Tomorrow Never Dies

  • Title:  Tomorrow Never Dies
  • Director:  Roger Spottiswoode
  • Date:  1997
  • Studio:  United Artists / MGM
  • Genre:  Action
  • Cast:  Pierce Brosnan, Teri Hatcher, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yoeh, Judi Dench, Desmond Llewelyn, Samantha Bond, Colin Salmon, Geoffrey Palmer, Vincent Schiavelli
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“Mr. Jones, Are we ready to release our new software?”  – Carver
“Yes, sir. As requested it’s full of bugs, which means people will be forced to upgrade for years.” – Jones

“Gentleman, and ladies, hold the presses. This just in. By a curious quirk of fate, we have the perfect story with which to launch our satellite news network tonight. It seems a small crisis is brewing in the South China Seas. I want full newspaper coverage. I want magazine stories. I want books. I want films. I want TV. I want radio. I want us on the air 24 hours a day! This is out moment! And a billion people around the world will watch it, hear it, and read about it from the Carver Media Group.” – Carver

Tomorrow Never Dies is my favorite Pierce Brosnan James Bond film, and it’s one of the best James Bond films in the modern era because for once it has a relatively realistic premise – told in the high-action style of James Bond, of course. The film is about Elliot Carver, a media mogul played brilliantly by Jonathan Pryce, who isn’t merely reporting events, or even spinning events to fit his own point of view, but actually causing the events his media group reports.

For once the opening gambit of a James Bond movie actually fits with the rest of the plot. One of the items up for sale at a terrorist bazaar in Russia is a satellite encoder, which can influence (or change) GPS data. James Bond manages to locate the bazaar, and launch and take away a plane loaded with nuclear missiles prior to the British Navy’s missile destroying the bazaar and the terrorists who are shopping there. However, though the analysts see the encoder, and recognize what it is – they don’t realize it wasn’t destroyed and that Henry Gupta – a hacker for hire escaped with it.

The encoder is important because it allows the next major event to happen. A British ship, HMS Devonshire, is cruising in what it thinks are international waters off the coast of China. The ship is overflown by Chinese migs who insist they are only 11 miles off the coast of China. The Devonshire‘s captain double checks their position with GPS – and then they are attacked and sunk by a stealth ship. The British ship reports they were attacked by the migs, and gives their position before calling abandon ship. The survivors are collected by Stamper, Carver’s thug and enforcer, and shot with Chinese ammo. Carver reports on the developing crisis – using the potential for war, to launch his satellite news network.

James Bond is sent to investigate – first to Hamburg, where he’s instructed to get close to Carver’s wife, Paris (Teri Hatcher), with whom he had previously had a relationship. Paris gives him some information, and is killed for her trouble by Carver. While investigating, Bond runs into a Chinese reporter, Wai Lin. Later it will turn out she’s his opposite number, an agent for the Chinese security service. Bond’s able to get the GPS encoder and escape from Hamburg.

He takes the encoder to the CIA, because it’s an American device. Bond’s CIA contact shows it to a tech, who confirms it could have been used to send the Devonshire off course. The CIA also arranges to drop Bond into the Ocean to find the ship’s wreckage. The Americans assume Bond is jumping into international waters, but one of the British naval officers on the flight realizes he’s actually jumping in to waters belonging to Vietnam. Meanwhile, Bond succeeds in his HALO jump. He find the Devonshire and runs into the Chinese woman again. The two are caught by Stamper, and brought to Carver. They escape, handcuffed together, on a motorcycle. Bond and Wai Lin end-up working together, sending warning messages to both the British and Chinese governments that Carver’s playing them against each other, then head out to locate Carver’s stealth boat.

Bond and Wai Lin plan on blowing up the stealth boat with sea bombs, but are again caught by Carver and his goons. Carver explains his entire plot – not only is he using the crisis he created to “sell papers” and successfully launch his news network – but he’s working with a Chinese general. Carver’s stealth boat will launch an attack on the British fleet (after some initial minor attacks on both fleets) it will then use one of the cruise missiles stolen from the Devonshire to attack Beijing – wiping out the current government and military leaders, except Carver’s general who will be conveniently stuck in traffic. After setting up his new government, the general will grant Carver exclusive media access in China – creating a captive audience worth billions. In short, Carver is creating events, for ratings.

