues for. It shouldn’t have, but it honestly caught me off guard how moving her performance was and it serves as a wistful reminder of the below the surface heart the rest of the movie was missing.

Writer/director Ol Parker (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) might not improve on the formula introduced in Mamma Mia! in terms of cleverly blending songs in with the action but his film marks a vast improvement visually. He lets the camera take in more of the large action and dancing scenes, instead of quick cuts around the dancing he makes good use of the widescreen vistas. Like the first film, expect Greek tourism to get a bump from the lovely displays here.

 

The Silver Bullet ~ Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Synopsis: The film will go back and forth in time to show how relationships forged in the past resonate in the present.

Release Date:  July 20, 2018

Thoughts: It has been a decade since the boffo stage hit Mamma Mia! danced its way to the big screen and made millions but it was a bit of a puzzlement when this sequel was announced.  Where did the film have to go and how many more ABBA tunes could be culled from their catalog for the characters to sing?  This first look at Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (ugh, that title!) has arrived and, I warn you, it’s fairly alarming.  The sun drenched Greek setting is back as are most of the buoyant cast members…but someone is noticeably absent from most of the merriment.  Meryl Streep…or to be more specific, Streep’s character.  Sure, Streep (Hope Springs) is present in flashes but she’s not front and center like the original film and that’s inspired people to ask if the filmmakers killed her character off.  Not sure how I feel about that and even more unsure if it’s wise to make this a prequel when the back story was such a flimsy throwaway in the first place.  Director Ol Parker (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) has brought on Lily James (Darkest Hour) to play Streep in her twenties and landed Cher (Mermaids) to play her mother (!!!).  No question I’ll be lining up to see this but if it’s going in the direction I think, I’m already blue since the day I first saw this trailer.

Movie Review ~ The November Man

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The Facts:

Synopsis: An ex-CIA operative is brought back in on a very personal mission and finds himself pitted against his former pupil in a deadly game involving high level CIA officials and the Russian president-elect.

Stars: Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Olga Kurylenko, Eliza Taylor, Caterina Scorsone, Bill Smitrovich, Will Patton

Director: Roger Donaldson

Rated: R

Running Length: 108 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review:  It was only a few short weeks ago that my review for the trailer of The November Man appeared on this website, indicating my cautious optimism that this late summer action flick might be former 007 Pierce Brosnan’s welcome return to his James Bond/Thomas Crown roots.  Sadly, it serves only as a reminder that Brosnan’s cooly effortless action hero is a relic of the past, replaced by the aging and overly earnest titular character projected for audiences around the globe to (hopefully) not see.

I wasn’t aware of this until after the fact, but The November Man is based on the seventh book in a series of spy novels by the late author Bill Granger.  A pet project for Brosnan that finally moved into production after almost a decade of delay, it’s puzzling that the actor would opt to play a character so similar to Bond yet bring to the role none of the efficiency he lent the legendary spy in four films.

Instead, Brosnan makes the actors fatal mistake of attacking a deeply flawed character without really giving us a reason to understand why he’s all rough edges and fisticuffs.  Surely the script by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek (Oblivion) doesn’t seem to mind that it has more plotholes than open road as it bounces from one bland location to another detailing a plot concerning Russian government officials and a possible US cover-up of war crimes.  It all feels like, well, a bargain paperback knockoff of a James Bond plot.

Now I’m not saying the movie doesn’t have some modicum of potential because as an audience member I’ve been craving a tidy action film with political intrigue and near-miss car chases through international locations for some time.  Yet The November Man’s execution is so unruly and unpleasant that it feels like a chore to sit through before you’ve had a chance to get to the bottom of your popcorn.

As sexist as the James Bond franchise has been criticized for being, it pales in comparison to the icky abject misogyny on display here.  Women are treated as mere objects and I think at one point every woman with a speaking line is dragged by her arm around a locale by a gruff man that calls her a word unprintable in full but begins with t and ends with wat.  As brutal as the violence is in the film (and with gunshots to the head and knife wounds galore the film is bloodier than necessary) it’s no match for the distasteful chauvinism on display.

