POSTED ON NOVEMBER 14, 2012:
No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Rock
Skyfall rocks, but not as hard as Miami Connection
The iterations of James Bond, as portrayed by six different actors throughout the years, span decades and everybody seems to have their favorite Bond and favorite Bond movie -- though those can be mutually exclusive. I was introduced to the franchise as a '70s kid, so Roger Moore was my first. While For Your Eyes Only is one of my favorite films in the series, Moore isn't a fraction as cool as Sean Connery.
Connery seems to be the accepted best Bond and for a long while I've totally agreed. After lackluster incarnations from Timothy Dalton (who, to be fair, was pretty great in the part but was saddled with subpar films) and Pierce Brosnan (GoldenEye was the only thing good during a run of increasingly shitty movies that were bested by their video game adaptations), 2006's Casino Royale re-invigorated the franchise and gave it its best Bond in Daniel Craig.
Royale hit a sweet spot -- due to Craig, director Martin Campbell (who somehow makes playing poker seem intense), and a great script by Neil Purvis, Robert Wade, and Paul Haggis -- with its de-emphasis of Bond's peculiar, deadly gadgets and more occupied with stealthy kills and real-world intrigue. Royale was a nice balance of vertiginous action, grand scope and an intricate story that placed a darker, more unhinged (dare say, Batman-like) Bond on a mission that turns into vengeance. Craig is smart and charismatic in a great film, but he also looks like a killer and when he metes out violence it feels real -- more so than his predecessors.
The follow up, Quantum of Solace -- basically Casino Royale 1.5 -- was a disappointment despite the same writers. Director Marc Forester made the shortest film of the franchise and the result felt tacked on.
With Skyfall, the writers must have taken notice, returning to the more epic scope of Royale; but what a difference a director makes. Sam Mendes (he of American Beauty fame) has helmed one of the best Bond films ever made.
Wasting no time -- and of course opening with an epic action sequence -- Bond finds himself in Turkey on the trail of a contract assassin who has just stolen a hard drive containing the names of NATO operatives working undercover in terrorist cells all over the world -- killing three MI6 agents in the process. Bond gives chase on motorcycles over rooftops and on top of a train, being spotted by his sidekick Eve (Naomi Harris), a sharpshooter who is forced to take a shot when M (Judi Dench) decides she can't risk the hard drive slipping through their fingers. Bond is hit, seemingly dead.
But not. Instead he hides out, drinking and whoring, until he finally turns up after his obituary is printed. He returns for but nowhere near ready for duty.
And badly timed that is, when the hard drive falls into the hands of a disgruntled, ex-MI6 agent, Raoul Silva (a blonde-coiffed, bisexual and awesome Javier Bardem), who lusts for revenge against M (who is under investigation for possible incompetence), posting the identities of NATO agents on YouTube, five at a time for the world to see. Silva wants her shamed before he kills her.
Bond, hobbled by injury and excess, has to pull his shit together, get the hard drive, and eliminate Silva to protect "Mum" from a manic who is always two steps ahead of their game.
And if that sounds a little rote on paper, it's the execution from writers Purvis, Wade, and John Logan (replacing Haggis) and director Mendes that elevates the premise in a film packed with scope, style, and knowing nods to the history they are rewriting.
Beautifully lensed by cinematographer Roger Deakins, Skyfall drips with palpable atmosphere, gorgeous locations and spatially expert action sequences, and Mendes knows how to pace the narrative, unfolding intrigue upon revelation that gets more personal as Bond and M's complicated and essentially maternal relationship pays off against the threat of Bardem, a devious, smart and powerful adversary who audaciously stops at nothing for vengeance.
