Wednesday, April 29, 2009

REVIEW: The Worst of Bond, Part 2: Moonraker

Hey, have you ever seen Roger Moore and the face on Mars in the same room together? Makes you think...

James Bond movies are almost never original. They’re purely reactionary, reacting both to the popular trends of the time and to the critical success of the previous film. If one film bombs, critically or financially, the next one is radically different. If a film succeeds, the producers do whatever had worked before, but with MORE. That’s why we got Moonraker. The film before it had been The Spy Who Loved Me, a huge, goofy, over-the-top action epic that was actually pretty entertaining, even for dull old Timothy Dalton fans like me. And with Star Wars having recently popularized big outer space battles, all the momentum pushed the series to the ignominious task of putting James Bond 007, smooth-talking, worldly secret agent, into astronaut gear, firing laser beams against goons in a giant exploding space station. The result was… well, the fact that I’m writing about it might give away my conclusion.

"All right, you win. I'll turn off all my electronic devices."

The film opens with a carrier plane transporting a Moonraker space shuttle on its back, taking it to the UK to contribute to the apparently-existent British space program. Excuse me, space programme. And wow, how fast do you need the shuttle that you need to ship it atop another plane, rather than using boats and trains and stuff? But the British “We need a space shuttle on short notice; got one laying around, mate?” approach is very convenient for the plot. There are a couple of bad guys stowed aboard the shuttle; they hit the ignition and fly the shuttle off, destroying the plane in their wake. They head off to God-knows-where, because we know that space shuttles are impossible to track on radar.

"I promise, I'm just borrowing it!"

So of course James Bond (Roger Moore), returning to the UK from Africa, is assigned to the case, but not before we get the highlight of the film out of the way. He’s caught by bad guys aboard a small plane high in the air, and shortly after he kicks the villain carrying the last parachute out of the plane, he himself gets booted. In one of the most wonderfully audacious action scenes I’ve ever witnessed, Bond intercepts the villain in mid-air, wrestles the parachute off his back, and clasps it onto his own. It’s one of those stunts that’s so outrageous, yet just close enough to theoretically plausible that it’s a treat to behold. Unfortunately, they ruin it by adding Jaws (Richard Kiel), The Spy Who Loved Me’s 7-foot-tall, metal-toothed assassin, who dives after Bond and nearly bites his leg off, but pulls the cord on a defective parachute (guess the props department couldn’t procure an anvil to complete the effect) and yet manages to land safely on a circus tent. Moonraker, I thought you were going to manage to pull off one good full scene there. Think you could try it again later on? Er…
"I am glad you could join me, Mr. Bond. Now, allow me to fetch Raggedy Ann and Bobo the Bear, and our little tea party can begin."

Anyway, the space shuttle’s been stolen, and the British don’t have any leads whatsoever, so Bond decides to go visit the Drax Industries complex in California where the shuttle was made. I guess that a random stab in the dark’s as good an approach as any, and fortunately, Bond’s guess is entirely correct. He goes to meet billionaire industrialist Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale, apparently thinking that “Moonraker” is a sleeping pill and acting the part), and Bond plays himself and everything; there’s no pretense at all of being anything but an agent of the British government out to learn how the Moonraker shuttles are made in the odd event that the secrets to unraveling an international conspiracy lie in a glorified Kennedy Space Center tour. Drax decides that the best way to avert suspicion from himself is to tell his Chinese (for no particular reason) henchman Chang (Toshiro Suga; hey, same continent) to kill Bond. Yeah, because if a British agent were killed five minutes after arriving, it’s not like they have any other spies they could send. Well, actually, judging by these movies, they might not.
"Heh-heh-heh. Boobs. Huh-huh-huh."

So Drax has his people try to kill Bond as he participates in a variety of pointless recreational activities--riding around in a centrifuge chamber, pheasant hunting, Skee ball, Mario Kart--but it’s all in good fun, because even as people are being shot out of trees, neither Bond or Drax decides to drop the pretext and just shoot each other in the back. Bond’s knack for securing undying devotion from buxom females at first sight of his rugged British smirk comes in handy, as he gets some help from Drax helicopter pilot Corinne Dufour (Corinne Clery, whom Moore kept calling “Mildred” on the set for some reason). She semi-inadvertently helps him find mysterious blueprints, and for her assistance, Bond leaves her behind and never finds out about her brutal death by Drax’s hounds. But at least Bond was generous enough to sleep with her first. You know what they say to future Bond girls: stay off the Moore. Thank you! I’ll be here all week.

His espionage skills had served him well. She never suspected that he wasn't really at least 52 inches tall.

The blueprints are for a glass vial, which Bond traces to a factory in Venice (you know, I wonder if these Bond villains are ever going to get something manufactured in Akron, Ohio). There, Bond once again runs into Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles, apparently on whatever depressants Lonsdale is), a scientist working for Drax, whom he remembers flirting with inanely back in California. Suffice to say she’s clearly not what she seems, but Bond isn’t curious enough at this point to find out. Because who needs detective work when bad guys just keep trying to kill you whenever you follow up on a thin lead? It’s like an international game of Marco Polo. The attack in question comes as Bond is lounging around in a gondola, apparently relaxing after his hard day of walking around a factory for a few minutes and talking to a pretty lady. Villains attack him from speedboats, so Bond reveals that he’s actually in a Q-division gondola, which has a really powerful motor and even turn into a hovercraft to go on land, kind of like a reverse of the far more practical submarine car from The Spy Who Loved Me. You know, I just have to admire Q-division. They must have put millions of dollars into developing a “fully stocked” vehicle that could only possibly be valuable in Venice. In fact, I suspect that the team leader of Q’s Canal Warfare department staged the attack merely to justify funding.
"Do you need something, grandfather?"

After riding to safety across the square in a floating hovercraft boat, a scene so goofy that a cheaply-edited double-take from a bird is fairly low on the scale of offensive sight gags, Bond skulks back to the factory at night. He finds a laboratory and inadvertently causes two scientists to die after being exposed to some kind of deadly-to-humans-only toxin that’s being transported around in those glass vials. Sneaking out, Bond is confronted by Chang, who attacks him with a giant bamboo stick. And since the glass shop sports a suit of armor (???), Bond gets to pick up a real sword, stunning Chang with the realization that sharp metal tends to be more effective than rounded wood. Bond ends the fight by tossing Chang through the glass face of a clock tower, and he crashes into a piano far below, prompting Bond to unleash the pun, “Play it again, Sam.” Well, maybe it’s not a pun, but it’s a joke. Well, it’s not so much a joke, but it’s definitely a sentence.

"You awe a cunning foe, Mistaw Bond. You wemind me of a certain nemesis I fought wong ago..."

Bond confronts Goodhead (God, I hate writing that name) back at her hotel room, and after playing around with her pen and perfume, he finds that they all contain hidden weapons (acid, a flamethrower), which clearly means that she’s a fellow secret agent from the CIA. Because as we all know, there’s nothing that defines you as a secret agent beyond how many goofball weapons you have hidden in pedestrian items. It’s also a good enough pretext for the two to have sex and put off busting Drax’s bio-weapons operation until the morning. Which proves to be Bond’s undoing, because when M and the Defense Minister arrive to inspect the glass shop (showing a hands-on interest in Bond’s affairs for once), they find that the lab no longer exists. There’s only Drax, standing there confused at their arrival in gas masks into his massive ball room… out back of a glass shop. Nope, not at all suspicious. The Defense Minister is humiliated, but M believes Bond and unofficially dispatches him to Rio de Janeiro, where Drax is moving his operation; once again, I’d really like to suggest a place like Peoria, Illinois if Drax is looking for a solid industrial workforce. But he’s more concerned at the moment with finding a good henchman to replace Chang. So he calls eFelony and is thrilled to hear that Jaws is available. Jaws? I can imagine Drax drooling over the guy’s resume:

Name: Jaws
Objective: To provide killing while expanding my skills as a wacky comic relief antagonist.
  • Massive size and strength, which can be used to overpower any opponent who is either incredibly slow or already cornered.
  • Excellent disguise skills, so long as I am operating in a circus, European basketball game, or have access to Abraham Lincoln makeup and costume.
  • Completely indestructible, so long as attacks are aimed directly at my mouth while it is closed.
  • Have come very close to defeating James Bond on several occasions, and would have succeeded if Roger Moore had wasted just a little more time mugging for the camera.
  • Have survived more James Bond movies than Oddjob, Scaramanga, Baron Samedi, Red Grant, or George Lazenby.
Past Employment:
  • Karl Stromberg (1977-1977). Served as chief assassin. Employment terminated when employer was killed by James Bond.
Definitely putting at least one of the words into the term, "The Gay Blade."