Wai Lin and Bond again escape Carver’s clutches and manage to kill Carver and his muscleman, Stamper, and sink the ship before the cruise missile is launched.

Tomorrow Never Dies isn’t lacking for action sequences as well. They include: Bond and Wei Lin handcuffed together, on a motorcycle, riding through a densely-populated area while being chased by Carver’s men; Bond using a remote control built into his (rather ancient-looking) cell phone to control his car; even Bond’s escape from Carver in Hamburg; and the scenes on the stealth ship, of course. All the big action sequences one expects from a Bond film – and they are well done, technically, and because we care about Bond and Wei Lin – they work in the film too. The action sequences are not overly long, overly complicated, nor do they have effects that no longer work – everything looks really good. So the film satisfies on the level of what a Bond film should be. But what I really liked about the film was the villain and the plot. Elliot Carver is a totally unscrupulous reporter turned media mogul, who’s incredibly psychopathic. Throughout the film we see him fire people for “mistakes” that aren’t their own (such as the woman who’s fired for not knowing what caused the power outage during his media launch party) or even kill any one who gets in the way of his plans, including his own wife. And, of course, he’s willing to sink a British warship, cause a crisis, and risk world war – just to get what he wants, complete power. Throughout the film – Carver gets the best lines, as he explains how the press can not only manipulate events to suit their own corporate purposes – but in Carver’s case, cause events in the first place. Pryce is delicious as Carver.

I also really liked Michelle Yoeh as Wai Lin – the Chinese agent who’s a female Bond. Wei Lin is just as smart as James, and just as dedicated to her country. And I’d watch a film or two about her! Yoeh also plays the part brilliantly.

And, like all of Brosnan’s films, the reoccurring roles of M, Q, Moneypenny, and M’s aide, are all played by excellent regulars. I love seeing Judi Dench as M. Samantha Bond is excellent as Moneypenny. And I really like seeing Colin Salmon as Dench’s aide – even when he has little to do as in this film. Geoffrey Palmer, Dench’s frequent co-star in British comedies, also appears as a British Admiral. Having the new Bond family there, as well as Desmond Llewelyn as Q just makes the Bond film a Bond film, as well as adding that unique something they all bring to it.

Recommendation:  See it
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: Top Hat 

Goldfinger

  • Title:  Goldfinger
  • Director:  Guy Hamilton
  • Date:  1964
  • Studio:  United Artists
  • Genre:  Action, Drama
  • Cast:  Sean Connery, Honor Blackman, Gert Fröbe,  Harold Sakata, Bernard Lee, Richard Vernon, Desmond Llewelyn
  • Format:  Technicolor, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“This is gold, Mr. Bond, all my life I have been in love with its color, its brilliance, its divine heaviness.  I welcome any enterprise that will increase my stock.”  – Goldfinger

“Do you expect me to talk?” – James Bond
“No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.” – Goldfinger

“You can turn off the charm.  I’m immune.” – Pussy Galore

Goldfinger really is the quintessential James Bond film.  Even those who aren’t big fans of James Bond have likely seen it, or parts of it.  The image of a girl painted in gold, dead on a bed, and the immortal line – “Do you expect me to talk? / No, I expect you to die.” have slipped into popular culture.  And it really is a good James Bond film and a good film, over all.

Goldfinger, unlike other early Bond flicks, does not feel overly long (hello, Dr. No), overly complicated, or overly boring (yeah, Thunderball, I’m looking at you).  It moves at a good clip, and the plot is easily followed.  The opening gambit takes place in Jamaica, where Bond uses some nearly laughable Really Big plastique and nitro to blow up a building.  Later he’s with a girl and is attacked.  He fights the guy, hand to hand, ending with tossing his assailant into a bathtub filled with water.  The guy gets the jump on Bond, pointing his gun at him.  Bond tosses a lamp into the water, electrocuting him. “Shocking,” says Bond.