If I’m being honest, I’ve never found Brosnan to be that impressive of an actor.  Though he filled the James Bond suit nicely (in GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough, Die Another Day), Brosnan’s Bond wears thin on repeat viewings and the actor hasn’t found much success in his non-Bond endeavors.  I can see why tackling a character slightly to the left of Bond would be appealing but Brosnan’s teeth gnashing solemnity comes across as more him spoofing his spy thriller past than cutting new ground.

With his Sean Bean looks and Keanu Reeves acting chops, Luke Bracey makes for a lackluster adversary with the young actor unable to make even the simplest of dialogue seem convincing.  He looks too young to be a junior colleague of Brosnan’s well-worn spy and wearing an alarming amount of eyeliner he comes across as an indie-rocker more than the CIA killer he’s supposed to be playing.  An unfortunate subplot involving Brosnan and Bracey locking horns over items in their personal life adds fifteen minutes, one cat, and two extraneous characters to the proceedings.

I’m going to assume supporting players Bill Smitrovich and Will Patton got together and decided to pull one over on the hair team by asking that they switch hairstyles.  Smitrovich’s curly pate is swapped for Patton’s bald chrome dome…and that’s the only good idea either actor brings as both grow fatter as the film drones on from chewing the scenery.  Smitrovich in particular should be absolutely ashamed of himself…as should director Roger Donaldson for casting him.

If there’s one bright spot to the movie, it’s certainly Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace) as a woman in need of saving by Brosnan’s off the grid spy.  Though the role is painfully lacking any sort of feminist assuredness, Kurylenko at least makes the wounded bird she’s playing somewhat sympathetic.  Chased by a female assassin (who looks like she was plucked from playing the lead role in a Moscow production of Funny Girl), Kurylenko gets the one true pleasing moment of the film as she brings one character to a nice dénouement.

Still, the film simply cannot overcome its wet noodle leads and a series of plot contrivances so ludicrous that I briefly considered breaking my spoiler-free rule and analyzing them further here.  Yet that would give the film more time than it’s worth because The November Man will be in the discount bin at WalMart before November 2014 is over.

The Silver Bullet ~ The November Man

november_man

Synopsis: An ex-CIA operative is brought back in on a very personal mission and finds himself pitted against his former pupil in a deadly game involving high level CIA officials and the Russian president-elect.

Release Date: August 27, 2014

Thoughts: Though he’s now three films removed from the James Bond series and a sequel to the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair is stalled in development hell, Pierce Brosnan is back on the big screen in full action hero mode with The November Man.  Looking like a nice mix between his 007 days and a Mr. Crown adventure, I’m disappointed that the slick but lengthy trailer seems so full of spoilers but am willing to reserve judgment on the overall experience based on Brosnan’s track record.  Reteaming with his Dante’s Peak director Roger Donaldson (Cocktail), and joined by former Bond babe Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace) and newcomer Luke Bracey, we won’t have to wait until November to see if Brosnan’s still got what it takes.

The Silver Bullet ~ Love is All You Need (Den skaldede frisør)

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Synopsis: A hairdresser who has lost her hair to cancer finds out her husband is having an affair, travels to Italy for her daughter’s wedding and meets a widower who still blames the world for the loss of his wife.

Release Date: May 3, 2013

Thoughts: Danish director Susanne Bier has already worked in the US on several projects and her latest film, Love is All You Need looks to be an interesting blend of romantic comedy between two people that hate each other and a “stranger in a strange land” drama.  Pierce Brosnan and Trine Dyrholm are our leads, starring as parents meeting for the first time as they travel to Italy for the wedding of their offspring.  Even though the set-up sounds familiar, here’s hoping that Bier’s usually gentle touch is used to its full advantage.  The sights looks gorgeous and I’m already intrigued by the stars – let’s see if it all adds up to a trip worth taking.

Bond-ed for Life ~ Die Another Day

The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and with the release of Skyfall I wanted to take a look back at the 22 (23 if you count the rogue Never Say Never Again, 24 if you count the 1967 spoof of Casino Royale) films that have come before it. So sit back, grab your shaken-not-stirred martini and follow me on a trip down Bond memory lane.

The Facts:

Synopsis: James Bond is sent to investigate the connection between a North Korean terrorist and a diamond mogul who is funding the development of an international space weapon.

