Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel

GOLDENEYE (1995) **

Directed by Martin Campbell. Second Unit director, Ian Sharp. Written by Jeffrey Caine & Bruce Fierstein from a story by Michael France. Photography, Phil Meheux. Second Unit Camera, Harvey Harrison. Additional Unit directed & photographed by Arthur Wooster. Production design, Peter Lamont. Editing, Terry Rawlings. Costumes, Lindy Hemming. Special effects supervisor, Chris Corbould. Miniature effects supervisor, Derek Meddings. Visual effects photography, Paul Wilson. Music, Eric Serra. Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco, Famke Janssen, Joe Don Baker, Robbie Coltrane, Tcheky Karyo, Gottfried John, Alan Cumming, Michael Kitchen, Serena Gordon, Desmond Llewelyn, Samantha Bond, and Judi Dench as "M." A UA/MGM release. 130 minutes. Rated PG-13.

I keep reading respected reviewers who say that this is the 17th James Bond flick, when I count it as the 18th. I guess too many people have read the presskit that mentions "the 16 previous Bond films" without double-checking. Never trust pressbooks. They can provide useful information, but they also abound in hype, often have bad grammar, bad spelling, errors. In their biographical notices, unlike the total listings of credits you find in many European pressbooks, they can also conveniently omit references to movies that have bombed.

The new Bond is Pierce Brosnan. I'd rather see a Pierce-Arrow classic car than a Pierce Brosnan. Mind you, I wish him all the best, along with the rest of humanity. But without being bad, he is no suave Sean Connery, no "isn't this a joke?" Roger Moore, no eager-somber Timothy Dalton. By comparison Brosnan lacks a marked personality, is rather inexpressive and delivers his lines without panache.

Dalton, by the way, was in the much-maligned 17th Bond movie, "License to Kill" (1989). It is the most serious, cruel and sadistic Bond movie, and for sure the most personal one so far as its Bond is concerned. It also has Robert Davi (the villain) in his best role, The film stands high on my list of 007 adventures. Note too that another Bond, George Lazenby in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," has also been unfairly defamed.

Bond films have been a blessing, a mix of fantasy and adventure that, because of their very whimsy, defanged their violence, unlike so many other action movies. Bond films never outstayed their welcome, but "Goldeneye" seems to.

I don't think that we've reached the point of saturation with 007, or that lacking the Soviet adversaries or their surrogates, Bond has run out of steam. There is a great deal that could be Bonded if cleverly adapted to the changing times -- easily as much as before since villainy is still all over and technology keeps leaping and bounding, There are always new opportunities for 007 to reappear. This is still the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.

"Goldeneye" opens with 007 and 006 (Sean Bean) facing unexplained villains in Russia. The pre-credit sequence has Bond do the longest, most incredible bungee jump ever, fly through the air into a small plane's seat, and other such goodies. It is so outrageous that it could put you in a state of amused euphoria.

Then we cut to nine years later... and filmic erosion sets in. Bond's new boss M is played by talented Judi Dench. She may be familiar to you from the current, clever PBS British series "As Time Goes By" in which she has the female lead as a mature lady who runs a secretarial agency and who meets up with her former amour Geoffrey Palmer -- after 38 years. Dench adds a so-called feminist or PC touch, but is not especially interesting and her part is quite small. Michael Kitchen (whose credits are not in the presskit) is the actor who played superbly Charles, Prince of Wales in something I saw on TV. He has a cultivated nasal voice, beautiful manners, a memorable presence. Alas, his role in "Goldeneye" is tiny too.

The Aston-Martin motorcar of yore is now being upstaged by the blatant product placement of a BMW. Sad to see Great Britain yielding to Germany. The BMW is given nothing to do so far as I know, but then I may have closed my eyes for a moment.

The female villain (Famke Janssen) goes by the name of Xenia Onatopp. She is a paragon of unsafe sex, the summit of sex-and-violence as one entity. This long nosed woman has killing legs, like long-nose pliers that crush her bedmates to death during copulation.

This is not particularly amusing, nor is the name Onatopp. It repeats the mistake of "Goldfinger" where a woman was called "Pussy Galore," and the additional lapse of taste, almost 20 years later, of another lady being "Octopussy," in the eponymous movie. Those names may have been in Ian Fleming's texts but they were aberrations, snickering schoolchild humor that becomes crass, takes away from the would-be classiness of 007 films. No, I am not a prude.

