Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Quantum of Solace

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Quantum of Solace

I like to do a write-up every time I see a new movie in theaters, which these days is a very rare occurrence indeed. I don't have a cohesive, overarching take on Quantum, just a series of impressions which will follow after the jump. I'd also recommend Alexander Coleman and Tony Dayoub for wildly divergent, yet both very well-written, takes on the movie. For me, Quantum was an enjoyable (if at times underwhelming) popcorn flick and I can't work up too much of a sweat about it either way. Nonetheless, a series of reactions and impressions registered with me. Among them:

*"Quantum of Solace": like a bizarrely flavored drink with an enjoyable aftertaste. In that I hated the title when I first heard it, then I got used to it, and now I kind of like it. Beats "Casino Royale" anyway.

*Speaking of which, Casino Royale belongs with a group of much-hyped, much-distrusted films/TV shows, like "The Sopranos" and American Beauty, which I convinced myself I didn't like before seeing, only to enjoy once I succumbed. My reservations were tied to an aversion for the glib and superficial "revamping" trend which has hit our culture. I thought Batman Begins was stupid, trying to have it both ways and losing on both ends: oh-so-serious, too serious to be a mere comic-book movie (how times change: Burton's Batman was regarded as uberdark too not so long ago), yet way too lazy and dumb to be taken seriously. I suspected that Casino Royale would be the same. Who the hell needs a "dark" Bond? It speaks to our obsession with looking to pop culture for everything: entertainment, but also a shallow kind of darkness and "complexity." Yet Casino Royale turned out to be fun, with the "darkness" enriching rather than clouding the spy story intrigue.

*Quantum coasts a bit too much on Casino's darkness. We're told that Bond is suffering, but it isn't really convincing (he glowers a lot, but it's only skin-deep). Maybe they should just let it drop.

*The first few action sequences are cut way too fast and hence not very enjoyable. I am a man out of time in this regard (though many of my fellow bloggers seem to share my aversion to this) because post-'99 aesthetics just don't quite do it for me. They're cold, smug, and alienating in my eyes: give me goofy Pineapple Express-like action any day of the week.

*Of course, the cloud that hovers over these action sequences is Hurricane Bourne. Having seen The Bourne Ultimatum last summer, I have to say - and I'm not alone in noticing this - that the second chase sequence is almost a direct copy of one from that movie. Same jumping from rooftop to balcony, same bam-bam-bam cutting from person to person - even as they're locked together within inches of each other's face! - but somehow it all seems less convincing. Alexander Coleman calls this the "Bourning" of Bond, and I agree it's a massive problem (though I'm more concerned about the Bourning of our pop culture aesthetic); however, the problem seems to go away after the first third of the film.

*The film takes somewhat surprising digs at America, even putting the CIA in cahoots with its villains (given how 007 films are American rites of passage, it's easy to forget that Bond, as a Brit, has no allegiance to the Stars and Stripes). Yet it also (sort of) takes a dig at the trendy greensters, with an environmentalist (he's even named Greene!) who's in it for a certain kind of green to be sure, but not the kind you find on trees.

*Mathieu Almaric, as Greene, has a great face for a villain. Well, just a great face in general I guess.

*I don't quite get Jeffrey Wright. In every movie I see him in, he's touted pretty highly (given star billing alongside Clooney in Syriana, cast as Colin Powell in W.) yet he never makes a very distinct or deep impression. Yet I kind of like him. Go figure.

*I loved the opera scene. As a legion of sophisticates sits down for an uber-chic (and uber-strange) performance, Bond sneaks around behind the scenes in a tux, punching out henchmen, and listening in on the global machinations of the villainous elite. This taps into what Bond is really all about: the confluence of style & elegance with violence & toughness. Many a guy, or at least this particular guy, digs Bond because he's tough without being a dolt, cool without being overprivileged, classy without being effete. These types of heroes used to be more common, but in the great 60s divide we seem to have lost the ability to blend these different qualities. Craig takes him perhaps too far into "wounded" territory (and what's with the verbal pyrotechnics every time he orders a drink?) but when called upon, he still provides that 007 panache.

*I liked the Goldfinger reference though I suppose it's troubling that this may be, as Coleman puts it, "the most harmoniously composed and intelligently handled scene" in the movie.

*I haven't yet been very impressed by a Marc Forster film. (I've also seen The Kite Runner, which had some disturbingly effective sequences, but was largely underwhelming and kind of limp.)

*The film loses its way in the final third, but not egregiously so. And yes, it is absolutely absurd to think that the villains can't see people coming from miles away given that their hotel IS LOCATED IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DESERT! But I didn't really care. At least this time, unlike in some early scenes, we actually know where Bond is.

*Olga Kurylenko is really, really, very hot. I know Bond girls never violate the "more than one girl per film, never more than one film per girl" rule, but as the Craig franchise bends the rules in other regards, I wouldn't mind seeing her again.

*That said, here we have a Bond girl named "Camille Montes." I realize we're living in a more enlightened era, but couldn't they have done better than that?



P.S. (11/20): Though it doesn't discuss Quantum, Erich Kuersten's rumination on his favorite Bond girl and the advertising aesthetic of late Brosnan Bond is a must-read.

