Films, like False Positive, that are about a woman getting pregnant and finding herself pressured by her husband, her doctor and her peers into pursuing a particular course of action are always going to be compared to Rosemary’s Baby. There are no satanists in director/co-writer John Lee’s film but he’s largely happy for his film to face that ordeal. Brave man.
We meet nice loving couple Adrian (Justin Theroux) and Lucy (Ilana Glazer). He’s a doctor, she’s in marketing and they can’t get pregnant. So they head to a clinic run by an old mentor of Adrian, Doctor Hindle (Pierce Brosnan), a kindly, authoritative fertility expert who runs a modern, bright, smart facility. It’s staffed by Nurses Wendy (Gretchen Mol) and Rita (Sabina Gadecki), who wear reassuring, starchy uniforms, smile welcomingly and specialise in concerned head tilts which on their own are enough to convince us that something’s not right. This is a Shudder film, so we should know that already.
In case we didn’t get it, Lee chucks us a few more pieces of meat. The way Dr Hindle lubes up that speculum in masturbatory fashion before peering into Lucy’s innards. The fact that Adrian watches torture porn to help him produce a sample of sperm. Dr Hindle moaning ever so quietly as he pumps Adrian’s ejaculate into Lucy. And the amount of it – a football team’s worth!
Anyway, Lucy gets pregnant. There are complications and Lucy finds herself being pressured by both the kindly doctor, his lovely nurses, her concerned husband and her newly acquired galpal gang from the ante-natal group into doing things she doesn’t necessarily want to do. No more need be said.
Creepiness stacks up. Adrian keeps using the formulation “we’re pregnant” when he most certainly isn’t. Lucy’s trio of workmates at the marketing company where she’s just pulled in her first big contract also seem almost unbearably on board with the pregnancy thing. (They also all seem to be vegan, but maybe that’s just a Hollywood thing.)
In spite of the warning signs, Lucy plugs blithely on. “Am I going to be one of those women who has it all,” she trills aloud at one point. To which any non-sleeping viewer is obviously going to shout, “Don’t be ridiculous.”
If it’s all fairly familiar, it is all done rather well – Theroux makes a good creep, Glazer has decided to go all-in as Lucy, Brosnan can do this sort of thing in his sleep, and Mol and Gadecki (both underused) do what they need to do to keep the show moving. The smiling is a bit overmuch though, all the same.
If you’re wondering around the halfway point whether it’s turning into a coded tale about white privilege – yummily entitled Adrian and Lucy, blonde Nurses Wendy and Rita, a clinic that’s white throughout except for one spooky brown door marked “Lab” – that suspicion gains ground with the arrival of Grace Singleton (Zainab Jah), a black natural childbirth expert billed as the “midwife with soul” on a glossy magazine Lucy picks up at the clinic.
Lee also takes time here to dig out some archive footage of old white male gynaecologists of yore subjecting the “unruly creature” of the female womb to rigorous, scientifically endorsed torture masquerading as clinical intervention.
This digression pitting the “magical negress” (as Grace mockingly describes herself) against the white men of science is refreshing and temporarily releases False Positive from the shackles of Rosemary’s Baby, before Lee digresses again, for an all-out grand guignol finale of “there will be blood” revenge-taking.
The deviations to the formula come a touch too late and there aren’t quite enough of them, but the finish is a good one, with a particularly effective Glazer reaching for her inner banshee as Lucy takes decisive action against everyone who has come between her and her offspring. Rosemary’s Babymother.
On this day in 1859, Alfred Edward Housman was born, in Bromsgrove, UK. Most famous for his poetry cycle The Shropshire Lad, Housman was the son of a solicitor. His mother died when he was 12, on his birthday in fact, and Alfred became a bookish withdrawn child who excelled at academic subjects. He won a scholarship to Oxford, where he failed to get a degree, thanks to a mix of indolence, arrogance and infatuation with a fellow student, Moses Jackson. In spite of a lack of degree Housman wrote and published academic works about Greek and Roman writers in his spare time, and eventually gained such a reputation that he was made a professor of Latin at University College London in 1892. He proceeded to become a foremost textual critic with a reputation for intellectual rigour and a terrifying lecturing style. He was also quietly writing poetry and it came as a shock to colleagues when this academic “descended from a long line of maiden aunts” – as one fellow don described him – published The Shropshire Lad. In contrast to the facade of the severe academic, it was composed of simple, nostalgic, occasionally maudlin verses in the style of folk song. It was aimed at the heart not the head and has been in print ever since.
