Characters that are thankful

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Kate Mackay always gives thanks when the family dog doesn’t eat her prized daisies.

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Veda Pierce is grateful her mother gave her a solid upbringing.

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Rocky Balboa appreciates having an excellent trainer.

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Tacy Collini is thankful her long, long trip in a mobile home with Nicky is over.

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Elizabeth Bennet’s sisters are happy she found love with Mr. Darcy so they can also get married.

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Knute Rockne is glad his team won one for the Gipper.

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Thelma and Louise are grateful there’s a way to escape the police.

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Essential: DIE ANOTHER DAY (2002)

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This is probably a film Bond fans either love or hate. Interestingly, Roger Moore did not like it– he thought it went too far into the realm of the unreal and made MOONRAKER seem more believable. But I feel that if you allow the filmmakers to just tell the story they had in mind and suspend disbelief in certain parts, it’s actually very imaginative and entertaining.

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Moore didn’t like the invisible car. And yes, it’s a stretch– representing the latest and greatest gadget created by Q (John Cleese, who was called R in the previous flick). The car’s a gimmick, but it allows us to delve into science fiction AND fantasy. Such technology seems amazing and undefeatable, but Bond still has to know how to use the invisible vehicle with skill. Especially if the camouflage mechanism fails to operate correctly.

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In addition to two Bond girls, there are two Bond villains (Rick Yune and Toby Stephens). This means two thrilling climaxes where our super agent battles and defeats each one in separate locations. Both of the bad guys are North Koreans, something some Korean moviegoers objected to– though one camouflages himself as a westerner thanks to a fantastic bit of plastic surgery and reprogramming where he doesn’t have to sleep.

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The action begins and ends in North Korea. As events come full circle, Bond is on a quest to find out who betrayed him and caused him to be a prisoner of war for eighteen months. The P.O.W. scenes are not glamorous at all, and Brosnan looks rather unkempt in those scenes. This segment of the film is like I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG meets THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, but it works.

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Bond’s relationship with M in this installment feels a bit more prickly and has a little more dimension to it. She says getting him out of North Korea cost the British government too much. Not exactly what you’d call gratitude after so many successful missions in the past. Yet when Bond goes AWOL, she realizes what he is up to and develops newfound respect for him.

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While he’s on the run, Bond beds several sexy women. We wouldn’t expect anything less, would we? One is the American agent Jinx (Halle Berry), and another is a British double agent (Rosamund Pike). Berry seems harder than other Bond girls– but her no-nonsense attitude is refreshing. She kicks butt and gets the job done. In that sense, she’s perfectly matched with our hero. Bond also kicks butt. Except for those months as a P.O.W., there was never a time when he didn’t.

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DIE ANOTHER DAY is directed by Lee Tamahori.

How-to-do things

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The movies help us learn how to marry millionaires.

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The movies help us appreciate art…or at least steal a million dollars worth of art.

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The movies help us make sure one less person will be coming to the next family reunion.

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The movies help us train dragons.

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The movies help us make the Fortune 500 list without any real effort at all.

Essential: THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (1999)

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When watching this movie, a viewer quickly realizes there isn’t enough oil in the world, or enough money or enough power. And if you’re a fan of 007, there is never enough James Bond either. This was Pierce Brosnan’s third turn playing the character, and the last time Desmond Llewelyn played Q (the actor died shortly after the premiere). Despite the nonstop high voltage thrills, the story is a sobering late 20th century treatise on greed.

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Bond’s love interests are played by Sophie Marceau and Denise Richards. Marceau has more screen time and much better close-ups. As oil heiress Elektra King, she’s gorgeous and dangerous. She beds the super agent in record time, but he notices there is much more to her than meets the eye. The film’s prologue details a botched mission where she was kidnapped and then used as bait by M to draw out a Russian terrorist named Renard (Robert Carlyle). Elektra’s father had refused to pay the ransom and he was subsequently killed. We find out that his death came at the hands of his unforgiving daughter who committed patricide with Renard’s help.

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Initially the British intelligence agency is unaware of this double-cross. During the early portion of the story M sends Bond to the Middle East to protect Elektra from Renard. He gradually learns that Elektra has a twisted relationship with her former kidnapper and things become increasingly dicey. Caryle is perfectly creepy as the villain (he has a face that would have made him a star in F.W. Murnau’s silent films about vampires). He brings the right amount of understated menace to the role.

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I like how Judi Dench has considerably more to do in this installment. At one point M is tricked by Elektra to visit the site of her pipeline, which is to ensure that M will be on hand to watch the killing of Bond, before Elektra turns M over to Renard. Of course, Bond has faked his death with the help of nuclear physicist Dr. Christmas Jones (Richards’ character), and he works with a Russian casino owner to thwart Renard and rescue M. The casino owner Valentin is portrayed by Robbie Coltrane, reprising his earlier part from GOLDENEYE.

