Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Oct 09, 2021 9:07 pm 
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Cineplex "fun" - or at least a beautiful French actress and a soothing score

This will not be a review. I have not watched the dozens of James Bond movies you need to see to claim familiarity with the franchise, nor am I a devotee of blockbusters. I might add I am not sure I know what a "blockbuster" is, exactly. However the idea of a Bond film being for the first time shot (though only partially) with IMAX's 15/70mm film cameras and on film appealed to me, and I went to see the first local IMAX theater showing of No Time to Die. The French title, by the way, is Mourir peut attendre, dying can wait, which already is more realistic and makes more sense.

I did read Fleming's initial couple of Bond novels when they first came out, and saw the first Bond film, but can't remember it. My impression of the books was that Fleming, a privileged, posh-educated flop, wrote them for a lark, and hit it lucky with an immediate bestseller and pounds rolling in. He died in his fifties, but no matter. He had a good run, and has filled the world with nearly seventy years of dashing trash, and no end in sight.

The endurance of this franchise is not without some radical transformation of its core ideas, which probably began with the first Bond film, because the novels are more fun and less flashy than the movies, than any film realizations of Fleming's boyish fantasies had to be. The Daniel Craig Bond seemed the most wrong of all. His Bond decisively substitutes muscularity for chic, solemnity for the original Sean Connery good humor. One did not visualize the original 007 with big biceps, even less with Craig's bulldog face. Fleming's Bond was more dashing than daunting. He was quick on his feet, not strong. Body building doesn't go with being a debonair man about town, or didn't in 1960, at least. Martinis and women were a lot more important back then, and helped mitigate the absurd evil of Fleming's bad guys, whose weapons were preposterous and colorful. One thinks of Odd Job, the Oriental bad guy who sailed derby hats at his victims laced with razor blades.

The bad guys are too real in the new Bond film, their grandiose schemes too thoroughly worked out to be fun any more. That custom Aston Martin car is still a delight to look at, and the martinis are still ordered "shaken, not stirred," but the adolescent pleasure and dandyish choosiness are lost because Daniel Craig is a grownup.

At first it seemed this time among the new stars Rami Melek was the least successful. His prizewinning signature role as Elliot Alderson in "Mr. Robot", the marvelously convoluted and disturbing TV series he dominated, was a suffering, sensitive, neurotic madman genius one felt for dearly, qualities not at all right for a Bond villain. His performance as Bond villain Lyutsifer Safin seems overreaching, squalidly self-pitying, hammy. But in overdoing it so much perhaps he is the only actor to capture the original grotesquerie of an authentic Ian Fleming character. Christoph Waltz's subtle underacted performance as Blofeld is too creepy and too real to fit the original Fleming model, just as the bad guys' plan for global destruction this time is much too close to what we're actually going through right now. And on second thought, both these characters totally lack the Bond villain comic touch, the more needed given Daniel Craig's dourness as Bond.

How did I watch No Time to Die? By focusing on a beautiful woman and some nice music. For the first part, I focused mainly on Léa Seydoux. I have seen a number of Léa's earlier films, starting with Breillat's The Last Mistress (2007) and Honoré's La Belle Persone (2008), and there are many, including Kéchiche's controversial Blue Is the Warmest Color (2013) - even though she was, I think, only 33 when this, her second Bond appearance as Madeleine Swan was made. Many by now know the story that she is descended directly on both sides from the two most powerful cinema industry families of France, Gaumont on one side and Pathé on the other, and how totally she has banished the stereotype of the spoiled, privileged child of movie power with a hardworking, bold career that has made her today's most important female French movie star. There is not space to recount her career. The English language appearances have been great, but are the tip of the iceberg, and this itself is almost unique. She is eye candy with intelligence, heart and soul; she is magnificent. Her Madeleine Swann deserves your full attention. She may be destined to be the most important Bond movie woman, with a major role in multiple Bond films, and as, moreover, the only woman Bond has fallen for, without betrayal. A very uh-Bond thing to have happen, but nonetheless I relished her many scenes, her classic, tragic departure on a train and her reinstatement, even though that is only one of multiple ways this Bond movie goes on too long and has too many compartments.

The settings, naturally, are spectacular and beautiful, and included Jamaica, London, Scotland and Italy - and Santiago de Cuba, though the latter sequences, featuring a Cuban 007 actually played by a Cuban, Ana de Armas, met by Craig doing Knives Out, could not be shot there. Jamaica stands in for it. But the action dominates and some of these locations aren't even really explained. No Time to Linger.

Toward the end, the action wore me down. I was tired of putting my fingers in my ears to mute the crashes of bombs and weaponry. But then I found a reason to listen: Hans Zimmer's score. It fascinated me how he weaves his sweet strains between the explosions. Listening to those strains tames the bombast and makes the soundtrack cohere. I have never liked movie music, but for once I see the point of it. Let us not compare Zimmer to his boring, conventional alleged main competitor, John Williams who anyway is over the hill. Zimmer seems to have never studied music. This isn't to say he's unmusical. It's to point out that film score's aren't musical compositions in the normal way. They are scribbles, doodles, sounds to fill spaces, as with Zimmer's binding of the explosions here, or tuneful, catchy "themes" like Maurice Jarré's for Dr. Zhivago and Laurence of Arabia, which you get sick of but can't get out of your head. Notably Zimmer got his hands on a synthesizer early in life, and those are how me makes his stuff, in, reportedly, a grandiose, well-staffed studio. What has happened to the many excellent classical musicians who used to make a living in Hollywood playing recorded scores?

I wanted to leave early, because this movie goes on at least forty minutes too long and it was getting dark outside. But I just couldn't, because of the drawn-out series of cliffhanger scenes that occupy those final superfluous forty minutes. You just want to know if Bond finds no time to die, or if mourir, after all, ne pouvait pas attendre. If you're curious to know, go to an IMAX theater and find out. This is not cinematic art like Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk, but it is cinematic craftsmanship of a high, expensive order.

However it is far from a good movie or an outstanding James Bond flick. Despite my pleasure in watching Léa Seydoux and hearing how music is blended with canon fire, I'd have to agree with the Austin Chronicle's reviewer Richard Whittaker, who thought this "overstuffed storytelling, mixed with lackluster pacing, that renders No Time to Die a torturous misfire." Happily it's Daniel Craig's swan song after five films and a long, fifteen-year stint as 007. Playing Bond called back from retirement here, he has now himself retired as Bond for good. I hope.

No Time to Die, 163 mins., was originally due for release Mar. 4, 2020 but was pushed back due to the COVID pandemic three times. The last change was to Sept. 30, 2021, actual US release date Oct. 8. Watched at Bay Street in IMAX Oct. 7, 2021. Metascore: 69%.


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