Archive for category James Bond

SKYFALL Says it All in the Credits

There are some mild spoilers about Skyfall in this post if you’re sensitive about that stuff.

Skyfall is a great James Bond movie. Sure, it’s action-packed and well-written, and it’s been photographed beautifully, but what makes it truly great is that it’s a story about the character of James Bond, who (as much as I obviously enjoy his series of films) is usually more of an environmental force than a person–he never changes and he never stops. That’s why Bond’s villains and lovers get so much attention, because they’re the only people in his movies who seem to want anything or do anything beyond a stock set of programming. Between this film and Casino Royale, two of the very best Bond films made in the 50 year history of the series have been made in the last few years, and it’s mostly because the character of James Bond is finally on the table.

Whether or not we’re living in a golden age of Bond movies (there is that pesky Quantum of Solace to talk about), we’re definitely at the peak of the pre-credits sequences, and I say that as a guy who went through puberty on the Maurice Binder’s franchise-defining work. But ever since Daniel Kleinman came onto the job for Goldeneye, his work has taken the sequences to such heights that they’re one of the highlights of the experience. And the Skyfall credits are his best work yet. Just look at this piece of art:

There are so many incredible images to unpack in there. It’s the whole movie laid out right in front of you. Some of it is literal, some of it is symbolic, but it’s all right there. And one of my favorite bits was so subtle that it took a few viewings for me to notice it. The whole sequence seems to be pushing forward through a wave of images, and on two occasions the camera zooms in on a manor house with a chunk ripped right out the side of it, and a pair of steely cold eyes staring out.

The first time this happens is around 1:10 on the video. Here’s the shot:

When I first saw those eyes, I didn’t know the context of the image or the manor, but I instantly read those eyes as Daniel Craig’s. They’re a little smoother than Craig’s eyes but, hey, Photoshop. But at the end of the video, at around 3:30, the same image appears…

Except it’s totally not the same image. THIS image is Daniel Craig. Look at those eye jowls! But then who is that in the earlier pic? From the context of the film–it’s revealed that the manor house that appears in the credits is actually Bond’s childhood home–I can only assume that the first picture is actually of Bond as a child. That jibes with what we learn about him in the film, that (again, spoilers) his parents’ death sent him into the walls of the building, literally underground, to hide, and when he returned, his childhood was over.  The manor house is both a symbol and a literal location that forges his personality.

And there it is, bam, right in the opening credits. (Also, the credits have a preoccupation with doubles and mirrors, which is a theme that runs throughout the film. This flick was very, very carefully planned.) I’m going to write up Skyfall for the James Bond project when the film hits DVD, but until then, take this as a sign to go hit up the film in theaters and watch this amazing credits sequence on a massive screen with blaring music. I’m going back as soon as I can.

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RIP Tom Mankiewicz

I’m moving this week, and my last two Kubrick Project posts are delayed.  I have big plans to unveil them both on the same day, but don’t quote me on that.  In the meantime, I wanted to take a moment to honor a screenwriter who never got enough credit.

Unfortunately, Tom Mankiewicz isn’t big enough news to hog coverage from oil wells and political wrassling, but if you take a stroll through the movie blog community today, many of us are in mourning. Casual movie fans may not know his name, but trust me when I say Mankiewicz has had a presence in your life.

Mankiewicz, who passed this week at 68, had a prolific career in fantasy action films, most notably in the James Bond series, which obviously has seen a lot of love on this particular blog. When I did the James Bond Project, I treated Bond the character as the auteur, and specifically avoided talking about the Broccoli family or the group of writers and directors that made their mark in the series, but of all the writers who have worked with Bond over the years, Mankiewicz is one of a select group who deserve special attention.  Mankiewicz was a screenwriter and a hell of a good one, perfectly suited to the outsized world of James Bond.  Mankiewicz specialized in the big image, major set pieces that dominated the films they were found in.  Ever seen an action movie and found yourself underwhelmed, unable to remember a single awesome moment to rave about later at the bar?  That was not a Mankiewicz film.  Whatever else he was good at, Mankiewicz knew how to build a moment, and even his weaker scripts are filled with memorable action and iconic dialogue.  Among the movies that Mankiewicz worked on:

Diamonds are Forever (1971)

Live and Let Die (1973)

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

James Bond not your thing?  How about the first modern superhero film?  And of course…

Yes, if you’ve ever joked about kneeling before Zod, thank Mankiewicz.

