Dear Santa, now that the Christmas rush is over…

I always love the bit where Bond meets Q and gets a bunch of toys, all of which, would you know it, get used in critical situations. Which leads me to wonder about the dramatic possibilities of an action sequence where 007 desperately needs an exploding pen and finds himself stuck with a portable defibrillator instead.

Anyway, the point is, I love the gadgets more than the other perks of Bond’s job. Not that I’ve encountered too many situations where I’ve said to myself, “Man, I’d kill to have a watch with a laser beam right now” (which must’ve been how Richard III felt back in the day), but it’s really the principle of the thing. Besides, an Aston Martin DB5 is probably more low maintenance than Denise Richards.

Still, as Arundhati Roy says, for practical purposes in a hopelessly practical world, here’s what I’d like:

5. The computer they build in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that takes several million years to find the answer to the great question of Life, the Universe and Everything. With a bit more RAM and a processor upgrade, I figure it can do wonders.

4. On days when I’m stuck in traffic long enough to start gong postal, something like the Batcycle which detaches itself from the Batmobile (The Dark Knight) would come in handy. Ideally, I’d like to hold out for quantum teleportation, but with my luck, some colourful bird would find its way into the chamber just before I hit the big green Beam-Me-Up button and I’d come out looking like the Amitabh Bachchan character in Jhoom Barabar Jhoom.

3. That neuralyzer from Men in Black would be mighty helpful, especially when one is walking into review meetings for projects where one has spent a lot of time and money doing nothing. Hypothetically speaking, of course. I’ve never been in those meetings before. No really.

2. As helpers go, Jarvis from Iron Man or TARS from Interstellar sound like good bets. A certain sense of humour is always welcome in one’s AI. But really,  I’d give away all of these things in a microsecond if you could get me…

1. Chitti from Endhiran. Because Rajnikanth.

And while we’re on the subject, could we also see a bit more realism in the movies when it comes to technology? Like a nail biting sequence where the hacker desperately tries to fix a runtime error involving memory allocations for his double pointers while someone’s life (or his own junk, as in the case of Swordfish), um, hangs in the balance. I simply refuse to believe that they all get it right the first time around.

(But don’t mess with the virus idea on the alien spaceship, okay? When it comes to saving the world, it’s either that or Slim Whitman’s Indian Love Call, and I’m not crazy about that song.)

ps: I originally wrote this for a GE blog, but now that I’ve left the company, they seem to have taken it off. Pondering the science in Interstellar got me thinking about the topic again, so I figured I’d remove the mothballs and air the old post out for a bit.

pps: In other words, the well’s running a bit dry at the moment. Thank you for holding. Your visit is very important to us.

Skyfall — bullet points

Caution: Mildly spoilerific.

  • Is there a better Bond movie theme song than Skyfall? Tina Turner’s Goldeneye comes a very close second, but I think that’s about it. Adele’s voice singing This is the end… is as mesmeric as Nancy Sinatra’s Bang Bang (He shot me down) in Kill Bill Vol. 1.
  • And the visuals! As soon as I walked out of the movie hall, I wanted to go back in for the next show, watch the title song all over again and then walk out.
  • Things that this Bond movie seems to have taken its cues from:
    • Ian Fleming (that didn’t happen so often during the course of the series)
    • Home Alone
    • Harry Potter
    • Um… Mother India?
  • There’s a lot of verbiage out there about Javier Bardem being the best Bond villain ever. Sure, he talks a good game and has a Tarantino-esque monologue to kick off the proceedings, has a lovely moment towards the end where he shrugs and shakes his head (in that one gesture, he conveys more than most Bond villains ever manage), but… I don’t know, really. He’s quite good, but comparisons with Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter are a bit overblown.
  • Speaking of which, there have been a few truly great actors who have played Bond villains in the past. Christopher Lee (The Man with the Golden Gun), Christopher Walken (A View to a Kill)… if you extend it to Bond girls, you could also count Halle Berry, who followed up her Oscar-winning turn in Monster’s Ball by playing the unfortunately named Jinx (sounds like a mutant-turned-stripper, don’t you think?) in Die Another Day. It’s positively amazing how bad they were in those movies. I wonder if it’s a Bond movie curse. I mean, you could’ve gotten Brando to come in and scream “Stella!” at M and even he would’ve tanked. Compared to them, Bardem escaped relatively unscathed.
    • No, I’m not counting Orson Welles’ turn as Le Chiffre in the old Casino Royale starring David Niven, Peter Sellers and Woody Allen.
  • Just before the film began, they played a number of graphic warnings about the dangers of smoking. And then Bond and his enemies killed people off in so many ways during the film’s running length, cancer would’ve seemed like a blessing to those poor souls.
  • I am strangely happy about the fact that Sean Connery didn’t play the role that seemed to have been written for him. He would’ve demanded too much attention, and that is not what you require of that role.