Felix Lighter, Bond’s contact in the CIA then shows up and gives him his assignment from MI6.  He’s to keep track of a British national in Miami, by the name of Goldfinger.  Bond catches Goldfinger making money by cheating at cards, gets him to lose on purpose, and steals his girl, Jill.  However, Goldfinger kills Jill by having her painted gold.  She dies from skin suffocation.  Bond reports to MI6, where he’s informed that Goldfinger is suspected of smuggling gold.  He’s kitted-up with equipment by Q – in a scene that will become expected in every Bond film thereafter.

Bond is then sent to Scotland, where he discovers Goldfinger also cheats at golf – though Bond gets him back.  Bond then uses a tracking device to follow Goldfinger to Switzerland.  Bond meets a girl who is trying to kill Goldfinger.  It’s Jill’s sister.  The two try to get into Goldfinger’s estate.  The girl is killed by Odd Job, Goldfinger’s mute Korean manservant.  Bond is caught, and ends up spread-eagled on a gold table, with an industrial laser pointed at his privates.  Bond gambles, claiming to know more than he does, and is not killed.

However, he is knocked out and wakes up on a plane, meeting Goldfinger’s pilot, Pussy Galore.  She goes to great pains to explain to James Bond that she is only Goldfinger’s pilot, and she’s not at all taken in by Bond’s flirting.  The plane lands in Kentucky, at Galore’s Flying Circus – where all the pilots are women.

In Kentucky, Bond discovers Goldfinger’s plot.  He’s gotten a group of mobsters to smuggle all the various things he needs to break into Ft. Knox.  Only one of the mobsters named Solo wants his gold million dollars rather than the promised ten million payday.  Goldfinger gives him his gold bullion, but has Odd Job kill Solo, then crush his car at a junkyard.  The crushed car is returned to Goldfinger.  Goldfinger gasses to death the rest of the mobsters.

Goldfinger’s plan, however, isn’t to break into Ft. Knox to steal the gold, but to irradiate it with a nuclear bomb, thus making the gold useless and making all the gold he’s stored overseas even more valuable.

Galore’s pilots drop nerve gas in the area around Ft. Knox – knocking everyone out.  It’s eerie to see all the slumped over people, as Goldfinger heads into the building.  But Bond had convinced Galore to help – she had switched the canisters to something less deadly, and called Washington.  Bond ends-up in a hand-to-hand with Odd Job, and defeats him by electrocuting him on a fence in Ft Knox.  He barely defuses the bomb in time and it stops at:  007.  Bond sets off for Washington, DC, in a plane piloted by Galore, but Goldfinger confronts him on the plane.  During the fight, a bullet is fired, air is sucked out, Goldfinger is pushed out of the plane, and the plane starts to crash.  Bond and Galore escape by parachute and the film ends with the two in each other’s arms under the parachute.

Made in 1964, Goldfinger has some huge and impressive sets, especially the Ft. Knox set, with it’s vaults of gold.  This also is the quintessential James Bond film.  It has pretty girls, including the improbably-named “Pussy Galore”.  It has car chases.  It has gadgets.  It has Bond’s Astin Martin car.  It has the M and Q we know and love.  It stars Connery as Bond.  Goldfinger, with his German accent, and his mysterious servant Odd Job are perfect villains.  And the plot holds together and is big – really big.  I mean, break into Ft. Knox?  That’s big.  But everything about Goldfinger is big – the sets, and the props in them are all huge.  It’s impressive, in that sense, and even now, I wondered how they did some of the stuff they did – and marveled at the huge sets – no CGI extensions here!  However, some things in the film did seem out of date, from the huge Nitro barrels and regular (non-digital) clock detonator, and toothpaste-like plastique, to the truly really big bomb Goldfinger brings into Ft. Knox – it felt out-of date.

But one surprising thing about the film to me was Pussy Galore.  This is a woman who doesn’t immediately fall for Bond.  She’s feisty, and tells him she’s immune to his charms.  Over and over she pushes Bond away.  And she’s not with Goldfinger either – not in that way.  Galore is a pilot, a difficult profession for women today, in 2013, and virtually an impossible one for women in the early 1960s.  All the pilots in her flying circus are women as well.  Galore wears pants, trousers, and jodphurs throughout the film – we never see her in a skirt or dress.  She’s a very different Bond woman.  She also knows judo, and defeats Bond once in hand-to-hand combat.  Later, they fight in a barn, and throw each other into hay.  Bond eventually gets on top of her – she resists, – he persists, and eventually she gives in.  It’s after their literal “roll in the hay” that she decides to help Bond, and is crucial in defeating Goldfinger.