Also, Ladyhawke (1985).

And he even gave us Dragnet (1987).

And before someone craps on Superman II, keep in mind that Mankiewicz had nothing to do with the Richard Lester edits that turned the movie into a silly mess, and in fact he made the restored “Richard Donner cut” one of his final working projects, helping Donner put the movie back together as Mankiewicz’s screenplay originally laid it out.  And he did all of this after being royally shafted out of his screen credit on both Superman II and the original classic.

All of the movies I posted above are great examples of the big image, and even though there are a lot of flaws represented up there, each of them made a big impact on the fantasy of the movies.  Yes ,”movie magic”.  That was Mankiewicz’s specialty, and that’s who we lost this week.

PS:  Mankiewicz also took a shot at directing and helmed the 1991 John Candy comedy, Delirious.  I love that movie, but I always seem to find myself sipping punch alone at the fan club meeting.  Surely an oversight.

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Bond #1 – Goldfinger

Without this film, there’s no Bondmania… and maybe no more Bond.

. . .AS IAN FLEMING’S JAMES BOND 007: Sean Connery

SETUP: MI6 suspects a wealthy businessman named Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) of illegal gold smuggling, and they’d like to know how he’s doing it. James Bond takes the assignment after crossing paths with Goldfinger in Miami, a meeting that left a young woman murdered by a spray-on golden tan.

BUT IN REALITY: Goldfinger is indeed smuggling, but it’s the last thing the Brits should be worried about. The real concern is Operation Grand Slam, Goldfinger’s scheme to detonate a nuke inside Fort Knox, back when US currency was still backed by gold. Bond alerts the authorities, triggering a major ground skirmish outside the fort. The bomb is defused (with 007 seconds left, of course) and Bond survives to confront Goldfinger in a private airplane, where the villain is sucked out a window to his death.

Should have stuck with the laser, Goldfinger.

VILLAINOUS DISFIGUREMENT: Goldfinger’s only disfigurement is mental: a driving obsession with gold. He smuggles it, collects it, murders with it, and even wields a golden gun long before Bond’s nemesis Scaramanga.

THE MUSCLE: Goldfinger employs Oddjob, a thick, mute, Korean wrestler with a razor-rimmed bowler hat that can cut the heads off of stone statues. Burly, silent, and armed with a deadly gimmick weapon – Oddjob is the model for all the best Bond henchmen to come, including Jaws.

It takes huge balls to pick this over a gun.

BOND GIRL AND FEMME FATALE: Two of the most famous Bond Girls in franchise history are in this film. The first is Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton), famously killed by gold paint suffocation in the first act of the film. Jill’s sister, Tilly (Tania Mallet), shows up in the middle of the film to avenge her, but she meets a brutal end at the hands of Oddjob and his bowler hat. Instead of decapitation, the hat hits her with enough impact to break her neck and she drops dead in mid-stride.

Once secure in Goldfinger’s clutches, Bond meets the infamous Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman). Pussy is no-nonsense, a crack pilot, and also possibly a lesbian, but Bond manages to seduce her anyway (disturbingly, see below). She immediately joins the winning team, selling out Goldfinger and aiding the feds.

“Because ‘no’ really means ‘I’m one big O from switching sides.”

“PAY ATTENTION, 007”: The first classic “Q scene”. Bond visits Q in the gadget room, where he receives his gear for the upcoming mission. Q delivers two things of note here. First, the hands-down, number-one, best Bond gadget of all time, the original Aston Martin DB5, and second, his most famous line: “I never joke about my work, 007.”