Die Another Day (2002, dir: Lee Tamahori)
“But since the man who runs away, Lives to die another day” are the lines from Housman’s A Shropshire Lad that provide the title for the 40th anniversary Bond movie. Being an anniversary Bond, the producers have peppered it with references to previous 007 outings, not least in the scene where Bond is conducted through Q’s underground workshop, where gadgets and relics from decades long gone are given another moment on camera – look, there’s Rosa Klebb’s shoe, that thruster pack from … quickly searches imdb… Thunderball. Halle Berry’s orange bikini and her slo-mo walk out of the sea onto the beach being another clear throwback, to Ursula Andress’s goddess-like arrival on the screen in Dr No, the first Bond movie. Die Another Day is the sort of film that is remembered for individual scenes rather than its plot – though its kickoff in North Korea, where a bearded Bond has been held and tortured for months was a shocker at the time (a real country! facial hair!). It’s also the film that gave us the laughable invisible car, Madonna’s attempts at acting, shocking CGI, lines of dialogue with the subtlety of a chemical cosh – “I take it Mr Bond has been explaining his Big Bang theory” and so on. Brosnan is a very good Bond who had the misfortune to arrive on the scene just as two great presences in the 007 universe were shuffling off. The first was the Soviet Union, which had barely shut up shop months before GoldenEye was mooted. The second was Cubby Broccoli, producer of every Bond film since the first, who was barely involved in GoldenEye and dead by the time the next one, Tomorrow Never Dies, hit the screens. Brosnan’s Bond has to contend with both of these upheavals – the re-arrangement of world affairs, plus the attempts by Broccoli’s daughter Barbara and stepson Michael Wilson to re-invigorate the franchise, the success of which would only become fully apparent once Daniel Craig took over. Until then we have Brosnan in his last outing as 007 – relaxed, funny – two Bond villains (Rick Yune, Toby Stephens), Bond girls (Halle Berry, Rosamund Pike, Madonna, if we’re being generous), extreme surfing, armoured hovercraft, and a henchman called Mr Kil.
Support cast including John Cleese (Q), Judi Dench (M) and Michael Madsen
Wedding films can be a bit like wedding cake – lots of layers, too sweet, just enough is already a bit too much, not everyone is a fan. Given those caveats, and with the realisation that for every joyous wedding-themed movie like Bridesmaids there’s a steaming pile such as 27 Dresses, let’s wander up the aisle with director Susanne Bier and her two stars, Pierce Brosnan and Trine Dyrholm.
Brosnan plays Philip, the father of the groom, Dyrholm plays Ida, mother of the bride, people who have never met until, at the airport, she manages to reverse her car into his. Ida is a hairdresser recovering from cancer and from the fact that she’s just found her husband shagging his secretary. Philip is a rich widower who’s been living an emotionally detached existence since his wife died.
Meet cute established, they head off to sun-drenched Italy, where his villa has been taken out of mothballs to stage the wedding. It is an ideal space for the movie’s many many characters, and a metaphor for Philip’s dusty, untended heart – this is where he and his wife lived when they first married.
If the plot is strictly romantic pulp fiction – storm-tossed experienced male and smiling innocent female – the leads never let on. Though Brosnan was the most emotional of the 007s, this is still a fair remove from his career of serial suavity. Playing a man negotiating loss, grief, the rebirth of love, insecurity and so on, Brosnan is on unsure ground and does occasionally show it. Dyrholm, new to me, is far more assured, playing a middle-aged woman whose husband has violated her trust just as the cancer surgeon has violated her breasts. Director Susanne Bier even throws in a parody of Venus on a shell at one point, during which the clearly scarred Ida arises majestically from the waves, Dyrholm managing to make her look both scarred and sexy, timid yet defiant. It also helps that Dyrholm has a joyous quick smile that forces the viewer to smile right back at the screen and a gift for light comedy.
Around the story of these two are stacked those of the guests at the wedding party – the bride worried that her future husband has gone off her; the groom wondering if he’s made a mistake; the sister-in-law with the hots for Philip; Ida’s oafish husband, who has broken every rule in the book by bringing his new sexual conquest to the event; the twittery kitchen staff. It’s a nicely rounded ensemble but Paprika Steen (the brassy Benedikte with Philip in her sights) and Kim Bodnia (as the dim libidinous husband, hilarious with almost no material) get the best of it.