Bond heads down to Rio, where he has sex with his contact, Manuela, as if it’s a bodily function. Which, er, I guess it is. They head out that night so he can wander aimlessly around an empty warehouse. Seriously, I think the world was out of disposable thugs by now. But while Bond’s bumbling around in hopes that more thugs attack him and make his espionage job easier, Jaws fools him by going after Manuela instead. But she and Bond are saved not once, but twice by a band of flamboyant dancing revelers on their way to Goofy Local Festival #856A. Remember, theatergoers won’t realize a joke is funny unless you make it twice in the span of a minute.

"Come to bed, darling." "Shortly, dear. Just need to finish adding one more boat chase and one more boner joke to the Fleming novel."

Jaws tries to get at Bond again, this time after Bond and Holly meet up and start traveling down from an overlook in a cable car. With the help of an exceptionally compliant operator, Jaws has Bond and Holly’s car stopped, then rides down on his own, banking on Bond having left his Walther PPK on the nightstand so that he doesn’t just shoot the 7-foot-tall target. Which, of course, proves to have been a well-played gambit. Bond and Jaws rassle for a bit, while Holly proves her CIA agent credentials by slapping Jaws’ ankles in the meantime, having also left all of her deadly gadgets on the nightstand. The whole thing ends with Bond and Holly escaping (whew, I was worried there for a second) and Jaws and his car crashing through a building, after which he runs into a 2 ½-foot-tall blonde girl with ponytails, and they fall in love. And then… Then…
Spy (and his supervisors) vs. Spy

I’m sorry, I don’t know how much longer I can take this, so I’m just going to zip through the next several “action” scenes:
  • Bond escapes from an ambulance full of Drax thugs. Unlike the guy who attacked Bond 15 seconds beforehand, they apparently do not have orders to kill Bond on sight. Bond escapes, but they get away with Holly.
  • In search of the orchid that Q has determined Drax is using in production of the nerve gas, Bond rides up the Amazon in a Q speedboat, and oddly enough, gets attacked by bad guys in other speed boats! Mind you, this is a new speedboat, not the Q speedboat disguised as a gondola. And remember, nothing is certain in life except death, taxes, Cal Ripken, and Jaws ending an action scene with a pratfall and then surviving a horrible crash.
  • Bond wrestles with a rubber anaconda. He then stabs it with a pen, which is mightier than a bamboo sword.
  • Drax leaves Bond and Holly to die underneath the exhaust port of a Moonraker shuttle as it launches. They, uh, get away.
  • Bond and Holly knock out some Moonraker pilots and replace them on a departing shuttle. Fortunately, Bond’s learned how to hold his air conditioner correctly by now, so nobody notices. They head up into space carrying a bunch of beach party bingo rejects.
  • They get up to a space station that’s hidden to radar. From here, Drax plans to wipe out the human race with nerve gas orbs and then repopulate the planet with his genetically-perfect supermen and superwomen, ushering in an era of peace or some such crap. He captures Bond and Holly again. He orders them to be thrown out an airlock. They get away. They break the radar jammer.
Jaws: Raising the bar for gimmick villains since 1977.

Now, this is where the film gets really interesting. Because apparently NASA has a team of space marines, armed with laser rifles, ready to deploy at a moment’s notice. Once they get word that the big thing in space is not the Russians, they decide they need to destroy it, which seems like a bit of backwards logic to me. The shuttle full of space marines heads toward the station, but while NASA was thinking small-scale, figuring that little dudes with ray guns would be enough to tackle anything space threw at them, Drax figured, “Hey, how about I just blow up their ship?” So Bond and Holly have to escape. One. Last. Time. This time, they do it by convincing Jaws that Drax won’t let his Mini-Her girlfriend be a part of his master race. As if he was really going to keep the 7-foot-tall ugly guy in suspenders be a big part of his eugenics program anyway. So Jaws helps them escape and stop Drax from blowing up the shuttle with a big laser, which forces him to send out a bunch of little guys with lasers. The film climaxes with the immortal battle between guys in white space suits with lasers versus guys in yellow space suits with lasers. It’s positively operatic.
"Screw Venice. I'm in flavor country."

The space marines start blowing up the station, and Bond chases Drax down one of the docking tubes, until Drax reaches the air lock and pulls a (non-laser) gun on him. Looks like it’s over for Bond, who didn’t think it necessary to bring one of the ten thousand laser pistols on the station along for this task. That is, until Bond uses a Q-division wrist dart thing (cleverly disguised as a regular wrist thing) to shoot Drax in the heart, before he launches him into space out of the air lock. And since there was clearly no ship out of the air lock, one questions Drax’s logic in choosing to flee there. Maybe he figured he could just hold his breath on his way down to Earth, then try to land atop a circus tent, Jaws-style.
"That joke about fashion had better have been at the expense of my lackeys."

