The Oscars Broke My Gay Heart

Rotten gold, magnified 3 1/2 hours.

In any past year, if someone told me they hadn’t watched the Oscars, I’d say they were either irreparably straight or blind. This year, I’d just say they were lucky.

The show has been flailing for a while now, but us loyal gays have stuck with it. Ok, we stayed mostly for the dresses, but still we could always hope for a surprise winner here and there, a transcendent moment in an acceptance speech, an iconic musical performance maybe.  

The 94th Annual Academy Awards could barely manage to throw us a bone, other than Timothee Chalamet’s chest, and who wants to chew on that? Thank god for Arianna DeBose, in general and last night, who put the red in red carpet. If she and Gaga rep as our new Cher at the Oscars, maybe there’s a glimmer on the horizon.

The show did open big, with Beyonce doing a commercial for Pantone’s Color of the Year. She and her entourage didn’t move too much, and her song may as well have been written by Diane Warren for all its uninspired lyrics and flat composition, but we take whatever Beyonce we can get.

Then a trio of lady comedians were presented as hosts, but after their opening, we barely saw them. The gig clearly scares the shit out of everyone, so kudos to Wanda Sykes’ balls, but there was a lack of boysterousness, a sense of apprehension, to the bits, like ‘ok, we’re going to do this joke, hope it works, ok, here goes…”

Halfway through, it was hard to remember anything that had happened. The winners and their acceptance speeches were predictable, even when they were touching. If I pull up a Pixar movie, I know I’m going to tear up in the final act, so same when I know Troy Kotsur’s going to win and give an emotional acceptance speech.

Speaking of unavoidable animation studios, let’s note that Disney doesn’t talk about Bruno because he’s a gay kid in Florida. Why, why cannot voters let go of their fealty to Disney animation? Encanto is yet another off their production line with a theme no one can make sound resonant beyond the now clearly disingenuous theme behind every single other Disney movie (don’t be afraid to be your true self! Right.). Is animation only worthy of an award when it’s written by rich Hollywood parents who can shield their children from red state legislatures? And no, throwing Megan Thee Stallion into your TikTok Bruno pablum doesn’t help. A trophy for Flee would have helped.

There were two other musical performances that didn’t involve dancers kicking a camera around the stage, but were just as nauseating. Reba McIntyre tried valiantly to get her notes around one of the ugliest Diane Warren nominees ever, and that’s saying a lot. Then there was the song from Encanto that wasn’t Bruno, and thus was forgettable, presented in a faux jungle clearing with a dancing couple pulled from a Cinco de Mayo celebration at Union Station.

Billie Eilish and Finneas delivered the only Oscar-worthy performance, of the only decent song nominated. And they won, so that was a tiny blip of light in the dullness.

Another blip came in the second half when the Pepsi-logo stage design was changed out and props repositioned so it didn’t appear as a big white Oscar was looming over the shoulder of all the POC presenters.

As expected, Dune rolled through the craft awards, and all we got out of their six times on stage were what looked like the same two 50-year-old white guys bowing in reverence to some lady named Denice Villeneuve.

And we do care about craft awards! Costume and Make-up especially. Taking most of them out of the broadcast changed nothing. In fact, a lot of times those winners bring some quirkiness and surprise to the proceedings, which last night lacked more than ever.

But what about the BIG surprise, you ask? The most shocking moment in 94 years of Oscar history? Doesn’t that make up for the boredom?

No, not when it’s an on-stage assault. If my beloved Oscars were already on life support, Will Smith just smacked the plug right out of the socket. He didn’t just wipe out the joy of watching CODA win, or Jessica Chastain paying tribute to a woman who was never given her due as a gay ally. He wiped out any hope left that this event is worth watching.

The Academy’s misguided stabs at relevance, complicated by TV network executives blind to what relevance actually is, have already done serious damage. You can forgive new producers for clumsy execution of good ideas, but this strategy has left us a show that trots out lifeless GenZ presenters, who aren’t talented enough actors to pretend they want to be there, and jettisons aspects of the Oscars that have always and will always work – like a full orchestra and a silent In Memoriam segment – for contrived hipness. The few seasoned pros who know how to bring life and spontaneity to the proceedings have either left the building, or are getting assaulted on stage.