P.S.S. (11/22): I don't want to make this links central, but you really must check out Jason Bellamy's sharp and hilarious evisceration of the Bourning of Bond.

6 comments:

Dean Treadway said...

What a fun review! I like the random comments style...I think I may do a review like that soon.

I won't debate what you have to say until I see the film, but I must say, I'm not expecting to care for it. I generally feel the same way you do about Marc Forster (though I did like the overlooked STAY with Naomi Watts, Ewan McGreger and Ryan Gosling; there's some wild attention directorial detail and creativity in that one, though it's ultimately a little Twilight Zone-zoney for me. Still, I have affection for its performances and look, plus its forboding sense of mystery.

I did think that CASINO ROYALE was a vast step up for series; the last Bond film I was wild about was THE SPY WHO LOVED ME in 77, and before that ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE in 69 (recently I also saw DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER on the big screen for the first time, and its truly effective, self-referential humor and outlandish art direction really upped my previously low opinion of Connery's second-to-last outing as Bond.)

MAJESTY is, in fact, the most effective "down" Bond, and as such it should be a roadmap on how to handle Craig's newly-troubled Bond (oh, if only Connery had done MAJESTY. It would be inarguable which Bond would be the best of the series.)

But I found CASINO ROYALE genually exciting and well-constructed, and it signified what I hope is a more engaging, humanistic definition of 007 than what the Brosnan or Moore gave us (I sort of liked Dalton as Bond; I think I'm in the minority there). It sounds as if QUANTUM reneges on this promise. I hope I'm wrong. We'll see.

I still think the Bond series should be revived with the participation of a truly A-list director. In my heart, I hope for a Tarantino-directed entry to the series that takes Bonds and re-sets it in a wildly-designed, uber-witty version of the 1960s, with the Russians and the Cold War again as villain and backdrop, respectively.

Dean Treadway said...

By the way, Bravo on your final comment. That is a spectacularly bland name for the girl in a Bond movie. A very funny observation!

C. Jerry Kutner said...

If you want to understand why people admire Jeffrey Wright, check out his performance(s) in Angels in America in which he is brilliant. Also Basquiat.

MovieMan0283 said...

Dean, let's hope they do better next time (on the female names).

Jerry, I'll check it out - I get the sense he's one of those actors whom filmmakers like enough to put in their "big" movies - but usually in thankless parts.

(P.S. Sorry for all the spelling errors to anyone who read this before it was fixed. Fell asleep at the controls & forgot to run spellcheck. Oops...)

Stephen said...

"Quantum coasts a bit too much on Casino's darkness. We're told that Bond is suffering, but it isn't really convincing"

I suppose there is real grieving, which is pretty much unnoticeable to the passer-by and movie grieving - i.e. endless sobbing, desperation, constant needless references to how much he misses her etc.

I don't need to be shown; I assume he's grieving and that's enough. Just as I don't need a film to have a moral compass because I have my own, I feel for him without his vulnerability being shoved in my face,

I liked how subtle Quantum of Solace was in many respects, such as Camille's scar. Most films would come out and mention it directly. Instead, we are told about how the fire 'left it's mark' and how she's 'really quite stunning, once you get her on her back'. No close-up required.

The whole film had a great momentum - a grieving Bond blindly and violently groping for the truth, following lead after lead further into oblivion and the baking Bolivian desert. Quantum of Solace, drops of water, fire and sand, the aesthetic texture matched the thematic texture beautifully.

I prefer the deadpan humour and restrained charm of the new Bond - the old ones are pathetically superficial and really quite boring because of it - and Camille was the most interesting of all the Bond girls; charisma, intelligence and motivations of her own. Her and Bond made a fascinating pair, clinging onto each other in the middle of a storm.

I found the action easy to follow, the title intriguing and apt.

I cannot think of anything worse than Tarantino turning Bond back into an irritating pastiche, a sleazy second-rate comedian.

MovieMan0283 said...

Interesting perspective, Stephen. I find the mixture of "depth"/"darkness" and the blockbuster aesthetic to often be like oil and water; I enjoyed Quantum but it was in spite of its attempts at seriousness rather than because of them. Still, it is to a certain degree a matter of taste.

I tend to feel that if you want pathos and depth, Bond is not the best place to look; the filmmakers can go for it, but it's always going to be drowned out by the explosions and gadgets, unless they go all the way with toning them down. (Batman Begins had a similar problem, getting the worst of both worlds by making the fantastical elements duller but not quite making the characters deeper and the interactions more realistic).

Or they can go for the mythic/allegorical effect, which works sometimes and allows for both the fantastical elements and the "serious" without getting bogged down in doomed attempts at realism. I thought Dark Knight pulled that off.

That said, as I indicated, Casino Royale worked for me, at least on first viewing (repeats haven't held up as well, but I still find it entertaining) - and the moodiness of it definitely added to this impact.

Also, the filmmakers/screenwrites/actors can leave something offscreen, and often they should, but that doesn't always mean it's there...I didn't get any sense of grief beneath the surface in Quantum.

Anyway, as my review indicates, I did enjoy the movie - I just didn't think it was especially exceptional.