The Italy it is set in is the Italy of the movies of busy, jabbering locals, beautiful old villas, sunshine streaming everywhere, warm nights, cicadas. For Susanne Bier, whose line is Nordic films of a certain dourness of cast, it’s a departure. But then again it isn’t. She’s interested in people – with films such as Brothers and Things We Lost in the Fire she has shown an ability to deal with difficult relationships. Here though she’s spiritually in Hollywood and there is the distinct sound of gears being changed as she runs Brosnan and Dyrholm through the moods and the genres – comedy, romance, melodrama. At one point, as Philip and Ida sit in a taxi taking them from the airport to the villa for the first time, Bier even tries a bit of screwball comedy. Thankfully she doesn’t try it for long, neither of her leads seem happy in Bringing Up Baby’s shadow.
A word about the language. Apart from odd moments in Italian, the film is basically in Danish when the Danes are speaking and in English when Brosnan speaks. It takes roughly five seconds to get over this stylistic quirk. At another level, this emotionally satisfying romance aimed at people who know where the film’s title comes from marks another clever step for Brosnan, after the political drama of The Ghost, the action heroics of Seraphim Falls and his wounded bellowing in the musical Mama Mia!, he’s still moving the ball around the park. Who’d have thought the showroom dummy who used to be Remington Steele would be having such an interesting late career?
Between Bond movies The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day, busy Pierce Brosnan managed to fit in two other projects. One of them was this adaptation of a John Le Carre story about a downmarket spy (Brosnan) in Central America who uses a sweatily nervous tailor (the unimpeachable Geoffrey Rush) to gain access to the local generals, his object: to sell them all manner of dodgy information designed to destabilise the country. It may say Le Carre on the tin but there’s the definite feeling we’re in Graham Greene country here, the atmopshere of mosquito netting, insanitary plumbing and lousy tea all being typical Greene touches. Adding suitably weird supporting performances are Harold Pinter as Rush’s dear old Jewish dad and Brendan Gleason as a Panamanian freedom fighter. These are both somewhat left-field bits of casting but they’re typical of the nutty casualness that pervades the whole film. Look at Jamie Lee Curtis – dragged in as love interest and then almost dismissively underused. Not to mention Brosnan, who is pretty much going at it like OO3.5. It’s all about deception, of course, and director John Boorman lays on the deliberate double-bluffs, intrigueful atmosphere and even conversations with dead people to confuse the viewer into not knowing what’s what, in an attempt to give us some idea of what Brosnan is doing to the generalissimos. Definitely one for people who enjoy being toyed with. And yes, it was shot in Panama.
007 first strapped on an Omega watch in 1997. Since then the once-ailing franchise has gone from strength to strength. Coincidence?
Every human being on the planet, even those in Bhutan, or out in the rainforest distilling poison from tree frogs, knows who James Bond is. So ubiquitous is he that even people who haven’t yet been born have a favourite James Bond actor, a favourite Bond girl, a favourite Bond movie, Bond song, car or baddie. In fact even as I write these words images of Louis Armstrong, Daniel Craig, an Aston Martin Vanquish, Jaws and Denise Richards (wrong, I know) are flashing across my cerebral cortex. But, now that Adele has belted out the theme song to Skyfall, the 23rd “official” Bond movie, here’s a question that’s rarely asked. What’s your favourite Bond watch?
It’s not as dumb a question as it might at first seem, either. As Daniel Craig pulled on a Tom Ford shirt and suit – again – to play 007 for the third time, he also slipped on the John Lobb shoes and an Omega Seamaster, as might befit a Royal Naval Commander and a spy who’s licensed to kill. Perhaps it’s the self-winding co-axial escapement, the silicone balance spring, the power reserve of 50 hours. Perhaps it’s simply because it’s easy to take off – let’s not forget Bond’s reputation with the ladies.
This puts Bond in interesting company – Mao Zedong, who was called Mao Tse Tung when Sean Connery first played Bond 50 years ago – wore an Omega. Prince William wears an Omega. Buzz Aldrin wore one when he went to the moon. So, for that matter did Neil Armstrong, but he left his back in the lunar module when he made his first “one small step” moonwalk (some malfunction in the onboard computer meant a proper timepiece was suddenly required) so it was Aldrin’s that became the first watch actually on the moon.
