Saturday, December 17, 2005
I rented Die Another Day last night, and it was fun to watch but, more importantly, Die Another Day reminded me of one of the Basic Rules for Getting Through Life: Don't buy movies at the grocery store!
The local Ralph's Supermarket has a little DVD kiosk and I always look at their selection and I always almost buy Die Another Day. I love James Bond, Brosnan is a fine substitute for Sean Connery, and it has Halle Berry. Seems like a pretty safe addition to the home entertainment library. But I always change my mind because I've never seen it, and I figure if I'm going to have just one Bond movie in my personal library, I should buy one that I’ve seen already that I know I like and I'll watch it over and over again, like Goldfinger or From Russia With Love or Thunderball or Octopussy. And also: Don't buy movies at the grocery store!
So I finally rented Die Another Day, and I enjoyed it very much for a one-time viewing, but this is a seriously DUMB movie that I do not need in my collection. Oh, I laughed, I cried, yes indeed, at all the wrong moments. There is never a dull moment, but it never really makes any sense. Austin Powers WISHES he could satirize a movie like this.
Drill this inviolable rule into your head: DO NOT BUY MOVIES AT THE GROCERY STORE!
This review of Die Another Day is going to be a bit harsh, but that doesn't mean I don't like this movie. I LOVE this movie precisely because it starts out boldly dumb and never stops. The Bond films are all about action, explosions, weapons, babes, clothes, gadgets, the pop version of international events, comic-book racial and gender stereotypes, super-villains with improbable plans, death traps, exotic locales and the suspension of disbelief. If there isn't at least one segment composed entirely of unbelievable bullshit, then a Bond film has failed.
Sometimes the narrative makes a little sense and sometimes it doesn't. It doesn't matter that much if the acting is passable, the women are beautiful and the film is exciting. I'm not expecting Ibsen or Chekhov or Arthur Miller's Death of an Assassin.
But Die Another Day doesn't just suspend disbelief; it drowns it in the bathtub and then bashes its skull in to make sure it's dead. Die Another Day jumps the shark very early on, likes the feeling, and just keeps jumping the shark every ten or fifteen minutes. This movie does not care whether it makes any sense or not. Any consistency between scenes is purely coincidental. This movie should be considered a deadly poison to logic and common sense. In this movie, blatant, unashamed nonsense is a way of life. That's why I liked it. Die Another Day goes so far over the top that it can no longer see the ground, and it sneers at your quaint, bourgeois notions of reality.
It starts in North Korea. Bond and a faceless aquatic attack force known as Team Expendable prance around on a beach near the DMZ and intercept a helicopter carrying a Dutchman who is transporting smuggled South African diamonds to trade to a corrupt North Korean army officer in exchange for a cache of weapons that seems to be composed mainly of armed hovercraft. (Why? Because Dutchmen do things like that in Bond films. Don't be so naïve! Bear with me. I'm doing my best to rationalize it so that it makes sense. Not an easy task.) Bond takes the Dutchman's place and cleverly places some explosives in the briefcase containing the diamonds and meets with the North Koreans. But they figure out who he is and they are just about to kill him when the bomb goes off, and the North Koreans have their first super-villain ever!
I call him Diamond-Face. (They don't call him that. They call him Xo or Xel or Sloppy Joe or something. I like Diamond-Face better.) You see, he's one of the North Koreans that was standing nearby when the briefcase exploded and the diamonds went flying everywhere and he got a bunch of diamonds stuck on his face on one side of his head! But he escaped and went to Cuba to get special surgery that would change his DNA and make him a Caucasian and the surgeons made him bald, bleached his skin, tore out his retinas and left the diamonds in his face. At that point, Bond and Jinx (Halle Berry) interrupted the process and he escaped wearing only a bath towel and evaded the Cuban authorities (because of an epidemic of diamond-encrusted, albino Asians infesting the Caribbean at the time, he was able to escape in the confusion). He made his way to Iceland where he would be more likely to blend in. (I haven't started to make up shit yet. I don't have to.)
It's about time pop culture realized the villainous potential of the North Koreans. It is a serious breach of protocol that puppets (in Team America) took on North Korea before anyone else did. James Bond should be ashamed of himself that North Korea was let off the hook for so long! But their villainy has been noted. With James Bond on the job, it's only a matter of time before their communist regime collapses in on itself in the face of Western superiority.
Not really. America must have North Korea. Kim Jong-Il is so lame that he makes our seriously lame president George W. Bush look good in comparison. Not that good. But at least Bush seems like he might be able to beat Kim at checkers or a simple card game. I mean, that's something, isn't it? That the president is only the SECOND lamest world leader in existence? (At this point in history, I'm clutching at straws to feel good about the nation's leaders.)