Stars:  Pierce Brosnan, Judi Dench, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike, Rick Yune, John Cleese

Director: Lee Tamahori

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 133 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  With three films under his belt, Brosnan’s next venture into Bond territory was delayed slightly to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Bond films and the 50th anniversary of the publication of author Ian Fleming’s work.  Going into the release day, there was a lot of hype around the movie concerning the far-out premise and the casting of an Oscar winner as a sort of female Bond.

I remember seeing Die Another Day the morning it was released in Dublin, Ohio while I was on tour with a show and how much I was looking forward to it.  At the time, I found the film to be overblown, overlong, and finally tipping the scales to gimmickry after avoiding it for so long.  I’m not sure that I’ve seen it again until recently when I was surprised to find myself enjoying what would be Brosnan’s last time onscreen as James Bond.

After a prolonged prologue set in Korea, for the first time we see Daniel Kleinman’s opening credits incorporating film elements into his design and accompanied by Madonna’s admittedly one-note but fitting theme song.  (Madonna herself also becomes the first theme artist to cameo in a Bond film in a small role that nevertheless sticks out like a sore thumb).  Changing up the credits was a benefit as it had to show some passage of time in a creative way.

There’s a lot of mumbo jumbo in the way of a plot concerning cloning, diamonds, and a very large ice palace owned by wealthy magnate Gustav Graves (Stephens, son of Maggie Smith, who obviously inherited his mom’s way with a clipped one-liner) but it’s best not to get too involved with the more silly details happening in the film.  It’s best to enjoy what the gigantic budget bought for us in the way of impressive special effects and well maneuvered stunt sequences.

Brosnan is his usual dapper self, not letting a 14 month stay in a Korean prison hold his superspy back for long.  Dench is tart per usual but she must have had other work at the time because her role is noticeably shorter than it was in The World is Not Enough.  Pike is nicely ensconced as chilly Bond girl/MI6 agent Miranda Frost and Yune makes the most out of his underdeveloped diamond acne-d villain.  If someone can explain to me why Michael Madsen shows up I’d be interested to hear!

That leads us to Berry who is introduced ala Ursula Andress in the first Bond film, Dr. No.  When I first saw the film I wasn’t impressed with her but over time the role has grown on me and it’s easy to see why there was buzz about her character Jinx getting her own spin-off but, alas, like Michelle Yeoh in Tomorrow Never Dies it was not meant to be.

Bringing on yet another new director, the producers went with an Australian and Tamahori brings a smart sensibility to the film.  He keeps the light stuff light and the full throttle action on high alert so even if the film is a little too long for its own good it still doesn’t feel like its overstaying its welcome.

Some feel that Die Another Day is a lesser title in the world of 007 and even if it is…there’s a lot to like in it that would keep even the casual action moviegoer interested.  Brosnan’s four Bond films are the most consistent of any of the previous Bonds so some credit should go to him for taking good care of Bond in his tenure.

Bond-ed for Life ~ The World is Not Enough

The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and with the release of Skyfall I wanted to take a look back at the 22 (23 if you count the rogue Never Say Never Again, 24 if you count the 1967 spoof of Casino Royale) films that have come before it. So sit back, grab your shaken-not-stirred martini and follow me on a trip down Bond memory lane.

The Facts:

Synopsis: James Bond uncovers a nuclear plot when he protects an oil heiress from her former kidnapper, an international terrorist who can’t feel pain.

Stars: Pierce Brosnan, Judi Dench, Sophie Marceau, Denise Richards, Robert Carlyle

Director: Michael Apted

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 128 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Like Sean Connery and Roger Moore before him, it would take Brosnan three attempts to get into the true groove of James Bond.  Moving easily through two entertaining films (GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies), Brosnan would be given his best material in The World is Not Enough and even with the presence of the worst actress in the history of the series, it’s a film that is a nice return to form for our top British agent.

Director Apted makes a wise choice to open the film with not one but two of the most thrilling chase sequences that Bond has been presented with as he escapes from an assassin’s bullet in Spain and then pursues another assassin through the waterways of London.  It’s twenty minutes of spectacular action capped by another strong opening credits courtesy of designer Danny Kleinman and rock group Garbage.

Bond is sent by M to protect the daughter of a recently deceased oil tycoon that M has a complicated history with.  Elektra (Marceau) is a headstrong heiress that escaped a kidnapping plot by a terrorist (Carlyle) that may have returned to collect the money he lost out on.  It’s not long before Bond has taken extra good care of Elektra all through the night and deeper secrets are revealed that will put Bond, M, Elektra, and the world in whole lot of danger.