Craig is in top form here, cementing the suspicion born with Casino Royale that he is the best Bond in the series; a steely-eyed pugnaciousness born of a forlorn orphan and smart brawler. Dame Judi Dench is reliably regal and wry. But it's Bardem who embodies the most memorable Bond villain since Walken in 1985's A View to a Kill (bad flick, good villain), upping the ante with a performance that perfectly captures menace and amusement -- and a broken-heartedness that makes his almost comic book pathos into something all the more real and dangerous, a mirror of 007 himself. Naomi Harris isn't given tons to do, but her charismatic performance makes the possibilities of a late film reveal -- and her future in the franchise -- all the more fun.
Skyfall is everything you want out of a Bond movie: a globe-hopping journey of great escapes, thrilling action, sexy femme fatales, and surprisingly warm, emotionally substantial story-telling -- a great entry that leaves us salivating for its promised, perennial return.
So bad it's good. That's always been a problematic moniker when trying to explain why a technically inept, credulously conceived and misguidedly executed film winds up being charming and funny as hell. Miami Connection is a perfect example of a rightfully overlooked product of its cheesy, '80s times, whose merits could not be appreciated without the benefit of retro hindsight, so that its naïve optimism might manifest itself in the cynical present and hence become hilarious. Even better, Miami Connection has an underdog story behind its existence that makes the film even more loveable.
It's 1987, where rival coke dealers and ninjas operate with impunity across Orlando. The hottest band around is Dragon Sound, a multi-cultural, synth-rock troupe who live as a frat of moonlighting Tae Kwon Do masters who battle violent, motorcycle drug gangs and then return to the dorm to write new material, study for mid-terms and eat healthy food.
When the ninjas' leader (who drinks Korean soda and is weirdly concerned with Dragon Sound's influence, considering they are a terrible band and only the Asian guy is particularly good at Tae Kwon Do) decides to send his forces after the disarmingly positive rock warriors, all hell breaks loose.
Miami Connection was producer, co-director and co-writer Y.K. Kim's (an actual black belt, who plays rhythm guitarist, Mark) labor of love. After independently producing the film, he was unable to get distribution and instead mounted a campaign to get the film in theaters, renting out space only to meet with critical derision and audience indifference at every turn. After a while he just gave up, essentially ashamed of the time he wasted; both his and everyone who helped get the movie made.
It might have all ended there but for the recently minted Drafthouse Films (responsible for 2010's hilarious Four Lions and the upcoming, provocateur documentary The Ambassador) and their theater programmer Zack Carlson, who bought a 35mm print, sight unseen, off of eBay for $50. Convinced he had schlock gold on his hands -- in the family of cinema that ranges from Birdemic to Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter -- Drafthouse Films has gone full-court press on giving Miami Connection a second chance to entertain.
It's not hard to pin down why it's so endearing. The technical ineptitude is the stuff that would later be so well satirized by Garth Marenghi's Darkplace -- perfectly stilted performances comprised of Velveeta-level dialogue ("He will not escape the Miami Ninja!", though the film is set in Orlando and the evil bad guy is Korean) that's as charmingly incompetent as its earnestly misconceived execution. Concert sequences and training scenes are overlong to the point of filler (in a brief 86-minute runtime) with hilariously timed stylistic flourishes -- on-point slow motion sequences and comically gory violence --which all combine with the sweetly positive solidarity of Dragon Sound to comes off like a combination of Star Trek meets The Octagon meets Buckaroo Banzai; and very much a product of its time. The emotional payoff has more to do with the kitsch execution than the plot but that hardly matters when the vision is so singularly goofy and fun.
It's ultimately hard to quantify why Miami Connection rises above literally hundreds of films that occupy the same trashy, inept space. But its message-in-a-bottle road to relevance is one of those things that that makes it that much more special.
Miami Connection will be playing exclusively as Circle Cinema's Midnight Movie, Nov. 16 and 17, with two showings each night -- though on the 16th audiences will be treated to the sounds of local, retro-original music from the Tulsa-based, '80s-loving band, Manhammer between screenings.
Tickets for all showings are $8.50 and can be ordered in advance at www.circlecinema.com.
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