But there’s still the issue of three nerve gas pods that have already been launched towards Earth, each containing enough gas to kill 100 million people. Boy, you must be able to fit a lot of gas in a 6-by-6 foot glass bubble. Bond and Holly take off in Drax’s laser-armed Moonraker to shoot them down before they reach the atmosphere. I wonder if Ian Fleming, long-since passed on by this point, watched from the afterlife and regretted calling his novel Moonraker. Although a synopsis of the book shows that it was hardly understated, involving Bond’s attempt to stop a nuclear missile from destroying London, I can’t imagine that Fleming knew this would lead to a film adaptation in which his clever gentleman-spy would wear a yellow jumpsuit and shoot laser beams at nerve gas pods before sleeping with a CIA agent/astronaut lady named Goodhead. I think that if he was aware of that, he would have called the novel something like A Delightfully Dapper Dust-Up to foil Hollywood’s attempts to turn the novel into a big-screen game of Galaga. Then again, they did eventually manage to take a story called Quantum of Solace and turn it into a movie about people stealing Bolivia’s water, so probably no matter of prophecy could have averted the apocalypse known as Moonraker.
Moonraker for the Magnavox Odyssey. Definitely brings the film to life.

I’ll just leave it to you to imagine Bond’s final victory and the wacky hijinx that ensue when MI-6 accidentally broadcasts footage of him having zero-gravity sex with Holly to Buckingham Palace and the White House.

"The State Department mistranslated it! 'Mir' actually means 'die Yankee buttheads'! We're doomed!"

I’m not going to say that Moonraker could have been a good film if they had done a few things differently, because that’s like saying the Sun could be inhabitable it were just a bit cooler. It’s the silliest Bond movie ever, and it’s not remotely funny. Michael Lonsdale, who’s actually a pretty good actor, delivers a couple of drolly funny lines--“James Bond, you appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season,” “At least I shall have the pleasure of putting you out of my misery,” and the absolutely poetic, “Allow me to introduce you to the airlock chamber”--but looks like a Muppet Baby version of Czar Nicholas II, and is about as threatening as a foam rubber Andy Milonakis doggy chew toy. He even gets upstaged on the quasi-intentionally hilarious, completely unintentionally homoerotic line front when Bond refers to Drax’s space station as a “flying stud farm.” As for Lois Chiles? Well, all I can say is that at least many of the previous Bond girls have had the excuse of not having English as a native language.

"Don't mind me. Just taking a very large step with my mankind. And activating my thrusters. And exploring this lady's angry red planets. After that, I'm going to penetrate her lower atmosphere. Oh, and she's going to stick something in my gas giant, where there are lots of asteroids and Klingons. Let's see, what can I say about Pluto..."

Fortunately, the producers never attempted to one-up their shooting of Bond into outer space by having him battle Galactus or something. No, but even if it took a while to manifest itself, Moonraker did eventually have its spiritual successor, a film that would make this look like Syriana by comparison…

Sunday, April 26, 2009

COMING SOON: The Worst of Bond, Part 2 of 3: Moonraker

"Raked" is pretty close to the word I was looking for.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

REVIEW: The Worst of Bond, Part 1: You Only Live Twice

Jack Bauer, however, lives as many times as he damn well wants.

I’m a fan of the James Bond film franchise; I just don’t like that many James Bond films. Everyone has their favorites, and I gravitate towards the few that have at least a hint of seriousness and believability to them, and which actually depict Bond doing the occasional spy stuff, not just acting like a horny college student and machine-gunning bad guys in alternating scenes. Thunderball, For Your Eyes Only, The Living Daylights, License to Kill, GoldenEye, and Casino Royale are all good or great in my book. They all manage to work in humor (well, okay, that wasn’t Dalton’s forte in his pre-Hot Fuzz days), but also had actual espionage, detective work, and covert operations involved. There’s a bunch more films that are silly, but mostly pretty enjoyable.

Then there’s the dregs. And no discussion of the dregs of the series can begin without the nadir of the Sean Connery era, You Only Live Twice.
If that's Sean Connery, I'm Arnold Schwarzenegger.

After the requisite gun barrel opening (back in the days when Bond was wobbly-kneed and wore that awful hat), we cut to a space capsule in orbit around the Earth. Don’t worry, we’re not to Moonraker yet; Bond (Sean Connery, if I haven’t made that clear yet) does all his work planetside. It’s an American capsule, and out of nowhere, another ship appears, barely detectable by radar. It bears no markings, and as it approaches the capsule, its bow opens up and the whole thing envelops the smaller capsule. The Americans blame the Russians, and the Russians deny knowing anything about the mystery ship. Gee, I’m glad the Bond series managed to wait an entire five movies after this one before completely and utterly ripping off the concept I just described. Except I guess that means I’m ripping on The Spy Who Loved Me, which I actually liked. Whatever.

"Odd. You taste like... David Niven?!?!"

For no comprehensible reason whatsoever except that the Brits are smart and the Americans are dumb cowboys, it’s the British who suspect a third party is to blame, and it’s their responsibility to investigate the suspected landing site of the ship, which is near Japan. And of course, their entire investigation is to be carried out by Mr. James Bond 007; hey, with all those billions going to Q Division, you can’t afford many actual field agents. He’s in Hong Kong, in bed with a Chinese girl and making inane observations about how Chinese girls taste like Peking Duck or some such crap. It’s like a Seinfeld routine performed by a bored Scotsman. But the girl betrays him, folding his bed back into the wall and bringing in a guy to machine gun him. When the cops arrive, they pull him out, apparently dead, and they observe that at least he died on the job. Wait, so even the Hong Kong police know who Bond is? I know Hong Kong was under British control at the time, but doesn‘t being a celebrity throw a monkey wrench into his “secret“ agent status? And is he really such a horse’s ass that British police officers, while the world is on the brink of nuclear war, are making dirty jokes about their country’s greatest hero getting killed? Well… come to think of it, he was kind of a douche bag sometimes.
American: "They spelled 'color' wrong!" Brit: "They spelled 'Technicolour' wrong!"

The opening titles feature an execrable theme from Nancy Sinatra and a shocker of a credit: Screenplay by Roald Dahl, as in the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory author. As someone who likes James Bond movies with at least a tenuous connection to something resembling a skewed version of reality, I at least appreciate the film for giving me fair warning.

"I'm here for my senior portrait."

We see Bond’s naval funeral aboard a destroyer, and his sheet-wrapped body dumped into the ocean; a mysterious figure watches from the shore, apparently verifying that Bond is dead. Which he’d be able to do a lot better if the body wasn’t cocooned, but I’m not one to tell him how to do his job. As the body falls underwater, it’s recovered by a pair of divers and brought aboard a British submarine. They cut the body bag open and, lo and behold, there’s Bond alive (and in uniform), breathing through an aqualung. As M (who apparently feels the need to have both an office and reception aboard the sub as if people are going to just wander on in) is quick to explain, creating the elaborate ruse that Bond is dead will help prevent his enemies from coming after him as he goes about his mission. I guess we’ve already established that Bond’s cover gets blown as often as the rest of him is, so that makes sense. But if all you were going to show at the funeral was a wrapped-up body getting dumped in the ocean, why couldn’t it have just been a big bag of flour or something? Couldn’t you just have used a fake body and given Bond an elaborate disguise, like a moustache and glasses? No wonder tax rates in the UK are so high. Regardless of how preposterous it is that MI-6 would stage a highly public funeral to fake the death of a supposedly-secret agent, this quickly-forgotten gimmick is what the entire title of the movie hinges on. For the title, they could have either embraced the “faked death” theme, or they could have embraced the Japanese theme by calling it Super Fast Sean Bond Connery with Much Honor Time or You Only Set Up Us the Bomb Twice, so I think they made the right call.

"Her Majesty's government can wait. Can anyone here direct me to the nearest used panties vending machine?"

Bond is sent to Tokyo to contact MI-6’s contact, an expatriate named Henderson, who has been doing his own investigation into who might have been responsible for the mystery spacecraft and where their launch point is. And since the producers spent a lot of money to film on location in Japan, they’re going to milk the country for everything it’s worth. The initial meeting with Henderson’s representative, the supposedly-hot chick Aki (supposed actress Akiko Wakabayashi, who I just hope had the excuse of learning her lines phonetically) takes place at a sumo wrestling match. Later, we’ll see Japanese bath house prostitutes and ninjas. I guess that since Roger Moore wasn’t in the series yet, they stopped short of having Sailor Moon help defend Bond from Gamera.

"This was not what I had in mind."