This week will be for major damage control on the part of the Smiths and the Academy. But let’s admit it – the hole in the soul of the Oscars is just too big to fill. It was a near-extinct species trying to hobble across the speeding freeway of oblivious and insatiable pop-culture consumers, and Will Smith just made it road kill.

It was so fitting, and so sad, that the final visual of this Oscar night was major talent and gay icon Liza Minelli parked in a wheelchair onstage, no one listening to her because they were all on their phones reading about a Jerry Springer brawl.

My gay heart was broken last night. But maybe that’s good. No matter how enlightened the show tries to be, this Academy still clearly has a lot of mold to clear out of its basement.

The fact that we’ve stuck with Oscar until now shows we diehard fans are willing to compromise. I’d happily sit through a hollow Euphoria pretty-boy attempting to read off a teleprompter if they’d stop giving trophies to every Disney animated movie made. Or hold my tongue about a KStew nomination if they’d stop nominating Diane Warren. But last night left little to negotiate over.

Maybe the Academy should take their awards in-house for the next few years, then put on a major spectacle for the 100th Anniversary in 2028, when Duane Johnson is elected President. Maybe things will be sorted out by then. Maybe Jada’s hair will have grown back, and Will can get angry over reviews of Hancock instead. Maybe Nicole Kidman will be the ultimate Oscar host, as her ‘please go back to the theaters’ promo suggests.

Maybe Oscar can resuscitate itself. In the meantime, let’s look forward to the Gaga/Minelli Vegas show.

DUNE: Denis Villeneuve throws sand in our eyes

“We’re gonna need a bigger bo…ttle of lube.”

When director Denis Villeneuve announced he was making Dune, he said he wanted it to be a “Star Wars for adults”. First of all, fuck you, Denice. Millions of adults love Star Wars. Secondly, we all know the real reason Villeneuve made this movie. Not because Jodorowski never realized his grand vision. Not because David Lynch was too campy.

The real reason is Timothee Chalamet’s hair. Just as Adele’s five-foot-long hands create gale-force winds for her videos and help propel her songs up the charts, Chalamet’s head of bouncy waves is already a movie star, so why not build a movie around it?

The first Dune novel sets the stage for the world-building of Frank Herbert’s Dune Chronicles series, and Villeneuve felt this novel involves so many characters and intricate politics that it would require two 3-hour films to relate, so cuts this story in half leaving us no narrative satisfaction. We adults had no problem deciphering the Republic/Separatist/Empire politics and character allegiances in Star Wars and could have handled all of Dune in one film. But it seems Villeneuve wanted to fill his movie with Apple TV+ screen-savers. Ok, he does them artsier, but we came for Hair Chalamet!

Hair is dour and pouting (as usual) when we first meet his character Paul Atreides. His mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) is making him take the SATs with a harsh professor, and it doesn’t get harsher than Charlotte Rampling. Instead of penciling in ovals, Paul has to put his hand into a box of pain. I’m guessing it’s like putting your foot into a slipper that a cockroach has crawled into, so yikes! Jessica helps her son by telepathically filling his mind with pleasant thoughts, like sex with (pre-cannibal) Army Hammer.

Paul passes the test (he is the King of Pain, which Sting was in the 1984 Dune! That’s an Easter egg I squeezed out myself, you’re welcome.) and Jessica is told he could very well be the savior prophesized to free the Fremen, who aren’t currently free men, or women, or non-binary. Their desert planet Arakis has been occupied for ages by one of the Houses under the Empire because it contains the most valuable commodity in all the galaxy, something called Spice, which enables people to endure trips into deep space. If you’re thinking acid, wrong analogy.

Arakis is styled after the Middle East, so spice is clearly analogous to oil. Arakis natives are brown-skinned with names that sound like exotic, uh, spices (Chani). The occupiers are from royal houses with European names. So whatever Fates rule the Dune world have chosen Paul to save the brown people. Dune’s unfortunate white savior narrative is baked into the original, but let’s be real. The Fate that rules this Dune is Villeneuve, and what does the high-minded, Star Wars-for-adults director do about the story’s poorly-aged trope? He casts pale-as-a-sheet, adolescent girl-magnet Chalamet as the savior.

