Sunday, March 29, 2009

Never Say Never Again Collector's Edition DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

After 12 years away from the role, Sean Connery returned as James Bond in 1983’s Never Say Never Again, the title of which came from Connery’s wife after he claimed he’d never play 007 again. The film is a loose remake of Thunderball, which producer Kevin McClory and screenwriter Jack Whittingham had successfully sued Ian Fleming over after he did not credit them for their contributions to the Thunderball novel.

Much like Connery, who was in his early 50s at the time, Never Say Never Again finds an aging Bond who is past his prime. After a training exercise goes poorly, he is sent to a health spa to get in shape and eliminate his free radicals.

While he is there, M16 gets word that SPECTRE agent Maximilian Largo (Klaus Maria Brandauer), with the help of a sleeper agent, has stolen two nuclear warheads that SPECTRE head Ernst Blofeld (Max Von Sydow) plans to detonate if his huge ransom demand from all the NATO countries is not met. Reluctantly, M16 reactivates the 00’s and Bond is sent after Largo to try to stop him.

Largo sends the ruthless, if not crazy Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera) to kill Bond. Like Largo, Blush is unpredictable, making her a deadly foe. Bond encounters Largo’s girlfriend Domino (Kim Basinger), who learns of Largo’s plot and his betrayal of her family through Bond and ends up helping Bond along with CIA agent Felix Leiter (Bernie Casey).

Never Say Never Again features some fine action sequences, including a motorcycle chase and an underwater fight. It also unfortunately features a bland score by Michel Legrand (blame Connery for that as he was his choice). For his part, Connery seems into the role, as if reclaiming the character and Von Sydow and Brandauer are excellent in their villainous portrayals.

The film is by no means the best Bond movie, but it certainly isn’t the worst (Moonraker anyone?). It was a refreshing change after 10 years of increasingly campy Roger Moore Bond films. In fact, it was released the same year as Octopussy and while grossing slightly less, still did very well at the box office. Moore was still the “official” Bond at that point, making the films for EON Productions. Never Say Never Again was not an official film, thus it was not allowed to use the trademark intro of Bond turning and shooting nor was it allowed to use the traditional Bond music. The film suffers a little for this, but is still a fun ride.

Extras on the DVD include commentary with director Irvin Kershner and James Bond historian Steven Jay Rubin; and featurettes entitled “The Big Gamble,” which talked about the legal troubles of getting the film made; “Sean is Back” about the return of Connery; and “The Girls of Never Say Never Again.” Also included are the original theatrical trailer and a photo gallery.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Quantum of Solace 2-Disc Special Edition DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

Daniel Craig’s gritty take on James Bond gets a second go-around in Quantum of Solace, the 22nd film in the long-running franchise. It begins minutes after 2006’s excellent Casino Royale ends with Bond in a high-speed car chase. He has Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), who he shot in the leg at the end of the previous film tied up and locked in the trunk with White’s henchmen in pursuit. Bond takes White to M (Judi Dench) at an M16 safe house and attempts to interrogate him. White was responsible for the death of Bond’s former love interest, Vesper Lynd, as well as her boyfriend, Yusef Kabira and, in spite of what he says to M, Bond wants revenge. While this sort of continuity is rare, albeit somewhat refreshing in a Bond film, it definitely requires the viewer to have seen Casino Royale to fully understand what is going on.

As Bond interrogates White, it is discovered that he has sleeper agents within M16, including M’s bodyguard Craig Mitchell (Glenn Foster). A skirmish ensues and White manages to elude Bond again. Bond’s search for White leads him to Port Au Prince, Haiti and Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), the head of Greene Planet, a utility company that builds eco-parks.

While in Haiti, he meets Camille (Olga Kurylenko), who thinks he is a geologist she has been waiting for. Camille is a different kind of Bond girl in that she is more than just a pretty face. She is a dangerous force out for revenge against Bolivian General Medrano (Joaquin Cosio) for committing atrocities against her family. Medrano is working with Greene to stage a coup in Bolivia, with Medrano getting power in return for giving control of the desert to Greene. Camille uses Greene to get to Medrano. The film does a nice job of parallelism between Bond and Camille, two characters bent on revenge no matter the cost. Their fury has them not thinking clearly, with Greene referring to both of them as “damaged goods” at one point. Greene for his part plays the stereotypical power-hungry Bond villain with a cold arrogance.

Along the way, Bond’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic, with M16 thinking he is becoming a liability, going as far as to cancel his credit cards and passport. This is where Craig’s Bond loses a lot of the charm of his predecessors. While Bond has always caused a lot of property damage, he has never been this reckless. Also gone is much of the Bond dry wit and bad puns, a staple of the franchise. Hard times call for hard actions, but even in the worst possible situations, previous Bonds would have attempted to make light of their situation. One can hope this will prove to be an exception, rather the rule. Casino Royale proved Craig could be a tough Bond, but still charming.

When Bond’s pursuit lands him in Bolivia, he encounters Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton) from the British Consulate who is there to ensure Bond turns around and heads back to England. Instead Bond (of course) sleeps with her and takes her to a fundraiser for one of Greene’s eco-parks. This is one of the few sequences in the film that feels like an old Bond movie instead of just a generic, Bourne-inspired action film. Bond movies have a certain feel to them and shouldn’t have to conform to modern standards. That’s not what the majority of the audience is going to see the film for.

After Bond gets the indirect blame for Strawberry’s demise (which has her covered in oil in an obvious nod to Goldfinger), M has had enough and orders Bond to turn in his badge. Some M16 guards take him away and he makes quick work of them, taking their weapons when he learns from a surprised M that some crooked CIA agents have a hit out on him. Bond escapes and continues his search for Greene, eventually tracking him down in the desert.

While Quantum of Solace is a fine action film in its own right, it really requires the viewer to have seen Casino Royale for it to fully make sense and would be incomplete without it. Craig makes a good Bond, but this is an edgier take on the role, devoid of the charm and wit usually found with the character. Also, there is no Q character or any of the fun gadgets that go along with it. These are things at least this Bond fan goes to see and it is always fun to see what cool toy he will play with next. He is a spy after all. Let’s hope some of that is back in the next film. Quantum of Solace captures all of the action, but only some of the fun that made Bond great to begin with.

The DVD includes a number of extras, including the music video for “Another Way to Die” by Jack White and Alicia Keys and two theatrical teaser trailers on Disc One while Disc Two has “Bond on Location,” “Start of Shooting,” “On Location,” “Olga Kurylenko and the Boat Chase,” “Director Marc Forster,” “The Music” and very extensive “Crew Files.”