Sounds pretty good, right?  And it is good up until the point when Bond makes a detour and meets up with Dr. Christmas Jones, a nuclear scientist played by Richards in one of the most ridiculous examples of bad casting you’re likely to see in a Bond movie or any other film.  Everything about the actress is wrong from her costuming to her delivery of basic dialogue.  The feeling comes across that Richards had never seen a Bond film so isn’t in on any of the jokes happening around her.

Though she threatens to sink the whole movie, even she can’t crash land this ship that stays admirably on course thanks to Apted’s skilled direction and another strong performance by Brosnan.  He’s a no fuss no muss kind of actor and that works well when playing the dapper and cooly confident 007.  What’s nice about this entry is a beefed up role for Dench that allows the actress to get in on the action and out of her stuffy office.  She also gets to deliver a swell face slap to a deserving party.

Marceau does well in the surprisingly complex role of Elektra…a character that comes more mysterious as the film progresses to entertaining results.  Though Carlyle’s murderous thug is oblivious to pain courtesy of a lingering bullet in his brain, I wish the script allowed for more ways to exploit this condition when he goes head to head with Bond.  I think the film could have dialed back on a few extraneous characters that seem to be there only for bad guys to use them as target practice.

This was the final film of Desmond Llewelyn, the actor who played gadget man Q for nearly four decades.  Killed in an auto-accident shortly after the film was released, he nevertheless gets an eerily perfect sendoff as he passes the reins to Q 2.0 Cleese.

The nineteenth Bond film could have easily tipped the scales into gimmicky territory but it wisely comes forth with a well developed story featuring characters that don’t feel like familiar retreads of other films.  It’s more than enough to entertain Bond purists and new fans alike.

Bond-ed for Life ~ Tomorrow Never Dies

The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and with the release of Skyfall I wanted to take a look back at the 22 (23 if you count the rogue Never Say Never Again, 24 if you count the 1967 spoof of Casino Royale) films that have come before it. So sit back, grab your shaken-not-stirred martini and follow me on a trip down Bond memory lane.

The Facts:

Synopsis: James Bond heads to stop a media mogul’s plan to induce war between China and the UK in order to obtain exclusive global media coverage.

Stars: Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh, Götz Otto, Teri Hatcher, Judi Dench

Director: Roger Spottiswoode

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 119 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  Pierce Brosnan’s debut as James Bond in GoldenEye made a strong case that the James Bond series still had life left in its bones so was anyone really shocked when MGM fast tracked another entry in the franchise?  After taking a six year break before GoldenEye, the studio was eager to get their cash cow back up and running so Tomorrow Never Dies was moved into production on a fast clip.

Surprisingly, the film that resulted was a competent entry that didn’t have the look or feel of a movie that had little thought put into it.  In fact, when I revisited it again recently I was surprised that I liked it more now than I did when it was released in 1997.  Maybe coming off of GoldenEye I had too high expectations for the 18th (!) Bond film but I wasn’t a fan of the picture when I first saw it.

Time has been kind to Tomorrow Never Dies, especially considering that so much of it depends on media and technology that has been left in the dust by newer forms of communication and culture.  This adventure finds Bond squaring off against a mad media tycoon that happens to be married to an old flame of our spy.  Teaming up with a Chinese mercenary (Yeoh), Bond must avert war between the US and China as time hangs in the balance.

Though produced with the same breakneck speed of GoldenEye, it can’t quite match the previous entry with its plot that feels a little also-ran.  The same kind of evil genius is present, the same Bond babe works her magic on trying to soften him, the same second henchman lives long enough to battle 007 in a well-staged final battle…so it’s easy to feel like we’ve seen it all before and know where it’s heading.

That’s not to say the film isn’t an enjoyable ride with its top of the line production values and strong direction by Spoittswoode.  Spoittswoode stages some of the most impressively delirious action sequences seen so far in the series with Brosnan and Yeoh’s motorcycle chase through the city streets an unforgettable blast.