But hey, even Jason Mamoa can’t resist Hair’s body and shine. When his character Duncan Idaho returns from some spicy trip, Paul and he dash into an embrace that makes you think they’ll be biting into peaches and kreem for lunch. But even though Paul enjoys intimacy with hunks, wears great outfits, is attached to his mother, and obsessed with a female pop star, he’s straight. That’s GenZ for ya!

Duncan and Paul don’t have long to ‘reminisce’ before Paul’s father, Duke Atreides (Oscar Isaac) moves the whole family to Arakis on the Empire’s orders, to take over control of the spice from House Harkonnen. This is all orchestrated by the Emperor to cause a war between the houses that will weaken both. That’s the ‘complex’ political intrigue that Villeneuve needs six hours to explain, even though everything from Succession to Survivor does it in an hour-long episode.

Before all that happens, though, we have to meet a sand worm, touted as one of the grand inventions of Dune. Considering Villeneuve’s declaration that Star Wars got everything from Dune, we expect he’ll make his sand worm look different – more spectacular or menacing or at least weirder – than the sarlacc in Return of the Jedi. Nope. It’s just another gaping sinkhole ringed with spiky teeth. We see more of the worm later, but again, meh. I’ve seen scarier sphincters.

As the Emperor planned, Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard, not half as frightening as the actor Lynch used) attacks the Atreides on Arakis, killing them all except Paul and his mother, who escape to the desert, where we are treated to endless beauty shots of the empty dunes. The incredible cinematography in Dune does give Chalemet’s hair a run for it’s money.

Paul and Jessica are saved by a group of Fremen, one of whom is Zendaya. Like the uninspired sand worm, Villeneuve gives us the gaping hole of a YA meet-cute. She pretends not to like him, he persists, she takes a furtive glance, he catches her, no she didn’t!, ugh. But nevermind, it’s time for Hair’s big scene!

In order to save himself and his mother from being murdered, Paul must win a knife fight with a Fremen assassin. Cue Hair. She throws herself over Paul’s eyes, and we think, this is a fight for his life, and his mother’s. How is he going to fight with hair in his eyes? Is he not allowed to use a scrunchie? Zendaya surely has one, probably in a fun leopard print. But Hair must have her moment. She bounces around, letting Paul see past her in crucial moments. She knows what she’s doing. She’s not a ridiculous oversight that went from mildly annoying to ruining what should be the film’s climactic scene. She is a challenge our hero must overcome in order to prevail. A challenge not just for Paul, but for Timothee.

And then the movie ends. Just like that. We’ll get the second half in what, three or four years? So this film version of a single book in a fantasy series will have taken 7-8 years. Peter Jackson took all three Lord of the Rings books from initial development to the third film in that same amount of time. Is the first Dune novel that much more complex a narrative than Tolkien’s entire LOTR epic? Of course not. The difference is that Jackson gave each film in the trilogy a big, satisfying story of its own, and as much charm and humor as striking visuals and iconic villains. Villeneuve made half a film, took years and hundreds of millions of dollars to obsess over visual details, and couldn’t get his star a $30 haircut.

Being self-serious about science fiction is fine, and Villeneuve did that great in Arrival. The novel Dune, though, has some truly f’ed up characters and scenes. David Lynch doubled down on the gross and weird. Villeneuve decided to clean it all up, putting a more tasteful lens on even the ugliest parts, and using the latest in effects to smooth away the steam punk trappings. Maybe Lynch’s version was clumsy and crazy (Sean Young was the love interest…), but this one keeps everything and everyone at an elegant distance. For a story that’s all about ‘the spice’, this movie has a surprising lack of it.

Sure, from Villeneuve’s lofty view, Dune is striking. But if you like to experience movies from down where the characters are, you just see a hill of sand.  

HOUSE OF GUCCI: Horse bits, loafers, Gaga too…House of Gucci we love you!

“Ay! I didn’t write this shit.”

As much as I adored Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest, I’ve always feared she scared good actresses away from camp. When it has been attempted, it’s left for supporting roles, like Meryl Streep’s arch stab at it in The Devil Wears Prada. But to go full Dunaway, you have to carry a film from beginning to end obsessively believing your absurd character can be presented as a real person. It requires a skilled actress to pull it off, and must be abetted by a laughably bad script, costumes that the actress has to battle for attention, and a director who doesn’t get that camp is happening right in front of his lens.

House of Gucci fills all these requirements, and Lady Gaga is full to bursting. The flashy performer, even in her subtler scenes, is a blast to watch, and she tries to keep you from ever looking around her or behind her. Because when you do, yikes, is this movie bad.

Ridley Scott is the aforementioned director, who handles this production like a stuffy old man trying to relate to his trans granddaughter. He’s just too straight for all this Gaga. Witness his choice for the opening scene: an unnecessary tease of Adam Driver’s character Maurizio Gucci right before he’s shot, something we all know is coming. The scene has no purpose other than structural, to bookend the film, because…that’s something true crime movies do?

If he’d understood what he was making, Scott would have opened with the next scene. A little Italian sports car zips into a dusty parking lot. Out steps Gaga, squeezed into a tight skirt and blouse and wearing big, cheap jewelry, which will become her theme. She struts past the wolf whistles from the truckers, acting embarrassed but clearly enjoying the attention. We instantly know who her character Patrizia Reggiani is and what she wants. And we instantly know Gaga is going to get everything she wants from this movie. How? She’s wearing 6-inch stilettos, flattering for her small stature but having nothing to do with the 1970 timeframe.

Gaga covers more of her contractual demands in the next scene, when she enters a 90s disco party surrounded by her gays. Meanwhile, it’s still 1970. Patrizia seems annoyed and restless, maybe because the blocking and camerawork are atrocious and Gaga is having PTSD from when she fell off the stage. She removes herself to the bar and meets Maurizio. Their banter is clumsy and poorly written, so Gaga is forced to plaster on an expression of shock that deserves its own sound effect (ka-boing!) when Maurizio tells her he is a GUCCI.

She spends the next scenes stalking Maurizio with a face that mixes desperation, awe and purple eye-shadow into a meme-worthy stew. Over the miscasting of geeky Maurizio into the body of hunky Adam Driver, Gaga lets you know Patrizia is no Hannah Horvath. The attraction is all about the Gucci name.

Now might be a moment to mention the accents, which run the gamut from “I’m not even trying this” Driver to “Letta me a-sound lika Mario” Jared Leto. These delightful speech impediments are the second-best campy thing in this movie. How campy? Imagine if Reba McEntire, Prince Charles and Charo were playing blood relatives. Now make them Italian and have Charo wear a Jaba the Hut costume.

Our Italian Prince Charles here is Maurizio’s father, Rodolfo Gucci, played by Jeremy Irons. He’s all snob, lives in the same fabulous Milanese Moderne house as I Am Love was set, and does get a few good zingers in, like when Patrizia thinks his Klimpt is a Picasso and he replies, “People have made worse mistakes.”. I wish I could say the same to Ridley Scott.

Patrizia’s nervousness in front of Papa Gucci is funny and relatable, and when she’s forced to mention her father owns a trucking business, Rodolfo knows that means mafia. He tells Maurizio to fuck her but don’t marry her. Driver gives a pointed speech to his father about living in the past that makes zero sense coming from empty-headed Maurizio. He gets cut off and has to work for Patrizia’s father washing trucks.

Maurizio and Patrizia marry in 1973, and the filmmakers choose to play George Michael’s Faith over the scene, one in a string of needle drops that try to trick us about the time period. It’s fine for Gaga and her stilettos to pretend it’s 10 years later than it actually is, because camp is timeless and 80s fashion is hilarious. But the movie is plagued by Scott’s insistence on showing the details of Gucci corporate machinations, so why is he lying about timing?

Now a Gucci, Patrizia throws her wrench into those machinations, and Gaga camps her way through it all, defying Scott’s tendencies. Whenever he takes her out of the picture to let the men talk, the movie flatlines.

Scott tries resuscitating these scenes with Al Pacino doing Scent of a Puttana in makeup that can only be described as ‘roasted to a crisp’, and Jared Leto as usual trying to create his own movie within a movie. His Paolo – a sad, insignificant Gucci heir – is so obnoxiously realized, so desperately trying to steal his scenes, that I wouldn’t be surprised to hear Gaga put a hit on him. I’ll do it for free, Steph.

Pacino’s Uncle Aldo gets the ‘blue sweater’ speech, where he makes a sharp insight about fashion’s impact on culture after Patrizia is appalled that no one is doing anything about the Gucci knock-offs on Canal Street. If “New Jersey housewives” can feel some cache from walking around with a fake Gucci, Aldo says, it’s good for the brand. Patrizia, insecure about her own cache as a ‘Gucci’, can’t stomach this.