Back to the movie: Somehow, Bond knows he's been betrayed but he doesn't know by whom. He mentions it several times at intervals throughout the movie, and it seems kind of like a big deal at times, but he never really tries to figure out who it was. He never figures it out on his own. The betrayer just kinda goes, "Yup, it was me" when the time comes, like the filmmakers got so wrapped up in the big scheme and Halle Berry's bikini and the glacier and the other shit that they forgot about that little subplot. I had forgotten all about it when the betrayer was revealed. It took me a minute to remember what the fuss was about. Oh, well. That's showbiz. Sometimes, Hollywood had nothing but contempt for its customers.
Is it just me, or is Pierce Brosnan kind of a dumb James Bond?
The bomb that created Diamond-Face enables Bond to get away from his executioners and there's this big chase on the hovercrafts, and the leader of the North Koreans goes over the cliff and is presumed dead. (This whole sequence is pretty cool.) Bond is captured and imprisoned by the North Koreans. They take him to a nasty interrogation room and shove his face in cold water with ice floating it, and the credit sequence begins.
Bond title sequences are really neat and this one is no exception. This one even makes sense in the context of the film. Bond is being subjected to the water torture and the floating chunks of ice twirl around and form into the shapes of curvy women and sorta dance around his head. In other torture sequences, flames and drops of sweat also form into the shapes of shapely female acrobats who cavort and dance about the screen. They could represent Bond's hallucinations or delusions during his ordeal. Visually, it's pretty neat. Madonna's title song pretty much stinks, but it still makes sense in the context of the film: the evil commies are playing Madonna's recent music to torture their victims. "Ha ha ha! Take that, imperialist pig-dog! Talk or we'll play the latest David Bowie album next!"
How does Bond escape? Surely being captured was part of the plan, right? I mean, Bond is a fricking super-hero, nearly invulnerable, a master assassin, he can practically fly under his own power, right? Well, not in this scene. He is held prisoner for fourteen months.
Bond is eventually released in a prisoner exchange, and British intelligence holds him prisoner for a bit, but Bond quickly escapes because the audience doesn't care (they want to get to Halle in the bikini) and Bond becomes an independent agent seeking revenge on his betrayer. He travels to Havana because … well, I don't remember. Mostly, he goes to Havana to meet Jinx, played by Halle Berry, whose main job is to look good in an orange bathing suit and provoke double entendres.
Halle Berry is the best thing about the movie and she’s terrible! Oh, yeah, she looks great, and she kicks ass when she needs to, but her acting is generally pretty bad. She is very out-of-place and not at all convincing in her role. (Except for a few scenes, like the one where she’s strapped down and enduring an interrogation by Diamond-Face:
Diamond Face: Who sent you to Iceland?
Jinx: Yo' mama!
That cracked me up.)
But it really doesn't matter that Halle Berry stinks. Either somebody told her or she figured it out for herself: Look at this fricking movie! It makes no sense! It's all explosions and guns and fights and chases and boobies. Halle, you're there for your ass and your boobies, and those are pretty convincing. No one cares about your acting. This movie will not be any better or any worse based on the quality of your acting. Don't knock yourself out.
James Bond and Jinx soon invade a small island that has the race-change clinic (this is the scene where Diamond-Face escaped with his operation only partly completed), wreak general havoc, and Jinx escapes in a spectacular manner that is one of the few genuinely stylish scenes in the film. (I must admit that Halle has a few pretty neat sequences that make up for the bulk of the movie where she stinks up the screen.)
James goes back to London and the main villain finally shows up. He's some scientific genius/thrill-seeker/innovative millionaire or something. I forget his name, but his initials are G.G., so we’ll call him Gordon Grunion. He parachutes into the courtyard at Buckingham Palace where he's about to be knighted and spouts off a bunch of flamboyant clichés about living life to its fullest. He is a total asshole.
At the London fencing club, we are introduced to Miss Frost, Gordon Grunion's rather icy assistant (or whatever the hell she is), played by a very attractive woman named Rosamund Pike. Poor Rosamund Pike! In any other Bond film, she would be in contention for Hottest Babe. But she's in the same film with Halle Berry, so she ends up in the Slightly Hotter than Judi Densch category. Miss Frost turns out to be working for British intelligence. Later, it turns out that she is also the double agent who betrayed Bond in the first scene. (I don't feel too bad about spoiling the surprise because you won't care by the time it happens. You will have forgotten there ever was a betrayer.)
Bond gets in a protracted duel with Gordon Grunion at the fencing contest, and they wreck the place, for no other reason than because there hasn't been any action for two or three minutes. It's a pretty neat fight, if you can ignore the lack of any real reason for it.