Yeoh’s martial arts strengths are also capitalized on without making it obvious that the stunts were designed with her in mind.  As the first ally to hold her own against Bond since Agent XXX in The Spy Who Loves Me, it’s no surprise that for a while a spin off series with Yeoh was considered.  As Bond’s previous lover, Hatcher is adequately sultry but I find it hard to believe she’d ever marry someone like the character Pryce plays.  I’ve always found Pryce to be overrated as a go-to actor and as a last minute replacement for Anthony Hopkins, he can’t help but be overshadowed by everything going on around him.

Returning credits designer Daniel Kleinman has produced another impressive opening sequence…though I think k.d. lang’s closing song should have swapped places with Sheryl Crow’s bland title track.  David Arnold comes on board as composer and works in some nice music cues that look to the future while making several nice references to the past.

Though it may feel a bit familiar, Tomorrow Never Dies functions well as a sophomore effort for Brosnan and company…producing an exciting film that provides the kind of entertainment audiences have come to expect from Mr. Bond.

Bond-ed for Life ~ GoldenEye

The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and with the release of Skyfall I wanted to take a look back at the 22 (23 if you count the rogue Never Say Never Again, 24 if you count the 1967 spoof of Casino Royale) films that have come before it. So sit back, grab your shaken-not-stirred martini and follow me on a trip down Bond memory lane.

The Facts:

Synopsis: James Bond teams up with the lone survivor of a destroyed Russian research center to stop the hijacking of a nuclear space weapon by a fellow agent believed to be dead.

Stars: Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco, Famke Janssen, Judi Dench, Alan Cumming, Samantha Bond

Director: Martin Campbell

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 130 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review:  In 1995, James Bond returned to the screen after a six year hibernation.  It was during this time that legal battles kept more 007 adventures from being brought to the big screen and the elapsed time meant that sadly Timothy Dalton would not be returning.  It’s too bad because with Licence to Kill I felt that Dalton was just hitting his stride in bringing us a version of 007 that was much closer to the spy that Ian Fleming created in his novels.

Still, it’s hard to deny that Brosnan wasn’t a more than suitable replacement.  Long sought after for the role, the time was finally right for him to join the gallery of men that preferred their martinis shaken, not stirred.  In fact, the franchise was overhauled nearly from top to bottom and it all works together to provide the series with a new lease on life.

Opening with one of the best pre-credit sequences of the series that finds Bond and 006 (Bean) on a mission to destroy a chemical weapons plant with deadly consequences, the film takes off like a nuclear rocket from there and never stops until the credits roll.  As Bond works with a Russian technician to stop a catastrophic disaster, we are taken to several notable locales around the globe.  From start to finish it’s fantastic entertainment that operates on a high class level harkening back to the Sean Connery era of films.

Finally, we have a cast of players assembled that work wonders with the material.  Though her role would get beefed up in subsequent entries, Dench sinks her teeth into her role as M making the most of her limited screen time.  Her early scene with Brosnan is nearly worth the price of admission as she gives him a memorable dressing down…almost as a voice for Bond’s critics over the years.

Bean knows his way around a bad guy and if his performance feels familiar when compared to his role in Patriot Games you can’t deny that he’s darn good in the role.  Cumming makes for a dorky goon as a lascivious computer hacker and Scorupco is a nicely strong-willed Bond girl for the next generation.  She challenges Bond and his motives enough that a more fully developed female character emerges over the course of the film.

Best of the bunch is undoubtedly Janssen in her breakout role as one of the best second villains, female or male, the series had ever seen.  The suggestion that she’s turned on sexually by violence is sorta fun and Janssen’s euphoric expressions when firing a gun or crushing men with her thighs is pretty exceptional.

Australian director Campbell (who would return to direct another first time Bond in Casino Royale) never lets this train stop moving once its left the station – he clearly knows his way around an action film and it shows with his attention to character development in the face of elaborate stunt sequences.

With long-time credit designer Maurice Binder passing away, Daniel Kleinman took over the reins and delivers a stunning series of images set to the title track written by Bono and The Edge and performed with class by Tina Turner.  It’s probably my favorite credit sequence of the series and I’ll often pop in the film just to watch the opening scene and credits.  Only Eric Serra’s score disappoints here and makes you mourn the loss of original composer John Barry.

Bringing the Bond series into a new era with a revitalized hero, interesting villains, and a strong narrative, GoldenEye is a welcome return to the glory days of the series.  It’s strong enough to compete with the best and has a high re-watchability factor.