Things bounce around from silly to boring (Paolo pees on Grace Kelly’s scarf; Rodolfo dies; Gaga wears a necklace of pearls so massive you feel sorry for the oysters; Patrizia frames Aldo for bank fraud; Jared tries to make “boof!’ happen) until Maurizio tires of Patrizia’s pushy ways. As the Italian feds raid their home, Maurizio sneaks out the back door (literally) and motorbikes his way across the border to Switzerland, which is all very Sound of Music. Now the hills are alive with the sound of murder, not because he left Patrizia and their 5-year-old daughter at the mercy of the feds, but because at Christmas he gave Patrizia a Bloomingdales gift card. What’s she supposed to do with that? Buy Sketchers? What a bastardo! He must die.

And as we know, he does. But first we get a scene that almost rewards us for getting to the end of this overlong film. Gaga, dressed like she’s auditioning for West Side Story and wearing chubby face prosthetics, sits next to her psychic and henchwoman Pina, played by Salma Hayek in a wig that was dyed pink, blowtorched and rolled in dirt. There have been some strange arrangements of hair put on top of Gaga through this film, but this Salma wig wins the grand prize. I’ll be seriously disappointed if I can’t find it at Spirit Halloween.

The ladies meet the hired guns, hand over the cash, and the rest is history. Gaga’s final words to the assassins are the same I would use in reference to her performance:

“Don’t. Miss.”

THE ETERNALS: Chloe Zhao takes Marvel to Nomansland

“Ok, beast from another dimension, you can’t attack until my weapon finishes rendering, deal?”

I always thought the comic book Eternals were boring. Their world felt built of rejected storylines from more popular titles and none of them had Wolverine’s chest hair. But even if you had more patience for them than my teenage self did, admit it, no one was waiting with baited breath for an Eternals movie.

The excitement came with the announcement that Chloe Zhao would direct it, like hearing Wes Anderson was going to do a Fast&Furious. Such a fresh sensibility brought to the genre! This was going to be different.

And…then I sat in an IMAX seat with broken springs to see another Marvel movie, one with broken springs.

Infusing the film is the feeling that from director on down, there’s a reluctance to treat anything the way a superhero movie does. Yet a Marvel film needs rote scenarios and plot points to work, so when no one wants to do them but they kinda have to, you end up with a lack of energy. Everyone seems like they’re just getting out of a long meditation before their scene, all beneficent stares and quiet talking.

Fundamental problem #1: The Eternals are super-powerful and immortal but have only been allowed – for 7000 years of human history – to help humans against one specific threat, creatures made of Twizzlers called Deviants. So from the get-go they’re ‘heroes’ who could have prevented billions of deaths but didn’t. While Captain Marvel was dealing with Thanos or Galactus or The Black Plague, the Eternals finished off the Deviants around 1500 AD and spent the next 500 years loafing in places with pretty sunsets, like where the van people from Nomadland go.

Salma Hayek is the leader and lives in South Dakota (see above). Frances McDormand is not there, though that is one couple I’d totally want to watch argue over how to plant seedlings. Salma is named Ajak, the first of several Greek mythology names we get that are misspelled to be cool. Her boss is a giant rock with six eyes called a Celestial.

Then we (slowly…) meet the infamously diverse cast. There’s Sersi (Gemma Chan), who works at a museum just like Wonder Woman. Sersi hooked up with Ikarus (Richard Madden, Robb Stark from GoT) when they first were sent to Earth 7000 years ago. They got married in ancient India – by Vishnu himself we assume – and then broke up 5000 years into the relationship. How the hell do you break up after 5000 years? What could possibly have happened? Did Sersi get a pimple during the Enlightenment?

Sersi has moved on to date Kit Harrington (Jon Snow from GoT). Sersi/Cersei doing both of the Stark boys is an in-joke that’s funnier than any of the actual jokes in the movie. The couple pal around London with Sersi’s fellow Eternal, Sprite, a teen who can’t age so can’t legally bone her crush Ikarus. Remember Kirstin Dunst in Interview with the Vampire? Same thing, so we’re expecting the worst from Sprite.