It’s a cool looking watch, the Seamaster, rugged, masculine, dark of dial and stout of hand. Good for up to 600 metres below the waves. Which makes it ideal if you’re trying to escape from a flooding submarine with, say, only Denise Richards to help you.
But it hasn’t always been Omega. “He could not just wear a watch. It had to be a Rolex,” is how Ian Fleming put it in the book Casino Royale. But that was quite a long time ago now and the Rolex wasn’t quite the name it is today. It was a bit more niche. “Sean Connery wore a Rolex, but we thought they’d become a bit ordinary,” is how Lindy Hemming, costume designer on the first three Brosnan Bonds put it, explaining the switch to Omega.
Ordinary? Now this is not the place and I’m not the man to referee a handbags-at-dawn Omega/Rolex stand-off. So let’s look instead at that first Bond movie, Dr No, when Rolex were approached to supply a timepiece – nice bit of product placement – and declined to offer one to a going-nowhere British film based on the sort of paperbacks you’d buy from a railway station. So the Submariner you see on Sean Connery’s wrist is the one that belonged to the film’s producer, Cubby Broccoli.
Connery’s borrowing didn’t end there though. A working class lad by birth who’d spent time in the Navy, worked as a milkman, done a fair bit of bodybuilding, he certainly filled out that Lanvin shirt and that single-button Anthony Price dinner suit (Brits were resistant to the term “tuxedo”) he is first seen in. The one he’s wearing when utters the “Bond. James Bond” line for the first time ever. As for the rest of his performance, it’s a beautifully wrought almost-impersonation of the film’s ladykiller director, Terence Young – a son of the Empire, public school, Cambridge, Irish Guards – the drawl, the semi-smirk, the whole effortless entitlement-shtick of the born to rule.
“Terence Young was James Bond” is how Bond expert Robert Cotton once put it. But it’s also true that Connery internalised an awful lot of Bond’s (ie Young’s) mannerisms. Then the wind changed and they stuck. Through Connery’s long career if you looked at him to catch a reminder of the boy from the wrong side of the tracks, he was hard to see. If you looked for traces of James Bond, there he was – in The Untouchables, The Rock or playing Indiana Jones’s dad – greyer, balder but still 007.
Successive Bonds have done something similar, absorbing enough of Connery’s original reinterpretation of Terence Young and adding their own twist. So did Bond’s dressers. George Lazenby’s dinner suit in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is by Dimi Major and, like Connery’s in Dr No it’s in midnight blue – black being a bit, you know, common. Single breasted with a single button fastening and with peak lapels, it’s such a classic suit that Pierce Brosnan is wearing something incredibly similar 30 years later. As is Daniel Craig in Skyfall, another ten years further down the road. Connery might have given us the archetypal Bond but that shawl collar on his tux in Dr No is not archetypal Bond style. Nor is his homburg hat or chesterfield coat. George Lazenby may only have played Bond once but he did leave a legacy, and that dinner suit is it.
Roger Moore’s time as a model for knitwear seems to have primed him for a career in bad outfits. But with his big barrel chest and narrow waist, Moore just didn’t look good in the same sort of clothes as Connery or Lazenby. Which helps explain the wide lapels, flared trousers, the blouson jackets and all those many variations on the safari suit which he wore while he was James Bond. Though nothing, I’m afraid, excuses the powder blue leisure suit from Live and Let Die. However when things got really serious (a rare thing in a Bond film at the time) even Moore would default back to classic Bond attire – a one button dinner suit. Moore’s version in For Your Eyes Only had a notched lapel (sloppy), a trouser with a silk stripe down the side (naff) and was worn with a cummerbund (a bit paunchy, old Rog).
There’s no escaping the fact that Timothy Dalton’s Bond wore horrible clothes. Flappy overpadded jackets made with acres of material. It was the 1980s and clothes were about as untimeless as you can get. Which is a surprise because in many respects Dalton’s Bond is a clearing-the-decks figure, an attempt by a now old Cubby Broccoli to get Bond back on track. But how? Broccoli decided on realism. Enter gritty Tim in his chinos, and in suits that looked like they were off the peg. The argument probably went that a real British spy would be shopping at Man at C&A rather than Turnbull & Asser. But without glamour, what is James Bond? Answer: not very much at all. Dalton’s two Bond movies are joined by Roger Moore’s A View to a Kill as the three lowest grossing Bonds ever.