Looking at it now, Galore, who surrounds herself with women, and is contemptuous of men, might be a lesbian.  Yet, Bond forces himself on her, despite her cries of protest.  The scene in the barn made me squirm, because to me Bond raped Galore.  And in sexist 60s fashion, this “converted” her to be on his side.  In a sense, it nearly ruins the film for me.  At the very least, it adds an uncomfortable subtext, that Bond is not the hero he pretends to be.

Bond himself doesn’t seem to be the perfect spy in Goldfinger either.  He’s constantly getting beat up, caught, tied-up, and locked in cells.  He gives the impression he has no idea what Goldfinger is up to.  He doesn’t care about the women he uses and sleeps with.  He’s only interested in Pussy Galore because she resists him.

Still, it’s a good film overall, especially if  you ignore the subtext.

Recommendation:  See it!  It is the James Bond film after all.
Rating:  4 out of  5 Stars
Next Film:  Inception

Goldeneye

  • Title:  Goldeneye
  • Director:  Martin Campbell
  • Date:  1995
  • Studio:  United Artists (MGM)
  • Genre:  Action
  • Cast:  Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Robbie Coltrane, Desmond Llewelyn, Samantha Bond, Judi Dench
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“If you think for one moment I don’t have the balls to send a man out to die, your instincts are dead wrong.  I have no compution about sending you to your death.  But I won’t do it on a whim.”  — M

“Need I remind you 007, that you have a license to kill — not to break the traffic laws.” — Q

Goldeneye is Pierce Brosnan’s first Bond film and he does a marvelous job — Brosnan plays to his strengths, giving Bond a core of steel and toughness, that isn’t all that nice.  With Brosnan’s portrayal –the charm, clothes, and air of sophistication are a thin veneer that, at best, covers an icy man.  The villainess in this film is Onatopp, a Russian pilot and assassin, who can kill men by squeezing them until they stop breathing.  Yet, she isn’t all that different than Bond — both are functioning psychopaths — Bond more functioning than Onatopp — who clearly gets off on violence and killing.

The Bond franchise re-invented itself  with Brosnan, bringing in Judi Dench as the new female “M” — and she has more balls than any previous M.  Dench is wonderful as the hard-hitting head of MI 6.  Samantha Bond is excellent as Moneypenny — able to give as good as she gets to Bond, and turning down his habitual offers. Desmond Llewelyn is back as Q, but fun and light-hearted.

The plot of the film involves a stolen Russian satellite weapon, an EMP-generator code-named, Goldeneye.  But unlike the cold-war plots of Bond vs. Russia or China — the first half of Goldeneye involves Bond trying to figure out who has the weapon.  Suspects include a Russian arms dealer named Janus, a runaway general, or the two programmers who escaped the disaster when the weapon was stolen and its base destroyed.  Bond eventually discovers Janus is none other than Alec — an old friend and MI6 agent who’s not dead as Bond thought but has gone rogue.  Alec’s working with one of the programmers from the Siberan installation.  Bond ends up working with the other one, a female computer programmer named Natalia.  She’s tough, smart, and although she sort of falls for Bond’s charms, she seems to know his involvement with her won’t be permanent.  They eventually end up in Cuba where Bond and Natalia destroy the satellite antenna and also cause the actual Goldeneye satellite to burn up in the atmosphere.

But it’s a typical Bond film in that there is plenty of action, vehicle chases, flying bullets, and gorgeous women.  The nice thing about this film is the women are all strong:  M, Moneypenny, Onatopp, Natalia  — none are just mindless pretty faces.  But at the same time, this isn’t some “feminst counter-strike” at Bond — the film hits all the line items one has come to expect from a Bond film.  It’s highly enjoyable, if a bit long.  And Pierce Brosnan is gorgeous.  Drop dead gorgeous.  Plus he’s talented and lights-up the screen, with presence and magnetism.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Green Lantern:  Emerald Knights