Napoleon’s Complex: Guy Ritchie’s “The Man from UNCLE”
After the release of Die Another Day (2002), the future of James Bond was in flux. Though the film had become the highest grossing one in the franchise’s history, Die Another Day tapped into a kind of ridiculousness that was, even for a series whose real life veracity was rarely ever of concern, unpleasant for most critics and fans. An invisible car, DNA replacement therapy, Madonna trying to act. In an effort to recall an old fashioned Bond, screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade began to adapt Ian Fleming’s first novel Casino Royale, and, in the midst of a litany of legal issues regarding the rights to the series between MGM and Sony Pictures, (perhaps) inadvertently imbued Bond with a sense of what critics noted as world weariness. Casino Royale finally saw its release in 2006, and this new Bond colored by misanthropy was an element amplified by Craig’s style of acting, at once brutish and cognizant that the very anger and figiidty was itself a shield for vulnerability. This Bond was a hardened, human Double O, more aware of his sociopolitical climate, and of himself, than he had been before. This kind of disdain for his own iconography would continue to inform the subsequent films, becoming more and bitterer, angrier, and numbed, peaking in Spectre, where you get a sense that Craig (and the writers) don’t sincerely believe that Bond should even exist within a contemporary context.
So, while the evolution of the Bond films has grown grittier, darker (per Roger Deakins), dustier (per Hoyte van Hoytema), and even, if one is to believe the opening text of Spectre, deader, we enter a fantasy version of spying under the guise if “how it used to be”, but whose superficiality and very cleanliness is as indicative of the same sort of cynicism. Opening with a bunch of archival footage splashed in red, it’s not that images of Berlin being bifurcated is indicative of communism, but in sardonicism. It makes its “verisimilitude” stylish in a way that conventional filmmaking declares it shouldn’t be. Guy Ritchie’s adaptation of the 1960s show, also not coincidentally conceived by Ian Fleming, The Man from UNCLE is selling a poisoned love letter to the past and present. (Even the font of its subtitles is funny!) Read the rest of this entry »
Everything Becomes Pure Want: 15 from 2015
“You can’t really what it is to want things until you’re at least thirty. And then with each passing year, it gets bigger, because the want is more and the possibility is less. Like how each passing year of your life seems faster because it’s a smaller portion of your total life. Like that, but in reverse. Everything becomes pure want.”
Looking in no particular direction, Brooke (Greta Gerwig) says this to Tracy (Lola Kirke) as her life is falling apart. “Everything is pure want.” Maybe that desire, inexplicable and ineffable and uncontrollable, is the biggest running theme in my list, and to get personal, my life. In the films featured on this list and in my personal life, there’s the want for intimacy, to be validated, to be wanted, to be seen and heard, to find stability, to be human, to ache, to feel pleasure, to transcend or eschew convention. It’s full of flaws, complexities, and nuances. And it’s not that those wants or desired be fulfilled that matters: it’s the articulation that might matter more. It’s not only cinematic, it’s human.
You can also find my list of the year ranked here, the top 10 musical moments, and everything else I’ve written this year. Read the rest of this entry »
Oldish World Order: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The familiarity of franchise films that have established and perpetuated a kind of formula that suits the given series of films is paradoxical: at once, comforting, like settling into the warmth of an old blanket found in the attic, as well as frustrating because that blanket smells like must and of failed college trysts. Call me demanding, but I like new blankets, or blankets with similar patchwork but the kind that’s turned on its head. That Spectre, the twenty-fourth James Bond film diverges so heavily from the established James Bond formula is admirable, enticing. That Star Wars: The Force Awakens adheres so closely to the idea of being “a Star Wars movie”, on the other hand, is irksome. Read the rest of this entry »
Ghost in the Shell: Sam Mendes’ “SPECTRE”
Bond: Everyone needs a hobby…
Silva: So, what’s yours?
– Skyfall (2012)
The dead are alive.
– SPECTRE (2015)
You only live twice;
Once when you are born
and once when you look Death in the face.
– Ian Fleming, after Basho.
The ideological purpose of the last three James Bond films have lingered like the smoke trail from a freshly fired gun, and traveling in reverse, it’s only then that the intangible line becomes more solid. Sam Mendes’ SPECTRE is that bullet, firmly establishing that the Daniel Craig Cycle is, and always has been, about James Bond not only as character, but as icon. For Craig’s tenure as 007, it’s not merely about rewriting an imaginary canon, but deconstructing James Bond the cultural institution and construct as a whole.
SPECTRE gives you two directions, neither necessarily mutually exclusive: either Craig’s Bond films are about the emotional arc he travels, or it’s about the relevance of bothering to construct an emotional arc for him in the first place. Read the rest of this entry »
You Were Expecting Something Else?: Re-ranking the Bond Themes
As I intimated back in 2012, “The Bond Sound” as we know it is mostly a cultural construct that was borne more out of John Barry’s orchestrations from the 1960s than much else to do with the theme songs in and of themselves. But, another few years and another couple of Bond tracks later, and I guess I should regroup and rerank them all, because that’s what you do when a new thing comes out, right? Listicles, man, listicles. My grading criteria shifts from son to song because I was rejected from SPECTRE membership, but it’s on two levels of consideration: a) is this a good song? And b) is this a good song for the Bond films? Because this is what you do when you have a lot of time on your hands. Read the rest of this entry »