Aki takes Bond to Henderson, who’s actually Blofeld. Or not. The actor, Charles Gray, wound up playing Bond’s arch-nemesis only two films later. I guess the fact that he’s on-screen for about 40 seconds before an assassin gets to him helped prevent people from remembering him too well. Bond chases the assassin on foot across Henderson’s estate, and it’s a good thing that the bad guy has gout or something, because it’s not much of a chase. Bond overpowers him, then puts on his heavy overcoat and surgical mask (???) to impersonate him back at his getaway car. The bad guys drive him to Osato Chemicals; man, I never would have thought that a chemical company in a spy movie could be up to something nefarious. Bond sneaks in, beats up a bad guy, and takes the opportunity to crack open a safe. How? Well, of course he went to meet Henderson with a safecracking kit in his pocket, silly. Carefully watch the scene where Bond hurries to crack the safe while a pair of guards wander on by and nearly discover him; if you can explain to me where they are in relation to him, I congratulate you on mastering four-dimensional physics. Opening the safe sounds an alarm, and Bond has only time to grab a few documents before rushing out. He’s shot at the whole way, but fortunately, Aki drives by to pick him up and drive him to safety. I’ll ignore the question of how she knew where he was, because I have bigger fish to fry. Or serve raw for $20 a plate, I should say.
"Don't get me wrong, Sean. You would make a fine Fu Manchu. I just don't believe you can slip into the role of a Japanese man the way I can."

Aki, the movie's designated driver, takes Bond to Tiger Tanaka (Tetsuro Tamba), the head of the Japanese secret service. He and Bond hit it off. Tanaka’s a fellow womanizer, and apparently Japan has such an incredible secret service budget that the man has his own private train system running below Tokyo, complete with hot babe engineers/geishas. What’s more, this guy is the head of the Japanese secret service, so he’s actually equivalent to M in rank. I guess that Japan’s such an awesome place that even administrators responsible for entire intelligence services can be playboys. No wonder all the pothead college guys love Japan so much.
"Now you see why they call me 'Tiger,' Mr. Bond."

While Tanaka starts analyzing the photo Bond stole, trying to figure out which coastline it shows, Bond goes right back to Osato Chemicals, masquerading as a businessman and meeting with the company’s owner, Mr. Osato (Teru Shimada), and his assistant, Helga Brandt (Karin Dor). They talk about, uh, nothing as far as I could gather. But Bond does manage to blow his cover, AGAIN, by bringing his Walther PPK with him, which Osato discovers by secretly filming him with X-rays. So once again, Bond gets shot at on his way out of Osato Chemicals, and once again, Aki drives up in her convertible and saves his Scottish ass. Hey Bond, how’s that faked death doing you? Keeping all the enemies off your back? No? Wow, thought that plan was foolproof. And fortunately, the Japanese secret service has extensive R&D funds for weapons you’d almost never ever need to use, so they have a big helicopter with a magnet to pick up the pursuing car full of bad guys and dump them in the ocean.

One thing the Japanese really do better than us: valet parking.

Wanting to learn more about the liquid oxygen (a key ingredient for rocket propulsion) that Osato has been importing, Bond heads to the company’s docks and gets IMMEDIATELY ambushed by bad guys. What is wrong with him? He might as well go everywhere in a spandex jumpsuit and a cape; it won’t hurt his ability to go around incognito. He’s captured and interrogated by Brandt, an interrogation that takes about a minute before it turns to sex. That didn’t take long. But the villainess either didn’t think Mr. Bond lived up to the hype, or she isn’t taking her job of getting information out of him very seriously, because she immediately tries to kill him by taking him high up in a light plane, trapping him with a spring-loaded tray table, dropping a grenade full of purple gas, and parachuting out while the plane goes down. Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’d have read a lot more books if I had only 1960s movies to watch. Anyway, it’s a Northwest plane, so Bond’s able to break the tray table like balsa wood and land the plane sort-of safely.
If you hated all the shaky-cam close-up action scenes in Quantum of Solace, I've got just the movie for you.

The villainous transnational organization SPECTRE is behind all this nonsense, and its leader, Blofeld (Donald Pleasance, attempting no particular accent), is none too happy about his lackey, Mr. Osato, failing to kill Mr. Bond. He feeds Ms. Brandt to his piranha fish as a warning to Osato. I’ll bet Blofeld loses a lot of people to the piranha that he doesn’t mean to sacrifice, though. Just to get into his office, you have to cross a railing-free, two-foot wide bridge that goes right over the tank. I’d say that even if Blofeld hadn’t dropped the trap door and dunked her in, there was a good 33% chance she’d have slipped.
"Dammit, woman, where the hell are my pretzels and ginger ale?"

Back with the swinging Japanese super-agent, Bond sends for Q and “Little Nellie.” Little Nellie is a tiny, easy-to-assemble helicopter (must have gotten it at Ikea) that Bond has apparently used to some effect before, although not in any of the films. Before Bond goes off scouting out the island that Tanaka says appeared in the stolen documents, Q gives Bond a quick overview of the new features, since Bond already knows how to fly the damn thing: machine guns, rocket launchers, heat-seeking missiles, aerial mines (?), and rear-firing flamethrowers (???). Wait a minute, those aren’t new features, those are all the weapons on the helicopter. So I guess we’re to presume that Little Nellie went from unarmed reconnaissance craft to flying death in one single upgrade. In any event, Bond goes to scout out the island, wearing a helmet with a big camera lens on the front; I have no idea what the camera’s for except to cement this scene as the most humiliating of Sean Connery’s career. That’s right, First Knight’s Starfleet uniforms and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’s scenes with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hulk be damned.
"Bond to base. Will need three more tickets to continue with ride, over."

Flying over the island, he initially finds nothing. But fortunately, the bad guys send four machine gun-firing helicopters after him; after all, we wouldn’t want Bond to actually have to think about the possibility that he’s found the right target. (Nor would we want to give the audience time to realize that all the work Bond did since recovering those documents was apparently pointless.) There’s four helicopters, so what do you want to bet that Bond gets to use each of his weapon systems exactly once? (The machine guns are useless, so they don’t count.) That’s what I like in my Bond movies. A hero who serves purely as a delivery system for the tech nerds’ overpowered weapons, a guy who is skilled enough to fly a helicopter and wear a dopey-looking helmet, but otherwise needs only press clearly-labeled buttons when enemy aircraft wander into his weapons’ sights. Even the flamethrower, something I think tends not to be equipped on aircraft too often, gets to kill a bad guy in a Crusader Rabbit-quality special effects shot.

"Avenge me, Jet Jaguar!"

Time grows short: a Russian space capsule has been captured by the mysterious spaceship, leading the Commies to think the Americans are actually behind it, and if the soon-to-be-launched American capsule is taken, the Americans promise to start war with Russia. Because while the Americans can accept losing one space capsule to the evil fake Russians, two is just crossing the line.
"You will be pleased to know, Master, that we have cornered the world market in cheezburgers."

Now that we’ve established that something’s definitely going on in the island, Tanaka prepares an operation to sneak himself, Bond, and an army of secret service ninjas into the island village’s population so that they can look for the bad guys’ base unnoticed. In addition to training as a ninja--”Hey, thanks guys, but my people have already trained me in combat, and our side kicked your side’s ASS in World War II.”--it’s absolutely essential that Bond blend in. So he gets a bit of makeup so that he looks Japanese (well, more like the typical Western actor playing Fun Manchu, but I guess it’s close enough if you squint). But in Tanaka’s perverse world, blending in will also require that Bond actually get married, for real, to a Japanese girl.
"Good! Now you are ready when Blofeld's men come at you with pointed sticks. Next, we prepare for when the escalate and deploy bananas."

OK, Mr. Tanaka. We need to have an intervention here. I know your operation isn’t terribly fiscally responsible or efficient. You keep a private subway system for your own personal use, and you spend money on outdated (throwing stars) or spectacularly impractical (magnet-hauling helicopters) weapons. And that’s okay; it’s not like North Korea was being run a whole lot better, and it’s not like Russia saw you as a big target at this point. You could afford to waste time and taxpayer money on useless crap. But now that you ACTUALLY need to do something in defense of world peace, you’ve decided that the mission hinges on Bond actually, REALLY getting married to one of your agents so that his cover is authentic. I think it’s time for you to step down, Mr. Tanaka, in favor of someone more qualified to lead the defense of Japan: Shigeru Miyamoto, Sephiroth, Ultraman, Jet Jaguar, Ken (any of them), Pikachu, that freak who eats all the hot dogs, and The Vapors are all more viable options. What’s more, while Bond’s doing his ninja training, he’s attacked by an enemy agent who’s infiltrated the camp. If Tanaka had half a brain cell left, he’d know this meant that the bad guys had infiltrated his operation enough that a marriage ceremony wasn’t going to fool them, but dammit, Operation: This Marriage is a Hollow Lie is going to proceed no matter what.
"So how long is it until you girls get back into bikinis and start washing my naughty bits again?"