MOST EMBARRASSING CULTURAL MOMENT: The ‘60s Bond films are each guilty of at least one embarrassing lapse in judgment, but Goldfinger is so chock full of casual misogyny that I can’t choose just one moment. Bond dismisses a girl from a chat with Felix Leiter by slapping her on her ass and explaining that it’s “man talk.” He later shoves Jill Masterson by the face to get her away from his phone call, which she finds hilarious. He more or less forces himself on Pussy Galore in Goldfinger’s stables which, of course, converts her to Bond’s team (and possibly to men). Audiences at the time ate this stuff up, but these are uncomfortable moments in an otherwise great film.

“Oh, come now. A little forced sex never hurt anyone, right? Am I right?”

BOND’S BEST ONE-LINER: “You expect me to talk?” Not a great line, but the setup for the most famous line in Bond history: “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”

WORTH MENTIONING: For once, Bond is on the wrong side of history with his musical taste, telling Jill Masterson she should never listen to The Beatles without earmuffs on…The great Gert Frobe didn’t speak English and had to play the part of Goldfinger by speaking his lines phonetically. His voice is dubbed in the final release… This film was the Avatar of its day, grossing so much money so quickly that it entered the Guinness Book of World Records. This overwhelming audience response became known, inevitably, as “Bondmania.”

OVERALL: Goldfinger is a quintessential Bond film, a movie that perfectly represents what the series is and what the franchise strives to deliver. It has action and adventure, gadgets and absurdities, sophistication and class, a world-stomping villain and a legendary lady. Goldfinger is also a required Bond film for any newcomers who want to know the series and find out what the noise is about. If only one James Bond movie survives into the next millennium, this would be the one. It’s too iconic to die.

Original gangsters.

This may seem like a surprise to some, since Goldfinger has no big aspirations to cultural infamy. It’s a saccharine piece of pop entertainment, a fantasy film built around a superspy too good to be true and a supervillain too big to exist. Auric Goldfinger (even his first name begins with AU) is like a psychotic from Batman’s rogues gallery, singularly obsessed with sticking to a theme. He collects gold to do what? Spend it? Then he’d have less and his enemies would have more. Besides, he’s got too many possessions in need of gold plating. It the ultimate insult when he kills Jill Masterson with gold paint; he must be really angry with a girl if he’s willing to part with gold to end her life.

The film’s lasting power comes from the broad, well-crafted script from Richard Maibaum and Paul Dehn, but also from the magnetic performance of Sean Connery, who finally fully realizes the Bond character after spending his first two films working out the kinks. Goldfinger gives him a challenge worthy of a mega hero, lines worth saying, and then plenty of room to maneuver. The film would be nice enough with another actor, but Connery carries it on his shoulders up and over the finish line, just as Harrison Ford with Indiana Jones or Johnny Depp with Pirates of the Caribbean. Connery will never be topped as Bond, and that’s because it’s not a competition. Bond is his role, and Goldfinger proves that. Everyone else is just playing the part.

Did I mention the car?

The James Bond Project

1. Goldfinger

2. From Russia with Love

3. Skyfall

4. Casino Royale

5. Goldeneye

6. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

7. Tomorrow Never Dies

8. Octopussy

9. The Spy Who Loved Me

10. Thunderball

11. Dr. No

12. For Your Eyes Only

13. The World is Not Enough

14. Live and Let Die

15. Licence to Kill

16. The Living Daylights

17. You Only Live Twice

18. Quantum of Solace

19. Die Another Day

20. The Man with the Golden Gun

21. Diamonds are Forever

22. A View to a Kill

23. Moonraker

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Bond #2 – From Russia with Love

The second Bond movie and the second best ever made.

. . .AS IAN FLEMING’S JAMES BOND 007: Sean Connery

SETUP: A Russian SMERSH operative named Tatiana Romanova contacts MI6 with a fantastic story. She claims to have fallen in love with James Bond from a file photograph and wishes to defect to be with him. Even better, she’ll throw in a top-secret Lektor Decoder if Bond travels to Istanbul personally to pick her up. Is it a trap?

BUT IN REALITY: Obviously, yes, of course it’s a trap, but SMERSH is innocent. The villainous SPECTRE organization, led by former SMERSH agent Rosa Klebb, has cooked this whole thing up in an effort to steal the Lektor, make a tidy profit by selling it back to the Russians, and in the process avenge Dr. No’s death by killing Bond. Poor Tatiana is caught in the middle as SPECTRE plays one side against the other, and when the plan goes down, Bond has to escape across land and sea to get the Lektor, Tatiana, and himself back into friendly territory.

“Speaking of friendly territory, my dear…”

VILLAINOUS DISFIGUREMENT: Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) has no physical deformities, save for a passing resemblance to Yoda, but there are some mean-spirited suggestions that she’s is a lesbian and that basically counted as a mental illness at the time.

Because in Bond-world, if a woman is strong, it’s because she’s part man.

THE MUSCLE: This is one of the rare Bond movies that allows the henchman to steal the show. Donald ‘Red’ Grant is an Aryan, muscular assassin trained specifically to kill Bond. He spends the first half of the film acting as Bond’s guardian angel to keep SPECTRE’s plan intact, but once Bond has the Lektor, Grant moves in for the kill. His final battle with Bond is one of the action highlights of the entire series. A true classic villain, played with perfect menace by Robert Shaw.

BOND GIRL AND FEMME FATALE: Tatiana (Daniela Bianchi) fits the early Bond Girl profile perfectly. She begins as a femme fatale, playfully luring Bond to his doom. Once she’s rolled in the sheets with our hero, her heart miraculously thaws and she repents of all her wicked ways. The role is rather standard, but Bianchi brings quirk to the performance and ends up as one of the most memorable Bond Girls from the Connery era.

And this was one of the most memorable weapons.

“PAY ATTENTION, 007”: Not the first appearance of Major Boothroyd/Q, but the first appearance of Desmond Llewellyn in the role. He delivers Bond a stylish briefcase, which is like a one-stop shop of gadgetry. Throughout the case are a bundle of hidden objects, such as gold sovereigns, throwing knives, tear gas canisters, and even a sniper rifle. Bond gets his mileage out of the case, using it in almost every critical moment and turning it against Red Grant in their final showdown.

MOST EMBARASSING CULTURAL MOMENT: Bond’s randy Turkish ally, Kerim Bay, takes him to a gypsy camp to lay low. By a stroke of luck, they arrive just as two gypsy women throw down in a catfight/deathmatch for the hand of the chief’s son. The ladies rip clothes and claw at each other while Bond gives the situation the gravity it deserves. Bond asks the chief to settle their argument, and he does so by giving both women to Bond for the night. Even better, none of this is relevant to the plot or ever mentioned again.

“Fight! Fight to decide which of you is the most exploited!”

BOND’S BEST ONE-LINER: After Rosa Klebb fails in her attempt to assassinate Bond with a shoe-knife: “She had her kicks.”

WORTH MENTIONING: Final appearance of Sylvia Trench, who was meant to be Bond’s frustrated regular love interest. Somewhere between this movie and Goldfinger, Bond lost her number… The novel was one of John F. Kennedy’s personal favorites, and the film is reportedly the last he saw before his death… First film appearance of the villain Blofeld, although he’s not mentioned in the credits.

OVERALL: Yeah, this was a close one.

From Russia with Love is one hell of a spy movie, a textbook Cold War potboiler improved by the presence of a superhero. And, make no mistake, that’s what James Bond is. The villains set up their scheme like a rat trap, coaxing the agent in with a prize (the code machine possibly, the woman definitely) and then quickly snapping the trap shut around him. The rest of the film is about watching the impossibly crafty Bond slip through the bars and dodge the broom without so much as mussing his hair. Maybe Bond can’t spin webs or hulk out, but his superpower is that he’s more awesome than you.

I mean, just look at him. He’s reading a grocery list and he’s still more man than me.

