Film review – Die Another Day (Lee Tamahori, 2002)

There is a scene two hours into Die Another Day. It takes a while to get to but it feels like the worthwhile pay off to the most patient of viewers. As Bond takes off a virtual reality headset we discover that the whole sexual fantasy had been in fact part of a simulation. Simple, effective, genuinely funny. That the Bond at the centre of the scene isn’t character James but actress Samantha portraying Miss Moneypenny is simply a stark and damning assessment of arguably the worst film in the franchise’s history.

Die Another Day, across the board, leaves a lot to be desired. The story feels messy and the dialogue makes it drag. Pierce Brosnan was never convincing as a womaniser, not in the charming way Sean Connery was that allowed the audience to both believe him and forgive him. It is a script laden with quips, come-ons and innuendo and I was left urging the women to slap him and ground the whole thing in some semblance of reality.

The technology is ridiculous even by Bond’s standards, with the inclusion of invisible Aston Martin the real calamity that lets the whole film down. The rhythm of the film makes this very much the centrepiece, utilised in the critical scenes right at the climax of the film in a pointless car chase and subsequent rescue mission. The wheels are revealed to have traction treads in them very late in the day, which would probably have saved the entire chase and… well the whole scene is very easy to get nitpicky about to be honest. I’m sure you’ll have as much fun as I did yelling at the screen.

The name’s Bad Guy. Unconvincing Bad Guy. – Image by © MGM/Corbis

The CGI just makes them all worse, though it reaches a trough when we see the destruction weapon called Icarus. This is clearly a matter of sheer terror that could cause the absolute destruction of entire countries, being that it focuses light from the sun and turns it into a giant flaming beam of light that rips through everything in its path. Director Lee Tamahori and the team at Eon Productions had 25 years to digest how George Lucas achieved this remarkable visual spectacle on a shoestring budget in 1977 for Star Wars, but yet they still managed to fail miserably in ripping it off here. You may also question why the icebergs don’t completely melt immediately when touched by the rays, or why the flaming beams stop instead of ripping through to the centre of the earth, or why nothing seems to be on fire. But hey, this is Bond. Am I right?

This also has the very worst Bond theme song of be lot, as well as the worst overall soundtrack that clumsily places modern tracks into scenes to miserable effect. Bond’s on his way to London? Throw in ‘London’s Calling’ by The Clash. That’ll do. It’s hard to escape Madonna’s terrible song too, running at the start and end of the film, sounding nothing like a Bond track, trying and failing to do something different with the well-trodden rules. In case you had managed to move on from it, Madonna pops up early in the film as a fencing teacher. She acts well but it’s a terrible scene that needlessly shows Bond struggling to keep up with someone to prove a point that he has a bit of rivalry with the film’s primary antagonist.

It is rarely so obvious that James Bond is punching above his weight. – Image by © MGM/Corbis

The whole Gustav Graves gene swap with Zao is very problematic for me. It is entirely pointless and seems superfluous to the script, borrowing heavily from Face/Off some five years after it had hit cinemas and proved that the follow-through doesn’t match the idea. Bond is a leading MI5 expert and the fact he didn’t have any suspicions at all is simply because the filmmakers made no attempt to leave any breadcrumbs for him nor the audience, making the Act 3 reveal a little hollow and a bit of a cheat. Could Graves perhaps have utilised some of the martial arts that had Bond struggling in an earlier fight sequence, given that he was actually Zao and an expert in martial arts. Instead he was portrayed as an expert in fencing, which is doable for sure but makes me begin to question the timeline for the switch.

Remarkably, there was a planned spin-off with Halle Berry reprising her role as Jinx, though this was canned following the lukewarm response to this film. Allegedly many of the plot points were reused for Casino Royale, which history has proven to be somewhat of a saviour of the franchise and a well-loved instalment for die-hard Bond fans and general film lovers. It’s a shame because Halle Berry clearly suited the role and was one of the few shining lights in a very poor film. It’s something that we’ll sadly never see now, with the franchise back on its own two feet and with no need of a spin-off to help maintain public interest.

Brosnan is, for me, not the worst Bond to have hit the silver screen. He was, by the end of his tenure, a Bond for the wrong era. As the Bourne series was launched, what cinema-goers wanted was exactly what Daniel Craig provided – roughness, realism and believability. He has proven himself over a four-film series and that is something that Brosnan, eventually, failed to do.

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Film review – A United Kingdom (Amma Asante, 2016)

Kicking off the 2016 BFI London Film Festival in style tonight was Amma Asante’s triumphant ‘A United Kingdom’. After the glitz and glamour of the red carpet, the film’s central themes proved to be an apt starting point for a programme that festival director Clare Stewart claims will focus on diversity.

The film tells the true story of Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike) and Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo). Khama is the King of Bechuanaland (the country now known as Botswana) and in 1948 he marries London girl Williams amid opposition from their families and countries, sparking a political debate that led to the country’s independence movement.

Asante is the first black woman ever to direct an opening night film at the London Film Festival, and she was keen to point out the relevance of her being the person at the helm telling this important story.

“[The Botswanians] were comforted that it was going to be told through the gaze of a woman of colour… There was relief, and of course a curiosity, as to how their country, and they as a people, would be reflected on screen.”

Pike and Oyelowo

The resulting picture is a moving portrayal of a changing time in two countries with a message that is as valid today as it was then. True, there has been much progress in the world since 1948, but looking back at the changes in the past 70 years should give humanity hope that as much progress can be made again in the next 70 years. Indeed, many comments from the stars on the red carpet referenced that there is still much wrong with the world and a film like ‘A United Kingdom’ serves to highlight that we should never give up the fight. This is a fact not lost on Asante, especially given the marginal bandwidth available in the film industry to both people of colour and women – something that should be considered one of the big talking points of this year’s festival.

Oyelowo and Pike work together perfectly, each delivering powerful performances worthy of the story they are telling. The film’s genesis lies with Oyelowo, who started writing the script six years ago after reading the Susan Williams book Colour Bar, and his passion for the story seeps into his emotional delivery.

The film perhaps suffers from appearing saccharine, with the story telling us that their love was so strong it overcame political opposition and brought a continent together. The truth is that the film isn’t too far from being perfectly accurate, with only a couple of timeline changes for the benefit of pacing.

This is a story that is one piece of a much larger puzzle that can be filled in with what can be seen as companion films: Mandela – Long Walk To Freedom (2013) and Hotel Rwanda (2011) are two good recent examples. There is a rich history that is still being written in Africa, from which deeply moving stories continue to be drawn in both film and literature.

It is remarkable that the actors and actresses involved knew little of the source material before receiving the script. It is likely that the same can be said of the many viewers this film will eventually reach – I have to admit that I was also blissfully unaware of the history of Botswana before seeing this film. Khama’s story isn’t one that has been well-documented and that is something that Oyelowo and Asante will be more than happy to rectify.

A truly important story told in such a captivating manner deserves to be seen. A wonderful start to the festival.