Bond finds himself facing military and para-military Russian gangsters who are out to join Capitalism (with a capital C) through the use of a secret weapon. I won't let the cat out of the bag save to opine that unlike Bond's "shaken but not stirred " vodka martinis (yes, these drinks are back too) the story neither shakes nor stirs you.

Many of the old conventions are around, minus the old humor. There are some attempts at jocularity, feeble and forced. Boris the super-programmer especially is supposed to provide comic relief, but is poorly handled.

We get a car race, a baccarat duel with a mysterious woman at Monte-Carlo's gambling tables, cleavage, kinky sex, orgies of action, several locations, gadgets, and so on.

What's new is the use of the paramount 1990s cliché : computers, their wizard manipulators, the impossible things they do. What's almost new is that Bond, as sartorially impeccable as can be in his Savile Row tailoring and what could be Turnbull and Asher shirts, gets no tears, wrinkles, soot or spots. He remains immaculate while engaging in outlandish action. See Bond driving a tank in the streets of St. Petersburg as he chases a car. See him attacking a train with his tank.

New too is the containment of Bond's sexism. When Pierce Brosnan vanquishes the villainness it is not because she's female but because he is Bond. For a change, there's just one new woman carnally involved with him. She is no sex object but the pretty Assistant Programmer who has brains as well as guts. The actress is Izabella Scorupco, a Pole from Sweden who has been a model abroad, became a singer,was in a couple of Swedish films. "Scorupco" may sound like the movie's fabrication, but is not.

In case you wonder, the killer-lady Famke Janssen's real name is apparently not a concoction either. She is Dutch, moved to the States eleven years ago, majored in writing and literature at Columbia University, studied acting, was on TV's "Star Trek: The Next Generation" as Picard's love interest. Her movie debut was in "Fathers and Sons" (1992, with Rosanna Arquette and Jeff Goldblum).

New too is the location shooting in the former Leningrad. I tip my synthetic fur hat to the filmmakers for achieving feats of SFX (special effects) under near-impossible conditions and perhaps surpassing most other Bonds in production values. This is the reason I exceptionally include some of the countless artisans/technicians in the credits above -- and upgrade the film to two stars. By itself, the technical prowess rates an A, but there's more to movies than gizmoism.

"Goldeneye" uses the splintered approach. It is so busy with action, explosions, computers, guns, planes, trains and automobiles that it has no time for vignettes, relationships, or expanding anything. It is incoherent, diffuse, convoluted, with non sequiturs and gaps as big as the Baltic sea --as opposed to wide lakes in most other Bond films.

The progression is artificial. Past a point, its arbitrariness becomes annoying. Past the next point, it becomes a yawner, dehumanizes the movie, desensitizes the viewer. Gadgets and action and SFX make the film illogical, not by ordinary standards of course (which is to be expected) but by James Bond wild fantasy standards.

New Zealand-born director Campbell has done some nice work in England. In the US his latest was the ho-hum "No Escape" with Ray Liotta, not a hit but no disaster either.

Richard Maibaum, the American who was the habitual screenwriter of 007 movies, died in 1991. The new scripters, also American, here with their first produced feature, seem to have taken ideas from too many Bond films and strung them together. They are big on lapses and mistakes. Random examples: Ms. Scorupco survives a catastrophe magically. The arch-villain suddenly turns lecherous for a brief spell -- then nothing is made of this.

The exchange of bullets goes beyond ordinary exaggerations : we accept that movie bad guys will shoot the hero 100 times and not score once, while the protagonist's marksmanship is perfect. But a ratio of 1,000 to 1 in both cases?

Saving graces. A few bits are funny, like the tank's mayhem, its snatching the statue of a winged horse, or Russian gangster-club-owner Robbie Coltrane's singer girl-friend who demolishes amusingly the song "Stand By Your Man."

There is one subtlety of sorts. In the Gospel According to Bond it is the Brits who are the salt of the earth, often assisted by their second-fiddle American cousins. Bond has been played by a Scotsman (Connery), an Englisman (Londoner Moore), an Aussie (Lazenby) and a Welshman (Dalton). Now comes the Irish Bond (Brosnan). No matter, they are all loyal subjects of H.M. in the films.

The Bondian Standard has mostly odd-looking-and-sounding foreigners as the enemy. In "Goldeneye" there is a Very Bad person who though not a foreigner, through a specious explanation does turn out to be one after all. It's really pushing the envelope, but at least the trick saves British honor and fealty. I can't give away more, but you'll se what I mean if you watch the movie.

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel