Bond on a Budget: Quantum of Solace is Plenty Cheap

Mark Simpson straps Mr Bond into a rim-chair and aims a knotted rope at his nuts

‘I’d rather stay in a morgue!’

So sniffs Daniel Craig in the latest Bond vehicle Quantum of Solace when presented with less than salubrious accommodation in La Paz, Bolivia. Instead of checking in, he sweeps off to a flash five star Wallpaper magazine hotel even more preposterous than his new movie’s title.

The audience at my local cinema seemed to mistake this sniffiness for quippiness and giggled nervously – perhaps out of desperation for any gags or relief at all in this morgue-like movie that I for one was very sorry I’d checked into: a couple of deathly hours that felt like a very long dark night of the soul indeed.

I quite enjoyed, in a slutty kind of way, my one-night stand with the new 007 a couple of years ago in Casino Royale, especially the way that Craig’s glistening tits announced that Bond had finally become his own Bond Girl, but this was a rematch that made me want to lose his number big time. In fact, by the end of it I desperately needed his BMW defibrillator from Casino.

So yes, I’m feeling a little bitter and jaded, not to mention used and abused – and not in a good way. So bear with me while I get pedantic on Mr Bond’s perky ass, strap him into a rim-chair and aim a knotted rope at his nuts.

For starters, ‘morgue’ is an Americanism, and Bond is meant to be a very British kind of action hero in a very British franchise. 007 resorting to such lazy transatlantic tics is tantamount to the Queen greeting heads of state with WASSSSUP! and a fist-bump. Adding hypocrisy to inaccuracy, this film has some very creaky anti-Americanism in it – tempered, equally creakily/cynically, by a ‘good guy’ CIA man with dark skin who is clearly meant to be Obama in a trenchcoat.

Worse, the ritzy hotel Craig checks into instead of the dowdy down-market one he’d been presented with has a cold, impassive, glossy magazine black and white décor that looks much more like a mortuary than the one he sniffed at. And in fact it ends up one: a dead body is placed on his swanky bed later in the film (dipped in oil, a jarring, ill-conceived visual reference to a much superior, gloriously trashy film from another century, another civilisation: Goldfinger black gold, geddit?).

I’d like to think that the deathly boutique hotel was a deliberate commentary on the morbidity of consumer culture, but given the murderous lack of wit on evidence in this undead movie I suspect it was rather unintentional. Likewise, the way that the cancellation of an AWOL Mr Bond’s credit card by his MI6 Sugar Mummy Judi Dench is presented as one of the worst chastisements possible, almost on a par with losing his girlfriend in the last movie.

Perhaps the most unforgiveable thing about a film as expensive as Quantum is its cheapness – a cheapness it thinks is ‘seriousness’. If Quantum is a hotel, then it’s one of those fashionable ones that charges you the earth but doesn’t bother to change the bedding. The destruction of the villain’s lair sequence at the end, which should look orgasmically expensive, instead looks like something papier-mache exploding in a sub-par episode of Thunderbirds (come to think of it, Craig does walk like a Thunderbird…). Cheaper still is the use of Sony product placement instead of Q’s gadgets: show us something we can’t buy, please.

Cheapest of all is the quick-cut editing used during ‘action’ sequences, such as the car chase which opens the film. Instead of extensively storyboarded, carefully choreographed and laboriously shot fights and chases presented for your lazy, scopophiliac enjoyment, you get a blur of bad editing that is literally unwatchable on a big screen unless you enjoy the sensation of your eyeballs bleeding. An episode of Top Gear is much better shot than Quantum. Actually, even the made-for-TV ads that appeared before the film, crudely blown up for cinema, are better edited. Because you can see bugger all, this kind of editing could make John Sergeant look like an action hero.

Tellingly, the last Bourne had the same infuriating jump-cut mania. And while Casino made a superannuated Bond franchise look like he’d got his mojo back from the less stuffy American Bond rip-offs like Bourne, Quantum just looks like a more tedious, lower budget – more ‘morgue-like’ – Bourne Identity.

At least Craig gets his tits out again – though only once, during the film’s only sex scene (and of course, this being the new out-and-proud metro-Bond we see much more of his tits than his lady friend’s). But the flash of his tits is almost as cursory as his terrible seduction line: ‘I can’t find the stationery. Perhaps you can help me?’ A chat-down line almost as resistible as this movie.

Though maybe he was being serious. Maybe Craig, who can act when given the chance, had decided – since no one else had bothered – to write himself some lines and a plot.

By far the best, sexiest and most luxurious scene from Quantum doesn’t appear in the film at all. It’s the Sony HD ad that has been running on heavy rotation on telly for the last few weeks which portrays a well-tailored, well-groomed, cheek-sucked Craig as a kind of CGI Saint Sebastiane, lacerated by slo-mo explosions. He doesn’t say anything, just shares his pale blue masochism with us.

At under a minute and free of charge it’s the better Bond not by a quantum but by a country mile.

Matt Damon: Sexy or Twaspy?

Matt Damon is the ‘Sexiest Man Alive’, according to People magazine.

Perhaps it’s time to cruise the graveyard.

I don’t mean to be cruel — honest — but Matt is preppy, not sexy. The two things are not necessarily antagonistic, granted. But in Matt they are.

Yes, I know, it’s ‘all a matter of taste’. But my taste is the right one. OK?

It’s true I’ve never quite forgiven him for the film that launched his career, the intensely irritating ‘Good Will Hunting’ in which Damon, an Ivy League drop-out, plays a maths-genius janitor — at an Ivy League college (and makes us sit at the feet of Robin Williams talking through a full beard for two hours). But then, why should I? He wrote it.

So here’s a list of entirely objective reasons why he isn’t the Sexiest Man Alive:

  • He has too many teeth for a human and reminds me of ‘American Werewolf in London’ when he smiles, and not in a good way
  • His nose is much too big, especially in profile when it takes up most of the widescreen
  • His chin is bigger than Jay Leno’s
  • His body is just there, like a trick you scored at the end of the night before the lights came on
  • He has mildly, wryly interesting lips, but they look like they have been transplanted from someone else’s mouth; possibly a housewife from Knots Landing
  • He has nice blue eyes, but they look like they’re by the same manufacturer who makes GI Joe’s
  • He has facial timeshare going on with Mark Wahlberg — but Wahlberg seems to wear it better and cuter

When he arrived on the scene all those years ago, Matt’s greatest physical asset was simply that he was bland and young and twinky/WASPy (twaspy, anyone?). Now that he’s no longer so young (he’s 37) his flaws are predominating, as they do (and I should know). But somehow without turning him into an adult or even a ‘character’ — even when he plays a middle-aged father, with lots of latex, as in the later scenes of ‘The Good Shepherd’.

Like most of his generation of male Hollywood actors, including Brad Pitt, Keanu Reeves, and his buddy Ben Affleck, Matt’s essentially a cruisette — a Tom Cruise clone. An All-American narcissistic male film star that never grows up because a) we don’t know what a man is any more, and b) the brand must go on forever and be forever desirable. Cruise’s stellar and sustained success from the mid 80s onwards meant that the male Hollywood leads that came after him would be fashioned in his miniature image. (Damon’s actual height, like penis-size on dating sites, is something of a contested issue: it seems to be somewhere between 5’9″ and 5’11” — I suppose it all depends on where you measure from).

But unlike Tom, cruisette Matt doesn’t have blue-collar credibility, his narcissism isn’t aspirational — and has never quite matched Cruise’s high-wattage on-screen tartiness. Perhaps because he didn’t have to strive as much as Cruise, he’s soberly professional. Though of course, this helps make the cruisette more palatable to some than the wacky Scientologist original.

As for his acting — yes, we finally get to that — it’s true that Matt’s better than most of his Hollywood contemporaries, but that doesn’t make him sexy. This is Hollywood, after all. Acting is what you do when all else fails. Besides, Matt’s best at roles like The Talented Mr Ripley and his Mission Impossible/James Bond vehicle The Bourne Identity — playing a man who has no identity. That’s far too close to the truth of modern masculinity to be ‘sexy’. Interesting, yes. Shaggable? I’ll text you later….

Perhaps what people — or People — find ‘sexy’ about Damon, apart of course from his success, is his on-screen masochistic streak, as wide as his many-toothed smile. In the Bourne films his character displays an almost insatiable appetite to be tortured and humiliated and treated like meat — which perhaps stems from his need to find out who he is at any cost, his psycho-reprogramming by his CIA Bad Daddies, or perhaps his need to please us, the audience (Who is Bourne? Why, he’s our punk!).

Admittedly, I too derive some pleasure from seeing preppy Matty, adrift in Europe like some Ivy League Gap Year student who’s mislaid his passport, get it, both ends. But it’s not very erotic. It’s just revenge.

The re-booting of the James Bond franchise last year with Daniel Craig in the lead role was strongly influenced by the success of the Bourne films, which of course were themselves an updating of the Bond concept. (Craig’s Bond is, in postmodern stylee, a copy of a copy of a copy.)

But Craig’s on-screen masochism is as filthy and sexy as Damon’s is antiseptically, twaspily clean-cut. Bond has a tight foreskin; Bourne has Wintergreen-flavoured scar tissue.

Bond went all busty-sultry sex siren in Casino Royale

James Bond Comes Out

The new blond Bond has a lot in common with the brunette original – precisely for the reasons he’s been bashed, says Mark Simpson

(Out, November, 2006)

BOND IS BLOND! He’s smooth! He works out! He doesn’t have any eyebrows! He kissed a guy!

Ever since English actor Daniel Craig was cast last year as the U.K.’s most famous spy—and the face of the world’s most successful, longest-running blockbuster brand—the British popular press and Bond fanboys have been up in arms, shrieking about his unsuitability for the role.

They complain about all sorts of supposed failings, including that he required coaching to handle a gun and play poker, and that he snogged another male on film (as Francis Bacon’s lover in Love Is the Devil and also in Infamous). Apparently, you see, he’s “not manly enough” to play cinema’s most famous action hero. Essentially, they’ve got their off-white tighty whities in a twist because Bond has gone metrosexual.

However, there is something that needs to be pointed out here, like the pleasing bulge of a Walther PKK semiautomatic in a Savile Row trouser pocket: The early Bond movies were thrillingly perverse, shockingly sexy, and not a little queer. This will traumatize millions, but the original James Bond, by the dingy, stringy-vested, “no sex please it’s bath night” standards of early 1960s Britain was something of a metrosexual, albeit a latent one (he’s a secret agent, after all).

Watching again the very first Bond film, Dr. No—released 44 years ago and played a zillion times on TV and cable but nevertheless still something of a revelation—I’m struck by a number of things about the original Mr. Bond, supposedly the gold standard of authentic masculinity and virility in an increasingly sissified world:

  1. His fake tan
  2. His inviting, full, glossy, pink lips, more luscious than Ursula Andress’s (or even Tom’s in the Missy Impossible franchise)Sean Connery's lips, pistol and other oral gratifcation
  3. His worked-out body (Connery represented Scotland in the Mr. Universe contest in 1953.)Sean Connery Mr Universe contestant 1953
  4. His fine tailoring, careful grooming, and manicured hands
  5. His fetish for gadgets and gizmos
  6. His taste for fussy cocktails (shaken, not stirred)
  7. His wigs (Connery went bald in his early 20s and wore a toupee in every Bond movie.)
  8. His overacting in the famous big-hairy-spider-in-bed scene….

james-bond-spider

Add to this damning list of charges his fondness for exotic locations, the company of high-fashion models, and all those gorgeous, exquisite interiors – not to mention his incurable bachelorhood – and Bond is practically a blackmail target (any and all male homosexuality remained illegal in England until 1967).

Perhaps this is why the evil-genius villains always had to be so camp and fussy, with their cats, cigarette holders, leather gloves, comically butch factotums, and makeover plans for the world. And perhaps also why Bond has to be so nasty to the ladies – though his sadism merely makes him all the more perverse and kinky. Even his ferociously, frequently fatal (for the ladies) hetero promiscuity is deviant by the buttoned-up standards of the era: as the trailers put it at the time, “He’s licensed to kill-when he likes, whom he likes, where he likes.”

Most working-class U.K. males in 1962 were licensed to marry young, impregnate their wives three or four times, and then take up pigeon-fancying. Wartime-rationing of food and luxury items didn’t end until 1954, two years before Elvis’s first hit and less than a decade before Dr. No was made – although sex-rationing continued for decades afterwards.

Connery, born and braised in slum district of Edinburgh, presents a Bond who, by contrast, is a vain single young man jetting around the world and literally taking his pleasures where he pleases, living a glossy magazine lifestyle, albeit as an undercover agent. This lifestyle was not to come out of the secret-service closet until over 30 years later with the emergence of the metrosexual – a man whose mission was also to save the West, but by shopping instead of shooting.

But perhaps the most proto-metrosexual aspect of the first James Bond is that he is also a sex object almost as ravishing as any of the ladies he ravishes, almost as fetishized as any of the objects of desire he toys with: a playboy we would like to play with. Raymond Chandler might have famously described the Bond of Ian Fleming’s novels as “what every man would like to be and what every woman would like to have between her sheets,” but the original screen Bond, for all his masterfulness, was a voyeuristic pleasure that men might want between their sheets and women might want to be.

on-her-majesys-secret-service

With the possible and very brief exception of George “legs” Lazenby who made only one Bond movie in 1969 and has spent much of his subsequent career playing a lothario in a different franchise (the soft-porn Emmanuelle series), none of the other Bonds that came after have the charge, the sexiness, the perversity, the prophecy of Connery’s ’60s Bond. Ironically, it has been left to anyone other than Bond to realize the latent metrosexuality of the original, or even just maintain its charge. Bond has gone backwards toward the wall while the world’s males have leaned over forwards. Pretty boys Matt Damon and Tom Cruise in their respective Bourne Identity and Mission Impossible Bond knockoff incarnations are closer to the original spirit of Bond than, well, Bond.

For starters, neither Roger Moore nor Timothy Dalton nor Pierce Brosnan even have bodies. They’re clotheshorses embalmed in hair spray – 1950s knitwear catalog models. In fact, this is exactly what Roger Moore was before his TV career took off. By the time of his last outing in Die Another Day, Brosnan looked like a 1950s knitwear model trapped inside a computer game. And as for the sex scenes… well, they look like abuse. Of Brosnan. After Connery’s bit of polished ’60s rough, James Bond seemed to be frightened of his own sexuality, of giving away too much.

pierce_brosnan_bond_2.jpg

Yes, post-’80s, feminism may have finally been acknowledged: Brosnan’s boss is female. And the Bond girls may have become less, well, girly (e.g., Halle Berry in Die Another Day as the high-kicking sidekick), but this just makes Bond’s own masculinity all the more unconvincing. Worse, it makes it extremely unappealing.

Paradoxically, we now live in a world where England’s sweaty soccer team can be captained by the most metrosexual male alive, but England’s imaginary spy of the silver screen, who helped make Beckham’s generation what it is, has to be more retro than metro.

Until now. The makers of the Bond films seem to have finally woken up to the problem. They have not renewed hairy brunet Brosnan’s contract and have instead cast smooth, blond Craig in the role for the next three films-the first Bond actor who was born after Fleming’s death. Underlining this overdue remodeling, the makers have announced that Casino Royale is a “reboot” of the brand that will wipe out the previous cinematic timeline.

Bond is being reborn. Perhaps as what he promised us he could be 44 years ago.