So we come to Pierce Brosnan, the “caring sharing” Bond. But though we see him suffer and struggle with his conscience – gentlemen, Mr Bond also grows a beard – Pierce Brosnan does manage to dress properly, in well structured suits, often from the Italian tailor Brioni, with the lean, strong, faintly military look you might expect from a Naval commander. Brosnan’s Bond also wears the classic dinner suit with peak lapels and one button. Daniel Craig sticks with Brioni in his first outing as Bond, before shifting to Tom Ford for Quantum of Solace, during the making of which he destroyed 40 bespoke Ford suits – “It really is a crime. It makes me weep every time. They’re great suits,” said Craig.
Sartorially, thematically and financially, Dalton’s Bond signals the shifting of the Bond engine into neutral, before Brosnan’s 007 puts it back into gear, after which Craig’s accelerates off with the spoils. Which makes Craig’s choice of dinner suit in Quantum of Solace all the more interesting – one-button midnight blue with a shawl collar, almost an exact copy of Connery’s.
So, for those of you wondering where I’m going with all this, and how Omega fits in, the simple answer is: seamlessly. In Bond’s first outing as Sean Connery, he wore a Rolex Submariner. It didn’t do much apart from look good. In From Russia with Loveit was again the Submariner. No gadgets, just a watch. There was a gadgety watch in this film, but it wasn’t worn by Bond but by the other guy, Red Grant (Robert Shaw). It dispensed piano wire. Handy if you fancy garrotting someone. Which Mr Grant did like to do, being a murderous Soviet assassin.
Connery wore the Submariner in all his Bond films, though we did get glimpses of other watches – a Breitling with a Geiger counter in Thunderball, for instance. George Lazenby wore a Submariner too, and we even got a glimpse of Red Grant’s watch again in a drawer 007 had filled with memorabilia (the sentimental old fool).
Something interesting happens when Roger Moore takes over. Bond gradually goes from being a Submariner kind of guy to being a Seiko Quartz kind of guy. And with it the purity of hand-to-hand combat, hard logic and ruthlessness gave way to a raised eyebrow, an arch comment and as many gadgets as can be squeezed into a watchcase. Suddenly it’s all teleprinter tape (how quaint), explosives, digital message displays, direction finders. The sort of thing an iPhone now does without too much fuss, apart from the explosives (now that would be a killer app).
Look for watches in the Dalton era and it’s the same as the clothes. There’s a glimpse of a Submariner 16800 but no one really seems to be bothering with the “small stuff”. Forgetting that the “small stuff” is what Bond is actually all about. Dalton’s Bonds are a rudderless ship. It’s only with Brosnan, Goldeneye and the beginning of the modern Bond era that rigour returns, in the shape of the Omega Seamaster – a quartz 2541.80 model that comes with laser cutter and remote detonator, though you won’t find those extras in the catalogue. As befits a ship that’s back on course, the gadgets are simple, stylish and effective. That fabulous vault out of the window that Brosnan’s Bond does in The World Is Not Enough, his death on the pavement below prevented by the 50 metres of microfilament contained in his Seamaster – now that’s what we’re talking about.
Which brings us up to date with Daniel Craig’s 007, who also wears a Seamaster. And his does… nothing. Just as in Mr Connery’s era the watch just looks good, it tells the time. It might have a chronometer but that’s about it. The stripped-back ethic of the film, the style of clothes and the functionality of his timepieces all tell the same story. What Craig is doing is bringing Connery’s Bond back to life and laying claim to the 007 heritage in a way that no one has dared do before.
Incidentally, and bringing us properly full circle, when Mr Craig is off duty, he actually wears a Rolex, the Submariner 6538 with regimental stripe band to be precise. Which means he really is taking this Connery thing more seriously than he’s possibly letting on. Somewhere out on a golf course in the Bahamas, a retired Scottish body-builder is smiling.
For research I am indebted to Matt Spaiser’s website thesuitsofjamesbond.com – hugely informative, written with style and wit and with more information about cocktail cuffs, trilbys, grenadine ties and other 007 apparel than most mortals will ever need.