Ikarus shows up to save Sersi and Sprite from a Deviant (they’re back!) and they all go to consult Ajak. They find her dead, killed by a Deviant. Seems immortal just means you can’t die of old age, so you still have to get the COVID vaccine and avoid being impaled on giant beast tail spears. With Ajak gone, Sersi becomes the liaison with the Celestial boss, who reveals to her the nasty secret behind the Eternals 7000-year mission: he’s been using them to keep humans prospering toward overpopulation so he has enough of them to eat. It makes Thanos’ plan seem kind.

Our trio go get the two biggest casting newsmakers – Angelina Jolie and Kumail Nanjani. Kumail’s character Kingo has become what is supposed to be the biggest Bollywood star of all time, but instead of getting a desperately needed injection of some crazy fun, a scene with hundreds of dancers on a lavish set, we get a dozen harem girls in an airplane hangar and Nanjani acting like a kid forced to dance at a bar mitzvah, purposely being silly and not doing the moves right. Nanjani’s laziness in this scene is indicative of the film’s attitude toward embracing the beats of a superhero character. If you accept a role where you have to go pow!pow! with your fingers so they can draw lasers on them later, get into it! Did Nanjani just take this role as an excuse to get ripped (which he is and I’m not complaining about that)?

Angelina Jolie bit into Malificent with gusto, but like Nanjani she’s toothless here. Granted, in every action scene she has to pose and wait for a CGI artist to Etch-a-Sketch her weapons into her hands real time, but in the non-fighting scenes be Angelina fucking Jolie. Purr in someone’s ear, arm wrestle, push a guy against a wall and bite his lip. If Jolie can’t bring sex and edge to a film, something is fundamentally wrong.   

Ditto for Bryan Tyree Henry. He’s a milquetoast inventor named Phastos, and making that character type gay takes major points away from this movie’s casting wokeness. Not to mention that the Eternals directive is to not interfere in the affairs of humans other than killing Deviants, yet Phastos gives humankind major advancements like the plow and the steam engine and Ralph Lauren safari chic for Angelina. In one flashback scene we find him crying in Hiroshima because he ‘inspired’ the atomic bomb. What did he think they were going to use it for, gender reveal parties?

The premise of otherworldly beings deciding to spare the destructive human race because “humans feel love and joy and hope (ugh)” has been trotted out more times than you can count, and Zhao could have avoided executing it so on-the-nose. But she Marvel-ed the shit out of that cliché, while avoiding giving us the clichés that make a Marvel movie fun.

In parts, it’s nice to have her meditative take on the proceedings. The cinematography is pretty, and does have more texture than typical Marvel. The way she lets characters be is also less typical for a superhero film, but it rarely works when the script is hewing too close to formula and the cast is so mismatched in acting style.

There is a dinner scene that’s supposed to be one of those where the superheroes let loose and joke around. These scenes work in Ironman and Avengers because we feel these are actually the actors themselves having fun with each other, people who’ve been working together for a few months and become close. The version of this in The Eternals is awkward to watch. It’s meant to feel more naturalistic than scripted, but it’s all conversation lulls and stumbling banter between actors who don’t seem to have even met before the scene. And the one big joke is that the host Eternal is serving his friends beer made from his spit. That’s funny? I mean, if Captain America had made it I might use it as lube, but it’s still not funny.

The Eternals ends up drifting in and out of your interest, because as in her other work, Zhao stands back from her subjects and tries to let them unfold in their own rhythm, present their authenticity.

Unfortunately for Zhao, there’s nothing authentic about the Marvel universe. Movies can fake reality, but they can’t make reality out of the fake.

NO TIME TO DIE: James Bond goes down in herstory.

“I don’t care if your car is being shot up by 14 assassins, James, we need to talk about my feelings!”

*Spoilers, people!

As a pop cultural phenomenon that’s been going strong for seven decades, nothing compares to…well, Cher, bitch, but let’s talk about our second-favorite ageless septuagenarian diva, James Bond, who has a new movie out.

No Time to Die is promoted as the final appearance of Daniel Craig’s version of James, but as with Cher, we know not to trust that. I mean, how many Knives Out sequels can he do before we start screaming for him to get back into his Speedo’s?

