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Posts Tagged ‘Famke Janssen’

In recent times we’ve had to become accustomed to the Bond franchise taking mini-breaks on a fairly regular basis (mainly due to the travails of movie studios and the occasional row about creative direction) but for nearly thirty years it was one of the most reliable series out there, with never a break of more than three years between films. So the non-appearance of any new Bond for half a decade in the early 90s was a bit of a shock. Coupled to the relative underperformance of the ill-liked Timothy Dalton films, and some fairly major geopolitical upheavals occurring in the same period, and some observers were even heard to suggest that time had finally run out and the fabled licence to kill had expired.

So when the production of Martin Campbell’s GoldenEye was finally announced in 1994, I was a little relieved, even if the casting of Pierce Brosnan as Bond wasn’t something I was over the moon about. This was a movie which would inevitably have big expectations upon it, and for me Brosnan was really more of a light comedian or romantic lead, just a bit too smooth and lightweight for the role. (I always say that everyone has the right to be wrong sometimes, and as you can see that’s an informed opinion.)

As it turned out, of course, GoldenEye emerged as a new kind of Bond film and the most entertaining in a very long time. To begin with, it’s not afraid to be resolutely traditional, with a lengthy teaser depicting Bond and fellow agent Trevelyan (Sean Bean) infiltrating a Soviet weapons facility. The mission goes bad and only Bond escapes.

Nine years and the collapse of the Soviet Union later, Bond happens to be in the area when an experimental helicopter is stolen by the beautiful but rather psychopathic Xenia Onatopp (gotta love these Bond movie names), a breakthrough role for Famke Janssen. However, Bond’s boss (Her Majesty Judi Dench) doesn’t consider this very significant, which turns out to be a mistake as said chopper is used almost at once to steal the control elements of a Russian satellite weapon codenamed GoldenEye.

(Bond swot points will, of course, be awarded for knowing that the title GoldenEye is ultimately derived from the name of Ian Fleming’s holiday home. Really ridiculous swot points will be further be awarded for knowing that the holiday home in question appears to have been christened in turn after a breed of duck.)

Apparently out of a general disapproval of this sort of thing rather than any particular British strategic interest, Bond is sent to Saint Petersburg to find the stolen weapon and sort out the criminals involved. Along the way there are, inevitably, a couple of dodgy helpers (Robbie Coltrane and Joe Don Baker), a devotchka in distress (Izabella Scorupco), an exploding pen and a watch which shoots laser beams.

One doesn’t often get the chance to say this about a Bond film but GoldenEye is a very intelligent movie, mainly in the way it’s aware of the audience’s expectations and is extremely diligent about meeting them. It works very hard to establish Brosnan as Bond from the start, sticking him first in the Aston Martin from Goldfinger and then in a succession of stock Bond situations – the car chase, the incidental shag, the casino sequence, sparring with the bad guy. The end result is that you don’t have much choice but to accept Brosnan as the character – who else could he be? It helps a lot that both actor and script willingly embrace the essential absurdity of Bond and don’t try to make him all edgy and realistic.

That said, one of the things that makes Pierce Brosnan such a great Bond is the way he manages to strike a balance between so many different elements and synthesize them into a single characterisation. In the past I’ve said that Brosnan is well aware he’s playing an icon and treats the part as such – he has some of Connery’s swagger and some of Moore’s unflappability, and even occasionally some of Dalton’s intensity. He is the composite Bond par excellence, even if in this film he hasn’t quite got the look of the character right (hair too long and some dodgy wardrobe choices near the start).

One of GoldenEye‘s concessions to modern sensibilities is in its attempt to at least make a token exploration of Bond’s character from a vaguely realistic point of view. ‘You’re a sexist, misogynist dinosaur,’ M tells Bond quite early on, which is quite a brave move given this is the kind of criticism the character’s always drawn. No attempt is made to rebut these charges, of course, as there is obviously some truth to them! And later on there’s a scene in which we see Bond deep in thought as he ponders the fact he’ll soon have to kill a former friend, which leads to a moderately earnest discussion of his reluctance to really get emotionally close to people. This scene does hit a bit of a bum note – on first viewing, the friend I was with leaned over and whispered ‘Here we go, New Man Bond time’ before it had even got started – and this may be why this sort of thing didn’t reappear in the other Brosnan films.

The first half of GoldenEye may be extremely deftly made, with enormous skill and wit, but it is still really just karaoke Bond for the most part, and knowingly so. It doesn’t take the character or the series anywhere genuinely new. All this changes when James Bond climbs into a T-54 tank and, in pursuit of the bad guys, proceeds to demolish large areas of Saint Petersburg. This whole sequence is bursting with a sort of boisterous delight in its own destructiveness and takes place on a scale not seen in a Bond film for many, many years. Political relevance and character insights are nice things to have around, but these movies are really about action, wit, and guilty pleasure and the tank chase delivers them in spades, demonstrating exactly why there was still a place for Bond at the heart of popular culture.

It’s such a great sequence that the rest of the film seems slightly disappointing as a result, something of a return to the Bond formula. But this is only relatively speaking, of course. The film continues as solidly as it started, eventually arriving at an appropriately pyrotechnic conclusion. If the mention of Guantanamo Bay in the closing seconds seems a little jarring, well, that just shows that the world keeps changing even if Bond himself stays largely immutable.

There are so many other good things about this film, from Martin Campbell’s direction – it’s easy to see why they brought him back to introduce Daniel Craig’s Bond – to the supporting performances. Robbie Coltrane is obviously enjoying himself a lot, while Joe Don Baker appears to simply be reprising his performance as CIA loose cannon Darius Jedburgh from Campbell’s Edge of Darkness. The only element of the film which seems questionable is Eric Serra’s soundtrack – clearly Serra’s been employed on the strength of his work on Leon, and the music here bears a resemblance to that score. He treats the Bond theme as something to be tinkered with and deployed in different forms, almost like a motif, which brings variable results, and sticks a fairly objectionable soft-rock ballad over the closing credits on which he himself provides the vocals. It’s not entirely surprising David Arnold was brought on board for the next film.

As I’ve mentioned before, GoldenEye is probably my favourite of the Brosnan Bonds, which as time goes by seem more and more to occupy their own niche in the history of the franchise. In the earlier films there’s a continuity of style, up to a point, even when the lead actor changes, with the films evolving without a great deal of self-consciousness. But with GoldenEye the series suddenly seems to become aware of its own traditions and staples and even cliches, and also its reputation and iconic status. The defining characteristic of the Brosnan films, for me, is the way that they’re so knowing about these things in the way that they meet them, play with them, and occasionally subvert them. Coupled to Brosnan’s constantly entertaining lead performance, the result is a set of films of a consistently high quality, and at least as rewarding to watch as any in the history of the franchise.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published September 21st 2006: 

Hello again everyone, and welcome to another edition of the film review column that recently lost eight hours and has absolutely no idea where they’ve gone. Yes, 24LAS is now coming to you fairly live from the less desirable end of Tokyo, courtesy of Big Orange Cybercafe (Free Drinks But It’s 3p A Minute) Ltd.

Luckily, they have cinemas in Japan and a striking resemblence they bear to the British kind too: big dark rooms full of seats, mostly facing a screen on which they show films. I tell you, this foreign travel, you learn a thing or two. The main difference as far as I can tell (other than the subtitles) is that the film trailers and drinks adverts are all jumbled together and the anti-piracy warning is really OTT.

Anyway, the latest big movie to hit my local cineplex in Makuhari-Hongo is Brett Ratner’s X Men: The Last Stand, which got overlooked on its UK release (by me, anyway). The title is a subtle clue that this is the third in the X Men series, but the first not to be directed by Bryan Singer (who was off remaking Superman at the time).

Maintaining admirably close continuity with the last installment, the new movie opens with things looking unusually cheery for Marvel’s merry mutants — well, okay, Cyclops is still bummed out about his girlfriend’s rather contrived death, but everyone else is fairly happy.

But then!!! The world is shocked by the news that a cure for mutation has been discovered, capable of turning even the X-Men into normal (albeit unfeasibly attractive and well-styled) people. Magneto (Ian McKellen) is not best pleased about this, but sees it as a means to attract many new followers. The X-Men also have their concerns, but are distracted by the apparent resurrection of their old comrade Jean Grey, something which will have grave consequences for more than one of their number…

This movie has taken a lot of stick, largely I suspect because the received wisdom is that Bryan Singer is an auteur but Brett Ratner is a hack. I can sort of see where that idea comes from, but I really rather enjoyed Last Stand both times I saw it. It may lack some of the darkness of the last installment in particular, but the central allegory survives intact and there’s crash-bang-wallop in spades (something Singer always seems to shy away from).

There are problems, admittedly — the two main plotlines, one based on Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men run, the other on Chris Claremont’s classic Dark Phoenix saga, coil about each other but never actually mesh. There’s a lot of jostling for screentime amongst the various characters. (Angel in particular may as well not have bothered turning up.)

However, it isn’t afraid to dispose of key characters in spectacularly terminal style. There are genuinely shocking moments in Last Stand. And some of the newcomers acquit themselves well, particularly Kelsey Grammer as the Beast. As Juggernaut, Vinnie Jones makes a significant impression (sorry, that should read ‘big dent’).

In the end, this is a cheerful and entertaining blockbuster movie, never less than competently made and acted. Singer fanboys may recoil in horror, but its bright and energetic style is probably more to my taste than that of the first two movies and arguably closer to the tone of the comic books. An undemandingly fun night out, no matter what time zone you’re in.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published May 8th 2003: 

Well, it looks like summer is nearly upon us, bringing with it a virtual cavalcade of sequels and superheroes (many with the letter X in their titles). The first of these is, of course, Bryan Singer’s X2 – the sequel to 2000’s X-Men. Superhero sequels actually have a pretty good strike rate (I’m thinking here of the second installments of Superman, Batman and Blade, for starters [I don’t know what the hell I was thinking of vis-a-vis Batman Returns. Sorry – A]), so surely this one isn’t going to be a let down… Certainly they’ve retained the same impressive cast: Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is still the one with the adamantium claws, skeleton, and quiff, Magneto (Gandalf) is still the mutant master of magnetism, Professor X (Patrick Stewart, taking the weight off) is the one whose superpowers are the least drain on the budget, and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) is still the one with the X-Man codename that the scriptwriters are too embarrassed to use…

Following on reasonably closely from the events of the first film, X2 opens with an attempt on the US President’s life by the imp-like teleporter Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), a sequence which plays rather like The West Wing on acid. Army scientist Stryker (Brian Cox) uses this as an excuse to crack down on mutant activity, particularly the Xavier School – an institution he has a special and sinister interest in. Meanwhile, still on the scene are Magneto and Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), who have an agenda of their own…

Possibly due to the bigger budget, this is a slightly different film to the first one: where that essentially had a political subtext, this one is more personally and emotionally based. And, for most of the film, the results are spectacularly impressive, as the story alternates between impressive effects sequences and involving personal revelations to utterly engrossing effect.

I have never hidden the fact that I’m a comics fan, and so my approach to a film like this is inevitably slightly different to that of a purely cinematic feature like, ooh, Terminator 3. Most of the niggling gripes I had with the first film are answered, one way or another – this time round there’s a lot more action and many more X-Men on display, as Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) and Pyro (Aaron Stanford) get beefed-up roles and characters like Colossus, Jubilee, Beast, Shadowcat, and Karma all get cameos or namechecks of various significance. Having said that, Cyclops (James Marsden) is – very nearly unforgivably, given he’s a lynchpin of the comic – reduced to not much more than a supporting character, and there’s still no sign of the Danger Room.

But on its own terms as a film, X2 is highly impressive in nearly every respect. There’s a hugely charismatic performance from Jackman, a funny and sympathetic one from Cumming, and another world-class display of scene-stealing from Ian McKellen – he’s helped a lot by the fact that he gets, in his jail-break, arguably the best set-piece of the film. However, what keeps this from transcending X-Men in every single department is the climax. Where, the first time round, it was concise and simple and pacy, this time round it seems to take up about a quarter of the film’s running time, with half-a-dozen different plot threads and a succession of fights, crises, reversals and revelations. One of these is not only unnecessary and half-baked, but also a wholly underwhelming appropriation of the Dark Phoenix storyline (one of the most famous and best-loved stories from the comic), and thus promises to irk both the hard-core fans and normal people. The result is that the film loses momentum towards the end, which is a real disappointment – but at least it does provide genuine closure in place of a cliffhanger.

Given some of the groundbreaking pyrotechnics we’re promised later this summer (most obviously by the Wachowskis and Ang Lee) it would have been easy for X2 to slip back to being a blockbuster of the second rank. For all that it has its flaws and disappointments, this is an extremely impressive example of the genre, and entertaining from start to finish. Perhaps not the masterpiece that some people were anticipating, but by no means a disappointment: not a truly great movie, but great fun to watch.

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