And he needed to be. As much as I admire Dr. No, it barely holds together as a movie. The tone is uneven, it’s bogged down with details, and really only succeeds in suggesting Bond as a character. From Russia with Love was the game-changer. Bond was cool. Bond was very cool. In fact, it’s this movie, not the superior sequel, that branded the attitude and slick machismo that made James Bond a megafranchise. There’s a reason that EA looked to this film when looking to sell a retro action game to the modern market.

Notice that I called From Russia with Love a spy movie and not an action movie, and that’s important. The film drags in its early scenes, there mostly to pad out a story that boils down to “go get something and then bring it back.” In fact, it’s these dead scenes – the intrigue in Turkey, mostly – that hold the movie back from an even higher rank, because once it gets moving, it flies.

“Man goes into hedge maze. Spy is in the hedge maze. Our spy.”

I love the train scenes in this movie. I love Robert Shaw’s Red Grant, and the way he adds tension to even a casual conversation in the dinner car, or how carefully he stalks Bond throughout the course of the movie, like the slasher in some teen horror movie. I love the exploding briefcase and the late-film chase (quietly lifted from North by Northwest’s cornfield by swapping a bi-plane for a helicopter.) I love Tatiana and her conflicted loyalties, and Rosa Klebb’s shoe knife, and the opening hedge maze with its doomed Bond lookalike. Mostly, I just love this movie.

But there’s one Bond movie I love even more.

The James Bond Project

1. ???

2. From Russia with Love

3. Skyfall

4. Casino Royale

5. Goldeneye

6. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

7. Tomorrow Never Dies

8. Octopussy

9. The Spy Who Loved Me

10. Thunderball

11. Dr. No

12. For Your Eyes Only

13. The World is Not Enough

14. Live and Let Die

15. Licence to Kill

16. The Living Daylights

17. You Only Live Twice

18. Quantum of Solace

19. Die Another Day

20. The Man with the Golden Gun

21. Diamonds are Forever

22. A View to a Kill

23. Moonraker

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Bond #4 – Casino Royale

Not to be confused with anything starring Woody Allen.

. . .AS IAN FLEMING’S JAMES BOND 007: Daniel Craig

SETUP: Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a financier posing as an international bank for terrorists, loses a large sum of his clients’ money in a stock fixing scheme foiled by a rookie British agent and, feeling the pressure, organizes a mega-stakes poker tournament as a means of winning it back. MI6 believes that if Le Chiffre loses he’ll have to turn himself in for protection, handing all of his clients to the British in the process. M (Judi Dench) sends the best poker player in MI6 to join the tournament and ensure that Le Chiffre comes up empty. In an astounding coincidence, that poker player is that very same rookie agent, a man named James Bond.

Who weekends as a masked wrestler named Sergeant Sausage.

BUT IN REALITY: Actually, that’s pretty much it. Bond smokes Le Chiffre in the tournament while falling for his own treasury agent partner, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green.) An assassin named Mr. White kills Le Chiffre before he can defect, and Bond quits MI6 to spend his days sailing and sunning alongside Vesper. To no one’s surprise except maybe Bond’s, Vesper betrays him and hands the casino winnings over to Mr. White, then drowns herself before giving Bond any answers. Bond pretends that he doesn’t care, but rescinds his resignation and begins the hunt for White and his shadowy organization.

VILLAINOUS DISFIGUREMENT: Le Chiffre’s left eye (the evil one!) occasionally drips blood due to a “derangement of the tear duct.” And also, ew.

“Hey, eyes up here and over to the right. No, my right.”

THE MUSCLE: The story begins with a chase scene, as Bond hunts Le Chiffre’s personal bomb maker, Mollaka (Sébastien Foucan.) The filmmakers transform what could have been a stock stage-setter into one of the film’s highlights by allowing Foucan, co-founder of the parkour movement, to lead Bond in an athletic, eye-popping run through urban Madagascar. In a sharp bit of screenwriting, we learn everything we need to know about our new Bond just by watching him react. When Mollaka takes a flying leap over a wall, Bond bulldozes through it. Mollaka scrambles up a construction site, Bond reasons out a faster way. Mollaka seeks cover in an embassy, so Bond invades the building, drags him outside, and shoots him while setting off a fire bomb to cover his own escape. By the end of the chase, we know that Bond is blunt, smart, and a ruthless killer. And he hasn’t even said a word.