Not apropos of Skyfall per se, but relating to it… You know you’ve watched way too much Tamil cinema when

  • You keep trying to figure out which role to cast Vadivelu in. The character played by Naomi Harris is a possibility. The henchman who fights Bond in the Komodo dragon pit is another. The psychologist who does Bond’s assessment, maybe — when he hears Bond’s response to his questions, his natural response ought to be “Only you possible.”
  • An Aston Martin DB5 makes its appearance, and the first phrase that pops into your head is “Swapnasundari vechchirundha car“.
  • You wish they had shot the opening sequence in India and given Namitha a small role.



There were moments during Skyfall when I wondered: How did they ever manage without Judi Dench? How many actresses can you think of who can recite Alfred Lord Tennyson and say “Take the bloody shot!” with the same amount of gravitas? George Orwell once said something to the effect that by the time he’s fifty, a man has the face he deserves. By the time Judi Dench took over the role of M in Goldeneye at the age of 60, her face had absolutely earned the role. There is a moment early on when you see her in profile after she has just suffered a professional loss — her workplace has just been blown up. There is such a stillness to her in that scene, it demands that we pause for a moment and reflect on M’s career as a spymaster. What horrible choices that job must have entailed, in the name of “the greater good”. Would she have wondered if the choices she made would come back to haunt her someday?

This whole line of thought matters because the theme of this story is more personal than the world domination that Bond villains are best known for. The aforementioned explosion is prefaced with a message to M: Think on your sins. Now this is not an entirely new theme as far as Bond movies are concerned. (In The World is Not Enough, Electra King conveys essentially the same message.) But it has never seemed this personal before. Perhaps this is because the film flirts with some tantalizing possibilities regarding Bond’s origins. And it is this aspect of the story, along with some handsomely shot action sequences (and here we thought Sam Mendes’ preferred sphere of violence was emotional) and strong performances from the entire cast, that keep us engaged during Skyfall’s running time.

What is less commendable, though, is the short shrift given to the plot itself. Watertight plots have never been a hallmark of the Bond franchise in general, but this one seems particularly poor in some respects. A major problem is introduced and made the focus of much of the action up until a certain point, but is then dropped unceremoniously without a credible reason. The villain seems to oscillate between a tormented soul in a melodrama and a f****d-up character in an action movie — what he will do is entirely dependent on what part of his character is dominant at the moment.

Maybe the problem is with expectation. You expect the film to pile contrivance upon contrivance at such a frenetic pace, and wrap it in such spectacular action, that you don’t really care if it will all hold together in the cold light of day. Then again, as I write this review in the cold light of day, I find myself inclined to forgive its faults.

There are a lot of cute touches too, probably befitting the 50th anniversary of Bond’s first appearance on screen. By the end of the film, the usual suspects have been rounded up, so to speak. When James Bond returns as promised (and all indications are that Daniel Craig will do the next one as well), we will enter a universe that looks similar to the one Sean Connery inhabited, complete with M, Q, Aston Martin DB, sly dialogue, martinis shaken not stirred (and these days he does look like he gives a damn) and what not.

It will also be a different world, one where the villains are not always obvious, and the choices made by spies and their masters will have consequences. It will look increasingly like the world we live in. But for the better part of two hours, that world will most likely just be part of the background, while Bond, to quote The Economist,  concentrates on booze, bonks and bodies. I think it was Godard who once said that all you need for a movie is a girl and a gun. 007 would agree.