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There are many exciting action sequences. The first one involves the use of Q’s new unfinished boat which Bond races down the river Thames in pursuit of an assassin working for Renard. A skiing segment that takes place in the mountains is also breathtakingly good. And I thought the part where Bond and Christmas try to defuse a nuclear reactor was suspenseful if far-fetched.

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However, some things might have been better. For instance, I felt the gunfire and explosions became very repetitive, as if the producers were afraid that if there wasn’t a loud boom every five minutes the audience might get restless. And some of the dialogue needed fine-tuning. There was a strange line where Bond told Elektra that because of her relationship with Renard, she had suffered from Stockholm Syndrome. It didn’t feel right for him to tell her this in such academic terms. Instead he should’ve just said “you’re hung up on Renard” or “you have an unusual connection to Renard.” Viewers could’ve figured out she was experiencing the effects of Stockholm Syndrome without Bond having to tell her this for their benefit.

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I did enjoy most of the characterizations. M realizing she had caused some of Elektra’s psychological problems was excellent. Valentin turning out to be a good comrade in the end was great. And Bond understanding that sleeping with Elektra was in essence like sleeping with Renard. Brosnan played the scene perfectly– his repulsion when he figured out he had slept with the enemy couldn’t have been topped by any other actor as James Bond.

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THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH is directed by Michael Apted.

Three more Pauline Kael reviews

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Foxes and a hound

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THE LITTLE FOXES (1941)

She doesn’t like Bette Davis’ performance in this movie. According to Kael, it’s not as good as Tallulah Bankhead’s interpretation on the stage. She thinks Davis gives a dry reading of Regina and makes her too villainous.

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THE FOX (1967)

She believes the filmmakers changed the 1923 novella so that it might resemble ‘The Children’s Hour.’ She talks about the symbolism of the fox running wild on the Canadian farm where the two repressed lesbians live. She doesn’t like the explicit sexual overtones and feels the original source material was more potent when the sex was kept on the down-low and remained forbidden in a frightening sort of way.

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THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1939)

Kael likes this early Holmes flick. She calls it handsome and gripping, lauding Rathbone’s first appearance as the famed detective. She appreciates the moors and the mists, and other atmospheric touches. She mentions the fact that Holmes asks Watson for his needle. If that doesn’t give one a sense about what Holmes is really like, nothing else will. Of course Kael doesn’t need to keep hounding us about how good this film is.

Coming up in November

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Three more Pauline Kael reviews…so what else does she have to say?

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How-to-do things…the movies help us learn how to marry millionaires.

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Another conversation piece…dialogue I had with another classic film fan.

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Characters that are thankful…acts of gratitude, cinematically speaking.

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Honest writing and honest performances…when gimmicks and special effects aren’t needed to tell a story.

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Join me in November!

Essential: TOMORROW NEVER DIES (1997)

TOMORROW NEVER DIES is a cautionary tale about the future. It features powerful people who place their own interests ahead of the greater good. I would classify the film as a techno thriller. It lacks much of Bond’s trademark humor but still manages to get the job done. And though it relies heavily on action sequences, the story is in some ways more thought-provoking than what we’ve seen in earlier installments.

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It’s easy to compare this film to something like CITIZEN KANE where a media baron is using his empire to manipulate the public. Charles Foster Kane was inspired by the William Randolph Hearsts of the early 20th century. And we can infer that villain Elliott Carver (Jonathan Pryce) takes his cue from the Ted Turners and Rupert Murdochs of the late 20th century. There’s also a bit of NETWORK thrown in for good measure, where Carver’s news is more video orientated. We see events playing out like some sort of super-crazed nightmare of reality. It’s an interesting way to present a foe for Bond to deal with, because one of Carver’s ultimate goals is to push forward the headline of Bond’s demise. But like the title of this film, Bond never dies.

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The plot hinges mostly on Carver’s plan to create a WWIII-type environment which pits the western world against China. He thinks that if the Chinese are destroyed, he can swoop in and command a broader Asian market. But the Chinese will not be so easily defeated, and the British will not be outsmarted or used against the Chinese for these purposes. It is Bond to the rescue teaming up with Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh), a powerful and attractive Chinese agent.

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However, before Bond meets Wai Lin, he crosses paths with Carver’s trophy wife (Teri Hatcher). She’s a real beauty and one of Bond’s many ex-girlfriends. They reconnect and enjoy a brief romantic interlude. Paris Carver obviously realizes she married the wrong man, but she is unable to do anything about it when she is bumped off by her husband at the 53-minute mark.

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The characters played by Hatcher and Yeoh couldn’t be more different. One is considerably glamorous and the other is meant to appeal to Bond’s more heroic, action side. You could say it’s like going from showy to show stopping. A highpoint of the film involves a thrilling motorcycle chase for Bond and Wai Lin. It’s one of those exhilarating things you watch and realize this is why Bond movies still work. Because when it all ends, you know it’s been one heck of a ride.

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TOMORROW NEVER DIES is directed by Roger Spottiswoode.