This article contains major spoilers for the latest James Bond film, Skyfall.
There are many earmarks that tend to recur with the appearance of a new James Bond movie. Outside of theme songs, martinis, and beautiful women, new Bond films are typically marked by the revisiting of previous entries by franchise fans. It’s a cinch that after you see Skyfall this weekend, you’ll crack open the DVD or Blu-ray cases to the older movies on your shelf for a little brush-up. Sometimes that path leads you to the best of the series. Other times you end up sitting through the likes of Die Another Day, thinking somehow the renewed fervor in the character will help absolve the film of some of its faults.
If you happen to watch Die Another Day, widely regarded as one of the worst James Bond films, right after Skyfall, which is already gaining a reputation as one of the best, something rather troubling may occur. A close watch reveals similarities between the two movies. Granted, that’s not to say Skyfall was influenced by Die Another Day, but it’s hard to ignore some of their shared DNA. What becomes readily apparent is that the small kernels of quality in Die Another Day that barely glimmer from under its pall of ineptitude are extracted, polished, and perfectly utilized in Skyfall.
Both Die Another Day and Skyfall start off with the conceit that James Bond has been out of active duty for some time. Pierce Brosnan’s Bond was captured by the North Korean military and tortured for fourteen months while Daniel Craig is shot, falls from a bridge, and enjoys a reprieve from his hectic espionage occupation while he’s declared dead. In both films, 007 believes he’s been betrayed, no small personal crisis for that character. Die Another Day only examines Bond’s incarceration and torture (what should be his darkest hour) for the length of a theme song. Skyfall takes the time to establish how the time away, and the perceived betrayal by his own government, takes a toll on him.
In both films, once Bond returns, he must undergo rigorous evaluations to ensure that he is in fact fit to return to fieldwork. In Skyfall, this translates to a series of physical exercises, tests of marksmanship, and psychological assessments. Die Another Day, on the other hand, slaps together a flimsy story device about a virtual reality training scenario in which MI-6 under attack. This only further demonstrates Die Another Day’s wanton abandonment of anything resembling tangible reality and its overuse of silly, effects-driven gimmicks. Skyfall opts for a more basic and grounded approach, a function of the gritty realism of Craig’s Bond films.
Just as in that virtual reality scenario in the final Brosnan Bond outing, MI-6 does actually come under attack in Skyfall. Not only do we get an explosion in M’s office, but also one of the conference chambers becomes the site of an assassination attempt and a massive gun battle. In both films, we are dealing with an enemy harboring a grudge against MI-6. Colonel Moon survived an assassination attempt at Bond’s hands while Javier Bardem’s Silva is nursing a nasty vendetta against M. Like Brosnan’s Bond, Silva was captured and tortured while he worked for British intelligence agency; further fueling the rage he feels toward his former boss.
However, Moon’s revenge plot gets sidetracked by his plan to build a space laser that will take out the minefield separating North and South Korea. Instead of narrowing the plot to something more visceral and interesting, Die Another Day, in a move that will define this entire frustrating movie, goes as over-the-top and absurd as possible. This would almost be forgivable if they weren’t also wholesale stealing plot points from Diamonds Are Forever. There is also the fact that where Bardem plays his villain with a frightening biblical wrath, Toby Stephans plays his like a poorly drawn cartoon.
Die Another Day and Skyfall are the two movies in the franchise that most clearly nod to the legacy of the franchise. In the former, Bond wanders in to the office of the new Quartermaster, the ill advisedly cast John Cleese, to find recognizable props from previous movies lining the walls. He even directly notes a few of these props, including the briefcase featured in From Russia with Love and the jetpack from Thunderball. Meanwhile, in Skyfall, Bond takes the classic Goldfinger Aston Martin out of storage, with all its spy accoutrement in tow. The younger version of Q also makes reference to the goofiness of an exploding pen; obviously referring to GoldenEye. Whereas Skyfall weaves its homage to the golden era of Bond into its narrative, Die Another Day randomly scatters artifacts on the wall like a T.G.I.Friday’s. It’s not hard to see why one feels reverent and the other desperate.
These similarities in basic structure between Skyfall and Die Another Day actually highlight the divergent results of their proper and improper applications. This phenomenon trickles down to several other parallels. They also share things like the use of an underground MI-6 facility (more functional in Skyfall), the starring of an African-American actress in the lead female role (Naomie Watts acting circles around Halle Berry), and even variations on the Bond gun barrel sequence. Die Another Day adds a bullet flying toward the screen when 007does his famous turn, which seems then to suggest that his shot has the benefit of science-defying accuracy. Skyfall simply places it at end as a loving coda. So again, every similarity actually serves to prove that not all Bond films are created equal.
[Photo Credit: Sony Pictures (2)]
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I will say this about Tara (the character, not United States of Tara): she may be crazy but she is a good mother. Unlike her mother, who we get for another dose in this episode, Tara works with her children and usually acts in unselfish ways (when she can help it). She’s genuinely trying to to control her problem so she can be there for family. Seeing Tara like this gives me hope that she’ll be able to work through her problems. Of course, after the coda, it’s going to be one hell of a job.
The catalyst for this episode was the return of Tara and Char’s mother. We’ve dealt with her before, but never alone like this. Honestly, whenever she first appeared it felt like Darth Vader was approaching. I know Patton Oswalt has seen enough movies to know how dangerous it is to appear before the Big Bad like that, but he was desperate - he and Char need the money. And the way she looked at the baby? I would’ve been afraid for the child. It was like she wanted to devour it whole. But alas, their plan backfired. Their mom is broke and she used them to see her granddaughter. What a bitch, right? But like she said, they used her, only she got what she wanted.
Best line of the night goes to Oswalt (again) commenting on how many boobies were at the baby store. That’s fairly genius of him. I wish ten-year-old me had been that smart.
‘If you’re not nervous, and it’s not hard, then it’s not worth it.’ - Tara
Anyway, on to the core family! Kate seems to have settled into being a flight attendant and has already worked up the courage to use her charming good looks to bribe the strangers on her flight with booze. The young one has learned fast, but all is not well. Her repeated advances on Todd from Wedding Crashers have not been reciprocated. Has she lost it? She stuck her neck out for the dude but he didn’t nibble! I’m confusing my metaphors slightly, but dear sweet Brie Larson. You have most definitely not lost it.
‘If you can’t make it, I’ll wait.’ - Max
Marshall’s film has taken a drastic turn and begun focusing on his family now. He and his new boytoy (Still don’t know his name. Does it matter?) are making a stop-motion animated opus about his parents. They’ve found an old video showing his parents before Kate was born. This new perspective on his parent’s life shocks him to the core. He doesn’t understand his dad and why he stuck around; it doesn’t make sense to him. It seems that Marshall wants to bail (even though he has generally been the rock of the family) but has to know what is keeping his dad around. The answer is simple: Max loves Tara. That finally breaks through and he sums up the show perfectly, “It’s not a monster movie. It’s not a dysfunctional family. It’s a love story.”
And to completely change the tone here, I bet Patton Oswalt loved his flashback body.
‘So fine is the top? That’s all you want is fine? No better than fine?’ - Dr. Hatteras
But then some crazy things happened with Tara this week. Eddie Izzard laid down some hard truths in a way that hasn’t been said before on the show (which would mean that it hadn’t been said before in the world of the show). Tara has had major success with the alters lately. Buck came and took care of some crows, T got her out of a confrontation with her mom, Alice stood up for her. Tara seems pleased with herself, but Hateras isn’t having it. He knows that she is only one person and repeatedly tells her this. “You’re not seven people. You’re just you,” he keeps saying. He keeps telling her that she is the one in charge and SNAP. The Chekov’s rat trap he set off catches a HUGE fucking rat.
Symbolism? Pretty much.
And then we finally get conclusive proof of another alter when Hateras listens to his tape from the session. But the line that was said came when he caught the rat. Did Tara imagine that rat being caught? It could very well be imagined or the tape could come from a different session, doesn’t really matter. What does matter is what was said. The line is repeated from the first episode this season "you will not win." Could it be the sudden noise-slash-death snapped the alter into reality?
Also, let’s learn what we can about this alter from what little she said: “You will not win.” Breaking it down: She says “you” which means she is referring to someone outside of herself. Whether it's Dr. Hateras or Tara, we don’t know. But considering how it came out in the office, I’m going to assume the alter is against Dr. Hateras' help (which also means he is on to something!). Then the alter says “will not.” Obviously this means the alter is going against something but the future tense shows this is an ongoing struggle. The alter is fighting and will continue to fight. If the alter had said “you aren’t winning” it would’ve struck a completely different tone. And an unfortunate Charlie Sheen joke. The final word “win.” This is interesting. Win. It seems to imply that the alter views this as a game, leading me to believe the alter is a younger version. Alice wouldn’t say this is a game. T might, as would Buck, who is very immature. So it seems we have an antagonistic young person who thinks this is all a game. But what’s the game? Since the only thing Tara wants to change is her disorder, could this new alter be the personification of DID? And also, considering the ominous mood that played over the tape recorder, this is an angry young person playing this game. Something very troubling is stirring within Tara. The rest of the season is going to be craaaazy.
Steven Spielberg's A.I. (the movie was conceived by the late Stanley Kubrick) is inspiring praise from some critics and censure from others, probably the most polarized reaction ever to a Spielberg film. It has also inspired a masterfully crafted (positive) review by A.O. Scott in the New York Times. A couple of samples: "Mr. Spielberg seems to be attempting the improbable feat of melding Kubrick's chilly, analytical style with his own warmer, needier sensibility. He tells the story slowly and films it with lucid, mesmerizing objectivity, creating a mood as layered, dissonant and strange as John Williams's unusually restrained, modernist score." Scott concludes: "The final scenes are likely to provoke argument, confusion and a good deal of resistance. For the second time the movie swerves away from where it seemed to be going, and Mr. Spielberg, with breathtaking poise and heroic conviction, risks absurdity in the pursuit of sublimity. ... [He] locates the unspoken moral of all our fairy tales. To be real is to be mortal; to be human is to love, to dream and to perish." Across town, Jack Mathews, the New York Daily News critic, will have none of it. "The ill-conceived final section is a sentimental coda recalling the 'awe' moments of both E.T. and Close Encounters," he writes, "But here is the real genius of Spielberg, whose Midas commercial touch fascinated Kubrick to the end: The very moment that will have viewers reaching for their hankies is the film's most artificial, even on its own terms. The emotion you feel may be real. But nothing else is." Compare that review to this one from Michael Wilmington in the Chicago Tribune: "Steven Spielberg's A.I. Artificial Intelligence is pure magic, a three-act movie fantasy that transports us -- as the best films do -- to a world of its own, a place of ambiguous joy and delirious terror." Or consider the review by Peter Howell in the Toronto Star, who calls the film "a genuine collaboration between a fading mentor [Kubrick] and a brilliant student [Spielberg] and the smartest thing likely to hit the multiplexes this summer. A.I. represents a unique union of mind and heart that no machine could ever understand, but could one day learn to envy." Just as enthusiastic about the film is Jay Carr in the Boston Globe: "In a season where most films seem devoted to artificial stupidity, the ambition and execution in A.I. make it a standout, quite apart from its guaranteed place in movie history." On the other hand Joe Morgenstern, the Wall Street Journal film critic, regards A.I as "a grim disappointment for grown-ups and far too violent for young kinds ... I found it to be clumsy, misanthropic and intractably lifeless." Numerous reviews express ambivalent reactions to the movie. "A.I. is always engrossing," writes Steve Murray in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, "but it never fully comes to grips with its central subject, the ethical and emotional question of the responsibility men have toward the machines they make." On a similar note, Roger Ebert writes in the Chicago Sun-Times: "A.I. is audacious, technically masterful, challenging, sometimes moving, ceaselessly watchable. What holds it back from greatness is a failure to really engage the ideas that it introduces. The movie's conclusion is too facile and sentimental, given what has gone before. It has mastered the artificial, but not the intelligence."