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 

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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

Die Another Day

  • Title:  Die Another Day
  • Director:  Lee Tamahori
  • Date:  2002
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Genre:  Action
  • Cast:  Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Dame Judi Dench, John Cleese, Samantha Bond, Colin Salmon
  • Format:  Widescreen, Color
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

Pierce Brosnan’s final foray as James Bond is hardly his best, and I remember disliking the movie when I saw it in the theater. The only reason I ended-up with a copy of Die Another Day was I bought it at a “two fer” sale, and I was more interested in the other movie. And when I watched the DVD for the first time this past summer, after watching all of Brosnan’s other Bond films — it does disappoint.

However, watching this movie tonight, standing alone without watching the other Brosnan Bond films before, I was surprised at how much I actually enjoyed it. It really is the typical action-packed Bond film. This film is unique in that it starts with Bond at his lowest point – not only does a mission go wrong, but he’s captured, imprisoned and “the secretary disavows all knowledge of his existence”, – sorry, I couldn’t resist that. But seriously, Bond is tortured and kept alone, in prison, for 14 months. He is led out to a firing squad, then traded for another political prisoner. Upon his return to the UK he discovers he’s now a burned spy. But, knowing he was set-up, Bond sets out to clear his name and finish his botched mission.

This quest sends him to Cuba, and Iceland, before returning to North Korea, where he was captured before. The plot involves Blood Diamonds (which throughout the film are referred to as “Conflict Diamonds” – the politically correct wording still irritates me. Call ’em what they are, “Blood Diamonds”, please), and a huge satellite capable of reflecting the Sun’s rays to Earth, basically creating a second Sun, and, when focused, a very nasty pinpoint laser. Oh, and gene-replacement therapy, which somehow gives people new identities and new looks, as well as having a nasty side-effect of permanent insomnia.

If this sounds complex – it is. The film might have been better if it was simplified (note:  not dumbed down, just less of a mess) a bit, maybe cutting out the entire North Korean plot, and keeping the bad guy what he is – a deluded wealthy megalomaniac, faking a new diamond mine to launder blood diamonds, while developing an terrible super-weapon. Ah, well.

The other thing I noticed this time around, and I honestly don’t know how I missed it previously, because I’ve seen most of the James Bond films, and all the classic ones – are all the references to other Bond films. There’s the beautiful Bond girl walking out of  the ocean in a bikini (Dr No) only this time it’s Halle Berry. There’s Bond using a small re-breather tube (Thunderball). There’s somebody nearby being cut in half by a laser (“No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.”  Goldfinger), and in Q’s lab – there’s the knife-shoe from Goldfinger, and the human jet-pack (Moonraker? One of the Roger Moore films, anyway). They don’t come off as homages, but more as a series which is stealing from itself.

However, I will say this – the cast all did a great job. Brosnan is gorgeous as always, and his acting is perfect – I love the twinge of angst underlying his characterization of Bond. Halle Berry is actually quite good as the American agent (though that theme’s also not new to Bond; nor is the idea of pairing Bond with a young female agent from another country). Judi Dench, John Cleese, and Samantha Bond are wonderful in their re-occurring roles as M, Q, and Moneypenny. And no way is Brosnan getting too old to play Bond – he’s just distinguished. And still gorgeous. Though I must admit , I twitched a bit at him bedding the characterof Miranda Frost, who really did look young enough to be his daughter.

Overall, a standard James Bond film. Not quite as much fun or “high popcorn value” as usual because Bond’s tortured at the beginning of the film, and his suffering flashbacks to it (though all the torture scenes are in the opening sequence and credits, except the flashbacks), but still worth collecting as it is Brosnan’s last Bond film.

Recommendation:  It’s OK, good to add to the collection of the Bond complete-ist, and I’ve seen worse Bond.
Rating:  3 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog