Dance of the Sugar Plum Zombies
There haven't been any Green Lantern movies lately, and it's unusual that the highly anticipated remake of A Very Brady Christmas hasn't made it to the big screen, but we mustn't give up hope: there is always something brilliant cranked out from the Hollywood production lines. Therefore, with all the giddy excitement for Dumb and Dumber To finally over and the hype for the new Star Wars film underway, we are fortunate that the guardians of the Bondian film franchise felt the great need to be relevant. On December 4, 2014, at Pinewood Studios, the filmmakers managed to assemble a press conference for the new 007 film, slated for 2015. Alas, against the backdrop of more pressing matters—i.e., nationwide protests over police violence, a typhoon in the Philippines, the cyber attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment—the press conference was completely insignificant. At best, it was a low-key event—but underscored by an atmosphere of reluctance on the part of the filmmakers. Lasting about three minutes, it seems the filmmakers couldn't be bothered to go through the motions of yet another press conference. As expected, nothing remarkable was revealed, which really means they had nothing to say; and based on what we can gleam from the filtered information, the production has a muddled aura, even at this early stage.
So the damn thing is titled Spectre. I've received a number of inquiries about my thoughts on the title, so I might as well put in a word on the subject. First of all, my condolences to those who thought that Eon's choice had to do with a biography of Phil Spector. I can imagine their confusion upon seeing Monica Belluci, still ravishing at age 50, and wondering if she would really don a blond afro wig to tackle the role of the bizarre record producer. Fortunately, it turns out the new Bond movie has nothing to do with such a biographical drama. Instead, the title is suppose to be intriguing, a genuinely cool Bondian title. Ah, Spectre or, more precisely, SPECTRE, as indicated in Fleming's Thunderball, which the media has been lecturing that it references a crime organization, an acronym for Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion, although for Bond fans the whole notion is ancient knowledge, and for casual movie-goers (those who haven't succumbed to the world's amnesia), it's something they've encountered in the Connery-Lazenby Bond films, with its prominent imagery centered on a bald megalomaniac in a beige tunic, stroking a white Persian cat.
So we're back to that, eh? The Bond makers managed to drag out the old villainous syndicate from the vaults to repackage it as something to be marveled. So far, it's worked: in Dumbfukistan (to borrow Gerald Celente's term), the reports from the newswires were written with a tone of bedazzlement, as if the filmmakers came up with a striking, very “literary” title of pure genius. Yet, if memory serves, it's also one of the titles that the late Kevin McClory considered when he attempted to launch his own 007 franchise back in the days when he owned the Thunderball film rights.1 Granted, the Bond producers could have selected something worse. Spectre is certainly bland, lacking a cinematic flair, and more suitable for fan fiction on the Internet. But it's an improvement over Skyfall. And certainly better than The Dark Spy, or The Dark Spy Rises, or any variation of titles from Christopher Nolan's Batman series, which director Mendes and the Bond producers have been desperately emulating.
Back in Dumbfukistan, the Courtiers of Profound Historical Events (i.e, the mainstream media) aimed their cameras at Mendes and producer Barbara Broccoli. To be in their presence was an almost mystical moment. For here they were, glorious dramatists of our time, on the floodlit stage of history, ready to enlightenment us with yet another contemporary but classical piece of cinematic art. In that live streaming event, we can almost read the minds of the Courtiers: where will these two demigods shoot the film? In what exotic locations will they take us?
A few days before the press conference, I received emails from Bond fans speculating the locations. A devout Craigybopper in Indonesia, one Kumbhakarno Akong, even insisted that I convince the producers to use Rio as the primary location, especially the beach at Ipanema, where old man Daniel could appear out of the water and wink at the girls in bikinis. It would be, as Mr. Akong proclaims, a “classic Bond moment.” Unfortunately for him, I have absolute zero connection with the producers. And, anyway, I find the whole notion incredibly disgusting: to think that an old guy, with a liposuctioned backside, emerging from the Ipanema breakers for bikini-clad babes to admire would represent a classic Bond moment! Are some of these fans, or rather Craigyboppers, truly this delusional, to the point of even lacking an ounce of critical-thinking? Apparently so; and as my neighbor, a retired psychiatrist, would say, “Be careful of what you receive in your mail inbox: the world is teeming with your garden-variety manic-depressives, roaming the Internet.” Ah, such is life. We are, however, saved from having to view such a ridiculous idea: the official locations are Mexico, Tangier, Austria, Rome, and the usual UK locales. The first three are rehashed locations from Dalton's Licence To Kill and The Living Daylights. Apparently, some filming will take place in East Grinstead. Yes, East Grinstead, near Ashdown Forest—truly an exotic Bond location, if I ever saw one, considering this is where the Winnie-the-Pooh stories are set. I was personally hoping for Tonawanda, New York; but East Grinstead was probably better for tax reasons.
Nevertheless, if it's any consolation to Mr. Kumbhakarno Akong, there was something about Craig's entrance at the press conference that evoked the sunny locale of Rio. Here again, is his stately entrance (and imagine, if you will, the tune of "The Girl from Ipanema"):
Old and pale and piled with makeup
The spy from MI6 goes walking
And when he passes,
each one he passes
Hey, this kind of gushing, idolatrous orgasm from the Craigyboppers and Courtiers of Profound Historical Events worked for the last three films, and we cannot dismiss the probability that the same bullshit will work its magic again in Dumbfukistan in 2015. All the studio has to do is pump another 875 bajillion dollars in the marketing campaign to pass off the new movie as a cool Bond film, a must-see event, a no-questions-asked kind of phenomenon. The Bond makers are certainly focused on it. After all, in Skyfall, the masses simply went “Ooh...ahh, it's the Aston Martin! Ooh...ahh, Craig's Bond is emotional! Ooh...ahh, this is so utterly intelligent because M is reciting poetry!” The filmmakers and their propaganda ministers must be congratulated for turning the masses into obedient Pavlovian dogs, salivating at the bell instead of questioning what's even tossed at them. Director Mendes has already started to cast some of the spell: “It's quite difficult to describe why [the new film] is so exciting. But I think it is, in story terms” (“Spectre: Sam Mendes hints at 'more mischief' in new James Bond film”).
Of course, we are not expected to believe him. As for the “exciting” story he is touting, the only clue comes from the official PR blurb:
A cryptic message from Bond's past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organisation. While M battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind SPECTRE.
If it doesn't sound all that intriguing, please remember they haven't worked out all the plot details. After all, the story is nonexistent—it remains to be written during filming. Ha, ha! We do know, from previous reports, that screenwriter John Logan was fired and replaced by old standbys Neil Purvis and Robert Wade, who did enough damage to the last half-dozen or so films, that producers Barbara Broccoli and her personal valet Michael G. Wilson hauled them back for more damage. Ironically, the dynamic duo were the first to tackle the script until they got ousted by the producers and replaced by John Logan. There must be some kind of paradoxical law in effect: replace the original inept writers with an even more useless writer—then fire said useless writer and bring back the original inept writers. That's show business, as the saying goes.
Some of the lineup is worthy of note. Sam Mendes, for example, managed to make his way back to the director's chair. At first, he declined the proposition shortly after Skyfall's release; but he obviously had a profound awakening (namely, a promised fat pay check) to return to the franchise. Our human dignity is called into question considering how Mendes, a burly teddy bear version of Nick Clegg, sits atop mountains of gold, absorbing the accolades from the world below. Let's face it, he's the Morrissey of film directing. The leftist director will no doubt infuse the new film with ever more political correctness, homoerotic subtexts, and left-wing political polemics, much as he had done to Skyfall, that most kitschiest of his endeavors. In fact, I'd say the door to kitsch has already been opened: Christophe Waltz is cast, rather strangely, as “Oberhauser.” Could this be Hannes Oberhauser from the Fleming short story “Octopussy”? Well, not quite: a piece from The Hollywood Reporter states that the character is"rumored to be Hans' son" (emphasis mine—it's laughable how these so-called journalists flaunt their facts and poor research skills). Unfortunately, we're forced to wonder if the son's name is “Franz” and whether he has any relation to Franz Sanchez, who is half-German. Even more disturbing, we could potentially have a father-and-son team called “Hans and Franz,” which conjures images of the SNL skit featuring two brick-stupid Teutonic weightlifters. Audiences will not be able to ignore the notion that both Oberhausers might turn to the scrawny young Q and say, “We're going to pump you up!” Personally, I was rather hoping that Mendes and company would craft a new character—for example, the 5-year-old granddaughter of Colthorpe, the ballistics expert in The Man With The Golden Gun, so we can learn how she's doing in kindergarten. Or how about tackling the origin of Kincaid, the 100-year old groundskeeper of the Skyfall estate? It's time we learn about his background (does he have a son, or is he gay like Raoul Silva, the young Q, and the Craig-Bond?). These are just some of the dramatic, thrilling gems waiting to hit the big screen; but, as often happens in life, we can't have everything.