Plus, this movie feels like the James Bond version of a ‘Cherwell’ concert. It’s chock full of references to the Bond canon, from the original Aston Martin to a secret submarine bunker to Louis Armstrong on the soundtrack. Bond even orders the ‘shaken not stirred’ martini, which Craig’s Bond rudely kicked to the curb in his very first outing, for a Heineken and their sponsorship millions.

If we could turn back time, which a movie can, the story starts with a flashback to the childhood of Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), for whom James retired his 007 to settle down with at the end of the previous film, Spectre. Their relationship was so bland and the Spectre plot so weak that everyone involved really should have moved on. There are plenty French lesbian movies for Seydoux to be in.

Does James believe in life after love? Madeleine doubts this, so takes him to a structurally impossible Italian cliff town where his great love Vesper Lynd is buried because she drowned in Venice and female corpses aren’t allowed to leave Italy, other than Sophia Loren when she goes to Cannes. Pouty Maddy demands that James go say goodbye once and for all, but when he visits Vesper’s crypt, it blows up in his face. Everyone who’s ever tried to visit an ex while in a new relationship will sympathize.

What follows is the first of the big action set pieces we go to these films for. Like the evening dress slit up to the pudenda we know someone will wear in every Bond film, these action scenes are all the same in concept but give us just enough of a new design to elicit a fresh ‘wow’.

James thinking his new lover is so jealous she’d blow up his already-dead ex and try to take him out in the process would normally not make sense, but factor in that Craig has given his Bond layers of angst and paranoia previously not allowed in the invincible Bond character. So he puts Ms. Seydoux on a train to Bond girl oblivion and holes up in his Jamaican house, which has no walls. It’s nice to think Bond has gone eco, and sweaty clothes clinging to Daniel Craig is worth the popcorn in my lap, but for an assassin who has decades worth of targets on his back to live so exposed, uh, come on.

James is lured out by his BFF, CIA agent Felix Leiter. Let’s remember that Felix gave James ten million of our hard-earned tax dollars to gamble with in Casino Royale and call him what he is – an enabler. Felix needs James because in all this time there hasn’t emerged on the scene a single agent strong enough to match James’ prowess.

And this movie makes sure that includes the newly deputized 007, Nomi (Lashana Lynch). She’s a dark lady with a heart of stone, maybe because she’s forced to wear a brown slacks and blazer combo to signal she’s not a ‘Bond girl’. But more likely it’s because she’s completely sidelined plot-wise, just like a Bond girl. She always shows up late to the party, usually just to Uber James to his next appointment. And the few ass-kicking scenes she does get are not given the same verve as the ones given the other female characters. Ana de Armas, wearing the afore-mentioned high-slit gown, gets to perform Swan Lake with an automatic weapon. Nomi gets to push a henchman off a catwalk. In slacks.

The hype about the Bond franchise moving into the future with a woman of color as our new 007 appears to be a nothing more than a gimmick for a single film, as Nomi, overwhelmed by James’ bravery toward the finale, asks M to give James his old number back, which M does, just before James dies. What’s the MI6 rule regarding this? I certainly wouldn’t want that cursed number back, Nomi.

Like all the solid Bond films, No Time to Die understands the mechanics that make this franchise work, and delivers the action and locales and plotting we expect. And Daniel Craig understands what has made his portrayal of Bond more interesting. He is constantly sneaking off the pedestal the franchise tries to put James Bond on. He brought a vulnerability that is not supposed to be part of Bond’s DNA. He’s lost as many fights as he’s won. Triumphs were never clean and never final, as his Bond’s deepest injuries were emotional.

It is Craig who made a character formerly presented only as callous, ruthless and misogynistic killable. Both in the context of this film and outside of it, he wants us to do what few mega-franchise stars ever wants their audience to do – let him go. Move on as film fans, let him move on as an actor, let the franchise move on creatively.

The jury is out on how much the filmmakers agree with this. Nothing about No Time to Die suggests a truly fresh take is to come. There’s clear resistance to casting Bond as other than male, from both the filmmakers and the franchise’s core audience. Even when they’re as well-done as Salt, female-led spy flicks just don’t get the respect they deserve.

I smell an opportunity for the next Cher re-invention: No Time to Turn Back Time. Never mind who plays Bond when Cher is the villain stealing cheekbones from all the women in Scandinavia! Bang Bang!