Grunion has this satellite (or whatever) code-named Icarus that emits a heat beam that he is going to use to heat up the atmosphere and extend the growing season in certain parts of the world to help end world hunger (or something). And he's going to demonstrate it in Iceland. Where he has built some kind of mansion/hotel out of ice. And he is funding it with a diamond mine he discovered in Iceland. And these diamonds are exactly the same structurally as the diamonds that were being traded and blown up in North Korea in the first scene. Hmmm.
(You see why I love this movie? I have left out so much in this review. This movie never stops giving. There is always more material for ridicule. I could write a separate article on the DVD extras. I do not understand why the DVD for this movie needed TWO discs.)
So Bond is now again working for British intelligence, but it's unofficial. And they give him an invisible car. John Cleese as Q explains how the car works and it is a testament to the man's professionalism that he managed to keep a straight face while making that speech. The car has thousands of tiny cameras, you see, and they photograph what’s on one side of the car and transmit it to the opposite side so that it produces a chameleon effect. Wait, what? Did he really say that? This is pretty dumb even for Die Another Day.
So they all go to Iceland for forty minutes or so, our merry crew. Bond, Miss Frost, Gordon Grunion, Diamond-Face. Jinx is there as well, where she reveals she is working for the NSA. Bond sleeps with Miss Frost, Jinx gets captured by the bad guys, Bond rescues her from being cut in half by a laser. (Which is a pretty good scene, really. While Bond is fighting the bad guy, and Jinx, though bound, manages to get the controls for the lasers and helps Bond defeat the bad guy.) Then Jinx gets caught in another death trap within about a minute (Oh, that Jinx! Can't leave her alone for a minute!) where they lock her in a room in the hotel made of ice and they aim the heat ray from Icarus at her, and the room melts and fills with water and she almost drowns, and I can't figure out why the walls didn't melt as well, rendering the whole plan to be futile when the water ran out of the holes in the melting walls. But that's not what happened and Bond saves her with the invisible car.
And somewhere in there is the scene where we find out that Miss Frost is the betrayer. We also find out that Gordon Grunion is the rogue North Korean colonel who fell over the cliff at the beginning of the movie and he survived the fall, went to Cuba, and had the race-change operation that made him Icelandic. Wow! Who would have guessed? And a bunch of other stuff happened that I don't care to go into. Leave something for the sequel.
So now, Miss Frost and Gordon Grunion are on the way to Korea again, where they are planning to use the heat beam from Icarus to destroy the defenses of South Korea in the DMZ and pave the way for a North Korean invasion. (By the way, Michael Madsen and Madonna are in this movie. And Gordon Grunion has issues with his father.)
Somehow, Bond and Jinx make their way to the air field where Gordon Grunion and Miss Frost are about to take off for Korea in the biggest airplane I've ever seen. (I think Diamond-Face was on the plane. I sort of lost track of him in the excitement.) Bond and Jinx decide they must get on the plane, so they run alongside it as it is speeding up for take-off and they climb up into the plane on the landing gear. I may have dreamed this whole scene because it's just so mind-boggling. Either Bond and Jinx can run several times faster than any track star or the bad guys have developed a plane that can approach take-off speed at fifteen miles an hour. Either way, bravo!
The big finale takes place on the plane, and it's pretty neat. The plane is freaking huge, with a museum, a bowling alley, a football stadium, a Starbuck's, and a weapons room. It's state-of-the-art design includes a hatch that enables stowaways in the landing gear to move quite easily into the rest of the plane. Everybody pairs up and fights. The whole crew gets blown out the window. Gordon Grunion falls out as well. (I forgot to mention he's wearing an exoskeleton by this point. I don't remember why.) Jinx and Miss Frost fight to the death. Jinx wins. By now, the plane is losing altitude quickly, so Bond and Jinx flee to the transportation department where cars and stuff are falling out of the plane. Luckily, they get into the convenient helicopter, which falls out of the deteriorating plane, and they get it started JUST IN THE NICK OF TIME and survive. Mercifully, the film ends soon after. I was laughing so hard I was afraid I was going to pass out or have a stroke.
If this movie had gone back and forth between making logical sense and being stupid, I wouldn't have liked it. But the filmmakers chose the stupid option, turned on the hyper-drive, and never stopped. I can respect that.
I was going to make fun of the extras. I watched the "Making of" documentary and listened to some of the Pierce Brosnan commentary track, and they were both pretty lame. This DVD needed trailers for other Bond films. That would be cool. All Bond films on DVD should have a compilation of trailers for all the Bond films.
Then I watched the Madonna video for "Die Another Day," and I liked it. The song works better in the video than it does in the titles sequence of the movie. The video recreates some of the scenes from the film with Madonna being tortured and interrogated and also fencing with herself. There are several homages to earlier Bond films. I liked it quite a bit and so I've decided to lay off on going after the extras. Fun is fun, but it's easy to go too far.