This angle with the Oberhauser chappie exudes desperation. For starters, referencing Hannes Oberhauser, a fleeting character who appears in a flashback in the short story “Octopussy,” is grasping at straws to connect the film to any remaining Fleming element. He is a mountain guide, and no other details are given about the character, so this business of introducing an offspring needlessly complicates whatever story they are attempting to develop. Oberhauser's only significance in Fleming fiction is that he was Bond's friend, a mentor of sorts, even a guardian: “He taught me to ski before the war,” Bond explains, “when I was in my teens. He was a wonderful man. He was something of a father to me at a time when I happened to need one” (47). If this makes it into the script, its allusion will be meaningless to anyone who hasn't read the short story. The alternative is to adapt the “Octopussy” tale, or at least aspects of it. Unfortunately, the filmmakers had already touched upon the short story in the film version when the Maud Adams character alludes to the crux of the tale by telling Bond (Roger Moore) about her father Major Dexter Smythe (the main character in the short story). This reminds us once again that, in this inane reboot, the filmmakers had convoluted the timeline of the series.
It's unclear if Waltz's character is a villain or Bond's ally. If he's playing a villain, then I'd say he's miscast. He doesn't strike me as a menacing figure and, if anything, his track record shows a penchant for camp—witness the Nazis officer he played in Inglorious Bastards. He might end up as another Kamal Khan, played by Louis Jordan, who acted as if he could never take the role seriously throughout Octopussy. One rumor asserts that Waltz will play Blofeld. Pulling all the information together, could it be that Oberhauser (the son) turns out to be Blofeld and that this is “the terrible truth about SPECTRE” that the Craig-Bond learns, as the PR blurb states? Excluding the unidentified bald figure in the wheelchair at the start of For Your Eyes Only and Max von Sydow's bearded Blofeld in the Connery encore Never Say Never Again, the last whereabouts of Mr. Ernst was in Diamonds Are Forever, wherein Charles Grey portrayed him as a cross-dressing fop. Wait...this will tie in nicely with Waltz's tendency for camp. If he does gad about in drag as Blofeld, then this could inspire Daniel Craig to play Bond as a transvestite (just as he had done in a Bondian tie-in commercial awhile back) and, once and for all, complete his desire to feminize the agent.
Most of the cast members are the usual nondescript international actors. The press reports assert a great cast, implying something reminiscent of the fine ensemble in From Russia With Love. There's a young blonde French actress, and what's-his-name, and what's-her-name, and what's-his-name, and who's-that-guy, and, well, Ralph Fiennes. Granted, sometimes it's effective to buy an off-brand of cough syrup or allergy medication, but when the producers are impelled to purchase knock-off Rolex equivalents of actors for an off-brand pseudo-Nolanesque Batman film, it's time to rethink the number of car chases and explosions in the script, as well as eliminate the limousine services and onset spa services that inflate the production costs. For Ralph Fiennes, Christophe Waltz, and what's-her-name, and what's-his-name, and who's-that-guy, and Daniel Craig are already off-brands of genuine actors. Best to avoid this low-grade quality; otherwise, you'll reach Paul Blart: Mall Cop territory.
On the other hand, the redeeming aspect of the press conference is that most of the personnel on stage are older than Cretaceous rocks. We must admit that it’s refreshing to see a film completely free of a Liam Hemsworth or a Selena Gomez or all those young werewolves and vampires in the Twilight nonsense. Just as in Skyfall, there will be old geezers in Spectre with names names such as Ralph, Daniel, and Christophe. And to think that Monica Belluci will be the first Bond babe to qualify for AARP membership! Moreover, the whole production will be steered not by young, “hip” filmmakers but by the withered figures of Sam Mendes and Barbara Broccoli. Alas, time lingers for no one, not even for demigods of the cinema. Their appearance even puzzled the toddlers on my street. Are these filmmakers just old and shriveled, they wondered, or are we looking at animated corpses raised from an ancient burial ground just for this special occasion?
Still, it is the Yuletide season, and the presence of the demigods reinforces the holiday cheer for the rest of the world: the two smile, assuring us they’ll be thrusting more of the same: namely, the dark atmosphere of the Nolan Batman films, the angst-ridden characters of the Nolan Batman films, plot motifs from the Nolan Batman films, and rapid action scenes, explosions, rapid Bourne-style editing, more explosions, and rapid, rapid action scenes, I mean…really rapid action scenes, all packaged for universal export as a pre-sold “event”. In the trap that the cinema has become for obedient audiences, nobody will dare question this film, including the Courtiers of Profound Historical Events who will gladly participate in its promotion. Everything is wonderful in the Land of Sweets, ruled by director Mendes and Madam Broccoli. They dance as sugar plum zombies, aiming to devour our wallets, and the Bond franchise is virtually guaranteed another blockbuster hit.
|1||To be precise, it was February 1984 when McClory announced that his first Bond film will be titled SPECTRE. Of course, it never got off the ground. For an excellent account of the Thunderball controversy and McClory's attempts at launching his own series, refer to Robert Sellers's The Battle For Bond (Tomahawk Press).|