Year Released: 2012
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Starring: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench
(PG-13, 145 min.)
"How weary, stale, falt, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of the world." William Shakespeare
James Bond darkened, diminished, and deconstructed. Out: the suave spy who saves the world without putting a wrinkle in his elegant tux, all the while not spilling a drop of his vodka martini, the one who puts a bullet in the arch villain and then finishes him off with a killer quip. In: A dour 007 who sloshes down Heinekens suited up in his shiny best like a punk rocker out on the town. And he can’t save the world, let alone the single person he’s guarding.
James Bond the icon descended upon us fifty years ago like a Greek god. He brought Zeus’s appetite for sexual conquests, the guile of a wily Odysseus, and a few modern gadgets that rivaled Perseus’ cloak of invisibility or winged sandals. Who needed to ride Pegasus when Q could turn over the keys to those incredible vehicles that could fire off rockets or becomes mini subs with the flick of a switch?
Bond was every boy’s dream and every girl’s secret fantasy. Bullets never penetrated his skin, fear never got under it. Certain death only merited a raised eyebrow; escape from its clutches a bad pun. He was “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” brought to the screen in ways James Thurber would never imagine.
Daniel Craig brings a grittier more human spy to the screen. He is more developed as a character and a man, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it. True to form, Director Sam Mendes does to this British icon just what he has attempted to do to American Suburbia. Heroism just like the manicured lawns and rose gardens of American Beauty is just another illusion encasing a rot behind the facade.
But here Bond is pinched-face and anemic looking, even with the well-developed pectorals so boldly on display. He is dissolute and barely capable of shooting the proper holes in his cardboard target. As a lover, he seems to be going through the motions, too. From a frenzied tropical tryst to the almost obligatory romp with the very agent whose bad shot almost accomplished what his enemies had been trying to do for years, there is almost an air of taking Queen Victoria’s advice to just lie back and think of England. Only when the sexually ambiguous villain Silva (Javier Bardem) titualtes him does Bond rise to the occasion, his “What makes you think this is my first time?” question either ironic or revealing, take your pick.
And what have they done to M here? Judie Dench, who gets more time here than the beautiful Bond girls, is sketched in darker shades as well. Of course, her acting is as always superb; the script allows her to explore the realities of aging and bureaucratic scapegoating, but she is also something else here that we have never seen before. Ruthless, treacherous even. And I don’t refer to her “Take the shot” ultimatum to the young operative trying to differentiate Bond from the bad guy in her rifle sights. It’s something else she alludes to later, a whole train of betrayal dismissed in a phrase so brief it nearly floats past us.
Q is completely reimagined in Ben Whishaw. A computer geek who even Bond notes looks like he hasn’t yet got beyond adolescent spots, his only gifts to 007 are a tiny radio transmitter and a gun programmed to respond to his hand only. Come on? This is Dick Tracy stuff, not what we have come to expect in a Bond film. Bond does have his own set of wheels secreted in his own garage, and it has a few unexpected surprises for his pursuers, but Q, cuddly as he is in his owlish glasses and mop top, is largely irrelevant. And that’s sad.
Finally, we come down to Silva (Javier Bardem), our villain. No cardboard, megalomaniac complete with plans of world domination and a pet kitty, Silva is as captivating as he is repulsive. As he slowly tells us his story, we even begin to feel for him, understand his reason for revenge even if we deplore his methods. In his wheedling way as he tries to bring Bond to his side, we identify with him just enough to put us in the opposition camp, if only for a minute or two. And here is Mendes again deconstructing our world. This is the semi corrupt MI6 John le Carré describes so well in The spy Who Came in from the Cold or the tangled web of intrigue he alludes to in Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy.
Fine actors and a fine film, in its own way. But the lighter than air James Bond who could save the world and our view of it with his own brand of impervious panache is nowhere to be found.
The ultra modern Shanghai Skyline sparkles as Bond confronts an early Nemesis in one of its glass towers. The night shot captures the breath-taking beauty of this gem of a city of over 23 million, especailly the shot of the dramatic towers along the Bund waterfront along the Huangpu River. The famous Oriental Pearl TV Tower looms over everything like a whimsical Lego creation.
But Bond doesn't have time to take in the sights, or even the Asian beauty in the adjoining high rise. Perhaps he's a little tired after catching a ride up there hanging onto the beams below the elevator.
If he had the time, I would offer him this delcious Shanghai dish, Stir-Fried Bok Choy with Ginger. You can buy Boy Choy at your local gorocery and if the fresh ginger and all the directions on how to use it are a bit too much, just sprinkle on a little of the powederd variety.
Stir-Fried Shanghai Bok Choy with Ginger
1 (2-inch) piece ginger, peeled
3/4 lb Shanghai bok choy or other baby bok choy (5 to 8 heads)
1/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon Chinese rice wine (preferably Shaoxing) or medium-dry Sherry
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
Special equipment: a rasp grater; a well-seasoned 14-inch flat-bottomed wok
Accompaniment: steamed white rice
Cut half of ginger into very fine matchsticks (less than 1/8 inch thick; about 1 tablespoon) and reserve. Grate remaining ginger and squeeze pulp with your fingers to yield 1 teaspoon liquid, then discard pulp.
Remove any bruised or withered outer leaves from bok choy. Trim 1/8 inch from bottom of each bok choy, then cut each head into quarters. Wash bok choy in several changes of cold water and dry in a colander or salad spinner until dry to the touch.
Whisk together ginger juice, chicken broth, rice wine, soy sauce, cornstarch, salt, and sugar in a small bowl until cornstarch is dissolved.
Heat wok over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Pour oil down side of wok, then swirl oil, tilting wok to coat sides. Add ginger matchsticks and stir-fry 5 seconds. Add bok choy and stir-fry until leaves are bright green and just limp, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir broth mixture, then pour into wok and stir-fry until vegetables are crisp-tender and sauce is slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and drizzle with sesame oil, then stir to coat.