Movie technology I’d like in real life

I wrote this for the GE Global Research blog – Edison’s Desk. An excerpt:

We go to the movies for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is vicarious wish fulfillment. For the more scientifically inclined among us, much of this aspect has to do with the cool gadgetry in the movies. It’s almost like a litmus test: which of the scenes in a Bond movie do you like best? The ones with Q or the myraid action sequences? If you fall into the former category, read on. Otherwise… well, humour me for a few minutes and read on anyway.

You can read the rest of this post here.

News Flash

Rediff reports that Marc Forster is directing the next Bond film starring Daniel Craig.

This could be a very interesting venture. With Casino Royale, the makers of the franchise have shown a willingness to get darker and more human. Daniel Craig has proven himself equal to the task as well. And Marc Forster is the man who made Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland, Stay and Stranger Than Fiction. No matter which of these movies you have seen, you’ll agree that blowing things up hasn’t been his modus operandi so far. Let’s see what he comes up with.

Casino Royale

*ing Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench

Like most other Bond fans, I’ve watched every Bond movie made so far, with the sole exception of the earlier Casino Royale. And like every Bond fan, I’ve worshipped at the altar of Sean Connery. I rate Goldfinger among the best movies I’ve seen. It was a perfect example of the Bond formula – gadgets, gorgeous women, a megalomaniacal villain, a great climax, memorable one-liners and oodles of style. To me, everything that followed it simply tried to repeat it, with minor changes and mixed results.

So you will understand how much it has taken me to say this: Of all the Bond movies I have seen, Casino Royale is the best. And of all the actors who have played Bond over the years, I rank Daniel Craig’s interpretation to be the best. Yeah, even better than Connery. If you have a problem with that, go read someone else’s review.

There, I’ve said it. Now I can actually review the movie.

After twenty movies, the makers decided to reboot the Bond franchise. And to do that, they went back to the superspy’s origins, in Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel, Casino Royale. It is an interesting move, not only because it gives them the freedom to break a few rules, but also look at Bond as an actual human being, not a lawn ornament in a tuxedo with things going bang around him.

One of the best indications of this comes right at the beginning, in a low-key opening sequence filmed in black and white. The editing rhythm, the dialogue and the gritty look make you wonder if you walked into a different movie altogether. This is something you expect to see in a typical Guy Ritchie or Steven Soderbergh outing, not in a Bond movie. And yet, it is effective in introducing both a new Bond and a new actor in the role.

The story involves a terrorist financier named Le Chiffre, who has set up a high stakes poker game at the Casino Royale in Montenegro. M sends Bond, apparently the best poker player in the service, to compete against him. Not without misgivings, mind you: Bond isn’t exactly the flavor of the month in the MI6 right then – his effectiveness seems to be matched by his lack of subtlety. At one point, M says, enraged by his latest faux-pas, “Earlier, when one of our agents did something this embarassing, they at least had the decency to defect. God, I miss the Cold War!” (Thank heavens they retained Judi Dench – where would a line like that be, without her to deliver it?)

The first act, which sets up the plot, involves two well-executed chase sequences. Both longer than necessary, both saved by the fact that they’re well done. The first one involving what is, I believe, called a “free-running sequence” is especially splendid. The last few Bond movies had crossed the line from live action to cartoons. It was good to see something relatively plausible. The rest of it is standard stuff – cars, women, beaches… no surprises.

The second act involves a lengthy poker game, interspersed with violence. Low-key stuff, mostly. Interesting, but not thrilling. The more interesting parts here are the interactions with Vesper Lynd, the woman sent by the Treasury Department to keep an eye on Bond. And for the first time in the series, you have Bond engaging in an actual conversation with a woman – not about plot points, not about trading innuendoes, but about each other. The dialogue, while not great, is a few notches above the pedestrian. Heck, one conversation on a train goes on for so long, I kept wondering when the makers would lose patience and blow something up.

The third act is where the meat is. For one, it involves a lengthy torture sequence that might serve to explain why Bond’s definition of safe sex involves not a condom but a Walther PPK automatic (see Goldeneye for an explanation of that comment). For another, it spends a considerable length of time on Bond and Vesper. And most importantly, this is where you see Bond as a human being rather than as an action hero or a ruthless spy. You see him fall in love. You see him change. (I must add, in all fairness, that this is also the segment where you hear some really bad dialogue. There were moments where it compared with the tripe that Anakin and Amidala exchanged in Revenge of the Sith. Yeah, that bad. But if you can get beyond that, you will find that this is a pretty good concluding act.