With the big day approaching, Bond finally boinks Aki, but as they sleep, an assassin sneaks in and tries to drip poison down onto Bond. Aki rolls over onto him at the wrong time and winds up taking it for him and dying. This leaves the movie briefly, distressingly, without a babe. And Bond’s pissed about it; while his unseen fiancee is on her way to the wedding, Bond pouts like a little bitch because he thinks his real/fake wife is going to be ugly. Fortunately, she (Mie Hama) is not, and she’s got the ridiculous name, Kissy Suzuki, to prove it. Unfortunately, she’s a committed spy (pretty much the only one in Japan) and isn’t interested in Bond’s advances for the time being, just on stopping SPECTRE.
"Um, sir, isn't putting all our flat panel TVs so close to the launch pad going to void the warranty?"

Bond and Kissy discover that a lake in a dormant volcano is actually not a lake at all: it’s a retractable roof for an underground facility from which the evil rockets are being launched. Bond sneaks into the facility, and tries to board the craft disguised as an astronaut, but Blofeld notices him on a security camera and realizes that he’s holding his air conditioner incorrectly (Hey, I’m just reporting here). Taken captive, Bond asks Blofeld if he can have a smoke while he watches footage of the evil spaceship about to capture the American capsule on the monitors. (So which spaceship did they send up there to film their own evil spaceship from a side angle?) Blofeld hasn’t watched any of the previous Bond movies, apparently, so he doesn’t know that the cigarettes are actually mini-rocket launchers. Bond blasts a guard to create a distraction and opens the roof to allow Tanaka’s ninjas to pour in and wage a huge battle against the SPECTRE thugs. It certainly looks like the filmmakers spent a lot of money, by 1967 standards, on the fight inside the base. But from this scene, and its clone in The Spy Who Loved Me, all I can gather is that both the Japanese and SPECTRE should have just spent the money to get everyone a handful of grenades, because every single time they‘re thrown, the grenades wind up killing three enemies. Forget the throwing star and sword crap, and focus on just bombing the bejeezus out of everybody.
"Did you see that film? Mike Myers does a terrible impression of me." "I know. It's the same thing with me and that zero Darrell Hammond. I hate him almost as much as I hate Alex Trebek."

Fortunately, the evil spaceship has a built-in self-destruct device, so after Bond escapes Blofeld and kills a few more perfunctory henchmen, he reaches the control room again and blows the thing up before it can reach the American capsule. Blofeld was foresighted enough to also equip the base with a self-destruct mechanism as well, one that sets off a series of explosions from random areas of the base that clearly don’t contain any actual explosives. Both Blofeld and the surviving good guys flee the base in opposite directions as the whole place goes up, with the volcano apparently even going active and spewing lava. Not really sure how Blofeld managed to arrange that. Regardless, Japanese-ified James Bond and Kissy swim out to sea and climb into an inflatable life raft that appears out of nowhere just as Tanaka and the rest of the ninjas disappear into nowhere. They start to make out until, wouldn’t you know, the British sub pops up from right underneath their raft and M demands that Bond be debriefed immediately. Um, yeah, not the same way Kissy would have done it.

Ninjas: Even they have reserves.

If it sounds like this movie was a bit short on plot, then I communicated it poorly, because it actually has no plot whatsoever. Bond movies are usually high on style and short on substance, and I can accept that. But man, if it weren’t for all the travelogue stuff about how great Japan is, this whole film would just be a series of vignettes where Bond goes somewhere, gets immediately ambushed by bad guys, and gets bailed out by either a Japanese agent or a Q gadget. SPECTRE’s plot to have the Americans and Soviets destroy each other, then fill the superpower vaccuum, is pretty darn goofy. As pure camp, I guess You Only Live Twice is watchable, but be sure to remember this movie and Diamonds are Forever next time you bash the Roger Moore movies for being too silly.

"Dammit! My Russian doppleganger from the future is messing with my mojo!"

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must be off to practice being more Japanese so that I can exponentially improve my greatness in all aspects of life. For great justice!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

COMING SOON: The Worst of Bond, Part 1 of 3: You Only Live Twice

In the first part of an epic trilogy, we demonstrate that it's possible for a film series to have run its course by the fifth installment. We then document two more instances of course-running in the next seventeen installments, but not before we outrage Computer Science majors everywhere by daring to criticize something involving Japan.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

COMING SOON: The Godfather, Parts 1 and 2

While the third entry in the series finally lived up to the trilogy's potential, history has almost forgotten the amateurish first two films. Unfortunately, I haven't. Tune in for a thorough trashing.

EDIT: Not.