No Time to Die

Lashana Lynch and Daniel Craig

A remembrance of Bonds past, No Time to Die is an evocative, elegiac farewell to Daniel Craig which also feels like a goodbye to the entire franchise – the familiar “James Bond will return” is there after the end credits, in case you need reassuring.

It covers a lot of ground, flicks a lot of synapses not normally flicked by a Bond movie and is fascinating from first to last. All of the Craig Bond movies have played about with the Bond formula one way or another, but No Time to Die seems to have gone one step further, as if it wants to run two Bond movies in parallel – the one we expect and a divergent one imagining what might have been for Bond had he got married and had a family.

Plot traditionalists, Bond groupies, don’t worry, it’s the usual. Bond is retired but is pulled back into play when a megalomaniac mastermind gets his hands on some nanobot technology which, in the wrong hands – and his are the wrong hands – spell death on a global scale. Cue exotic locations, chases by car, bike and chopper, explosions, tuxedos and martinis shaken not stirred, the Aston Martin, unwholesome chaps with thick foreign accents and mannered speech patterns, many attractive women, a couple of near-miss escapes all before the big finale in the sort of bunker-style lair that Bond villains favour.

And yet. Parallels, doubling and a “shadow Bond” narrative is in play from the outset. The pre-credits sequence which usually features Bond in a fix actually features Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) as a child being menaced and eventually saved by Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), the man who has just killed her mother. We cut to years later – Swann and Bond married and happy, and we remember, because Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack references All the Time in the World, theme to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, that Bond was married once before… and that it didn’t last long.

And then, 25 minutes in, a second set of opening credits, this time with the Billy Eilish song – “Fool me once, fool me twice/Are you death or paradise?” – and the sense that we are being played with increases. There are two villains – Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) and Safin. There are two 007’s – Nomi (Lashana Lynch, a black woman, just to goad those on woke-watch) has taken on the double-O since Bond’s retirement. But there are also two Bonds – the familiar assassin doing it all for queen and country and a touchie-feelie Bond who takes death personally, actually has friendships with people and at one point is seen carrying a child. When this Bond gets shot, he bleeds.

Bond in his Aston Martin
Aston Martin time for Bond



The alternate James Bond timeline sketched out and then erased in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is redrawn. We see the Bond we’re familiar with refracted through the Bond that might have been. The family man, lover and friend. Some people have even suggested that all this exhumation of the past is Proustian – there’s a key character in A la Recherche du Temps Perdu called Swann. Its narrator’s reveries were triggered by a madeleine. Bond is married to… Madeleine Swann. There’s an interesting collision of chatroom cultures right there.

The Proust stuff is probably a bit esoteric for some, and there is some collateral damage caused by all this backward-looking and shadowplay. There’s not an awful lot of action, for one, and rather a lot of shots of Craig pucker-lipped and wracked by emotion (the moue being to Daniel Craig what the eyebrow was to Roger Moore). Doubtless this is why Phoebe Waller-Bridge was drafted in, to add a bit of acid to the script by stalwarts Robert Wade and Neal Purvis, who wrote along with director Cary Fukunaga. Bond, meeting M (Ralph Fiennes) for the first time since he retired, quips: “Has this desk got bigger… or have you got smaller?” It’s one of hers, surely?

More grist for the woke-watch mill – Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) is more than just a secretary (just about), the “Bond girls” (a term that’s been retired) are all now highly competent operatives in their own right, not just bedwarmers, and Q (Ben Whishaw) is openly gay (so it stood for Queer all along).

Hans Zimmer plays a blinder with a score that ties it all together, the past and the present, the action and the inaction, the joyous and the tragic, but steps graciously back to let the film play out with a song we all know. Whether you like the film or not, you’ll probably get a bit teary. If this was the end of Bond, rather than just Daniel Craig, it would be a hell of a way to go.



No Time to Die – Watch it/buy it at Amazon





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© Steve Morrissey 2021









Inglourious Basterds

Brad Pitt in Inglourious Basterds

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

16 April

 

Colditz liberated, 1945

On this day in 1945, the infamous Colditz Castle PoW camp was relieved by the US Army.

Dating back nearly a thousand years, though extensively rebuilt in the 19th century, the castle had been a workhouse, a mental asylum and a sanitarium for the well-to-do before being pressed into service as a prison for high security captives during the Second World War – often people who had broken out of other prisons.

Known as Oflag IV-C, it is the source of many myths and stirring stories about escape attempts during the Second World War. It was a camp for officers (the Of of Oflag stands for Offizier) but also became the home to what might be called celebrity prisoners – two nephews of the King of England, the son of WW1 notable Field Marshal Haig, the son of the viceroy of India etc etc.

Undoubtedly their presence helped protect the other inmates, who were treated strictly according to the Geneva Convention – attempts at escape (of which there were many) were punished with spells in solitary rather than summary execution.

Prisoners also received Red Cross parcels, which often meant they were eating better than their guards. Other notable inmates included David Stirling (founder of the SAS) and Desmond Llewellyn, who would later get James Bond out of awkward situations as Q.

 

 

 

Inglourious Basterds (2009, dir: Quentin Tarantino)

The opening sequence of Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino’s war movie, tells us a lot about what is to follow. Having led into it with some jokey Hogan’s Heroes-style intro credits – including “guest star” nods – Tarantino opens with a shot that immediately evokes The Sound of Music, all sun and alpine meadows, before moving into a long sequence in which Christoph Waltz’s extremely cultured, smart Nazi officer Hans Landa (aka “the Jew Hunter”) has an affable chat with a farmer.

Some time early on in the chat the language the two men are using switches from German to English, as often happens during these sort of films – who wants to watch acres of subtitling, after all? All appears to be normal in the Tarantino universe – pastiche is being delivered by a master of this sort of thing. But by the end of this sequence something else has happened. We’re not in the gentle knockabout of Hogan’s Heroes, the guitar-strumming nun is nowhere to be seen and the shift from German to English has been for a reason entirely to do with plot, not audience-pleasing.

The tension-ometer has gone from a gentle green to a steaming red, Waltz’s horrible true nature has been fully revealed. The farmer has been duped. And so has the audience.

It is a masterstroke, partly because Waltz is so good at delivering Tarantino’s beautifully modulated script (it’s so good, in fact, that QT essentially delivered the same opening, by the same actor, in Django Unchained), but mostly because Tarantino has reinforced our expectations of what he is about to deliver, and then confounded them.

The scene is set for a war movie that tries to have its cake and eat it throughout, giving us what you might call classic Tarantino, and then pulling back to suggest something more.

That something more is seriousness. And though Tarantino can’t help himself here and there with his playful cutaways (we learn how flammable nitrate film is, by god), there’s something about the Second World War that seems to bring out the earnest in the man.

Revenge is the theme, whether delivered by Mélanie Laurent (one of the Jews the dairy farmer was harbouring) or by Brad Pitt (with Clark Gable moustache and swagger as one of the vigilante Basterds) and Tarantino serves it over five clearly delineated, often spaghetti western-flavoured chapters, each one almost a movie in its own right, building towards two assassination attempts on the German high command. In a cinema, Tarantino’s theatre of operations.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • The cast includes Michael Fassbender and a revelatory Diane Kruger
  • A-list cinematographer Robert Richardson
  • Subtitles – lots of them
  • The soundtrack – Ennio Morricone to Lalo Schifrin and Ray Charles to David Bowie

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Inglourious Basterds – at Amazon