Since this is a movie with more focus on plot and character than on action, much depends on the performances. Thankfully, there isn’t any seriously weak link. Eva Green plays a perfect foil to his character as Vesper Lynd, the woman Bond falls in love with. The actress, once described by
Bertolucci as “so beautiful it’s obscene”, brings charm, sass and vulnerability to a role that has traditionally been ornamental in the Bond movies. She’s given some phenomenally ripe dialogue to utter at times, but manages not to make you cringe too much. And of course, it does help that she really is so beautiful it’s obscene. Judi Dench plays the tough-as-nails M as well as one would expect. Mads Mikkelsen is just about adequate as the bad guy, but since he’s not after world domination, he manages to get away with an understated performance.

Which brings us, finally, to Daniel Craig. And to the question of why I consider him the best Bond ever. So here’s why.

For anyone who is familiar with the franchise, the idea of a Bond origin story automatically brings back memories of the first Bond film, Dr. No. While Goldfinger has long been my favourite, I am quite fond of this one for one simple reason: it showed Bond as a resourceful, yet fallible spy. To me, Dr. No represents Connery’s finest work as James Bond – he actually had to act, and create a character that audiences would love. After that outing, the last part was a given, and he simply had to embody the part. Sure, you can see him evolving through the first three movies, but these were mostly incremental changes.

Daniel Craig faces a similar, yet different challenge here: He has to create the James Bond who could’ve plausibly evolved into the Connery of Dr. No, and yet, he has to do enough to make the role his own in the future. It is to his credit that he absolutely nails it. He brings dimensions to the role that none of the others even suggested. By the time you hear him uttering the immortal line of introduction (“The name’s Bond. James Bond.”), with the John Barry theme playing in the background, you feel exhilarated.

There has been much hoo-hah on the Internet about the unsuitability of Daniel Craig for the role. Some even started a website called Folks, I dunno what you’re having for dinner, but I think humble pie for dessert is in order.

The Holy Cow of Bond movies

I watched Casino Royale a few days ago. awesome movie, with a mesmerizing performance by Daniel Craig in his first Bond outing. There were a lot of dissenting voices when he was first chosen, but after this movie, I can’t imagine anybody still objecting.

I have this long-overdue rant about Sean Connery as James Bond. Everyone talks about the actors who played Bond other than Connery, and the verdict, even at its most flattering, is that the guy was the best since Connery. Why is that?

Take Daniel Craig, for instance. The guy’s delivered a brilliant performance as Bond in his first outing. he’s given the role additional depth, and really made it his own. and yet, NOBODY ever
says, “He’s the best Bond ever.” Taste is subjective, and the guy definitely delivered a brilliant performance – there should’ve been at least a few who thought he was better than Sean Connery. But no, everybody tiptoes around that possibility, for fear of desecrating some superspy holy cow. I’ll admit that Connery was damn good. I’ll also admit that, despite my line about the subjectivity of taste, Roger Moore was godawful in A View to a Kill, no matter which yardstick you use to measure performance. But is Connery unbeatable by default?

Personally, even after a single outing, I prefer daniel craig over all the other Bonds *including* the venerable Connery. For me, the difference is this: Connery basically had to embody a particular personality, and you could see it evolving over time, movie after movie. Whereas with Daniel Craig, he’s had to do a lot more heavy lifting in this outing – he has an actual character arc, an almost unheard of phenomenon with Bond movies. The guy has the looks, he has the talent, and he has the ability to convey the aspect of a predator.

Part of this is a matter of chance. Casino Royale was the first Bond novel – like a superhero origin story, it described how Bond came to be the Bond the world knew from then on – so it has a lot more focus on the character. But then, Connery had the advantage of being the first in the role (barring an ill-fated tv adaptation earlier to that), so it kinda evens out. Both Craig and Connery had their advantages, and they used it well. And at the end of the day, I think Craig did better. I don’t expect that everyone will/should agree with me on this. But it’s statistically
impossible that nobody does. that’s what gets my goat.