BOND GIRL AND FEMME FATALE: To use a sports analogy, Vesper Lynd is the face of the Bond Girl franchise. She’s the most famous of Bond’s lovers, at least from the novels, and her betrayal and untimely death serves as a primer for the young secret agent as enters the global stage: Don’t trust anyone. Never get close. As finally brought to life here by Green, Vesper is sharp-tongued, witty, and a soft foil for Bond’s brutish assault on the poker tournament. Their romance is maybe a bit rushed but coming from a series where seduction often boils down to a popping cork and an erection one-liner, it’s surprisingly believable.

You’re not going to talk about your tallywhacker, are you?

“PAY ATTENTION, 007”: Q is conspicuously absent from the Daniel Craig Bond films, and even Craig himself has remarked that there may not be a place for the usually comical character in the current climate of the series. Bond does get a fancy car from the quartermaster’s office, but its most high-tech gadget is a state of the art med kit featuring emergency defibrillators.

MOST EMBARRASSING CULTURAL MOMENT: Changing the high-stakes game from baccarat, as it was in the novel, to the more mainstream Texas Hold ‘Em poker, a quote unquote sport usually played by people in funny costumes at high roller tables in Vegas instead of by the richest and most dangerous men and women in the world. The switch was intended to allow audiences to follow along with the action, but it comes across as a cheap concession to a temporary ESPN fad.

And every hand has, like, five one-in-a-trillion draws.

BOND’S BEST ONE-LINER: “I won’t consider myself to be in trouble until I start weeping blood.” — Bond’s unsubtle jab at Le Chiffre when asked if he’s feeling the pressure of the game.

WORTH MENTIONING Before Daniel Craig, the filmmakers seriously considered making a radical youth move by casting Henry Cavill, who was just 23 at the time… The rights to the Casino Royale novel were sold separately by Ian Fleming, which accounts for the four decade delay in bringing the story to the screen as part of the official series. The story has been filmed before, however, most famously as a spoof starring Peter Sellers and Woody Allen. Before that, the story appeared in 1954 on the American TV program Climax!, this time with American agent “Card Sense” Jimmy Bond in the lead.

They made this one just a tick darker.

OVERALL: Casino Royale is a very good movie that just barely misses the mark of a great movie. I blame Paul Haggis.

Let me explain. I mean no disrespect to Mr. Haggis as he seems like a great guy. He’s had a strong career as a writer and a director, he’s loved by the best in the business, and he has balls of solid brass. I respect all of this, which makes it difficult to admit that his screenplays burn me up. From the cartoons Hilary Swank calls family in Million Dollar Baby to the infuriating revisionism of In the Valley of Elah to pretty much all of Crash, I can’t find a single one of his films that I love without at least some reservation, and that includes Casino Royale.

“I left my script in the other tux.”

For just about its entire running time, Royale is a slam dunk. The script does a great job of implying the character we all know while allowing this rookie Bond to stumble and fail, gradually finding his footing and locking down his defenses until he’s fully arrived. Martin Campbell, no stranger to launching a new Bond, leaves the camera on Craig as much as possible, giving the actor a chance to sell every moment of anger or indecision in his face and eyes. As I took screenshots for this entry, I couldn’t believe just how often Craig is left alone in the frame. He is the movie. This is a hero-making film.

And yet somehow the movie fumbles its most important element, Bond and Vesper’s relationship. I said before that the romance is believable, and it is, but it’s also lifeless, dull, and goes on for much too long. There’s a screenwriting philosophy that says your movie is over when the last question is answered. Well, that happens nearly a half hour before the end of Royale‘s running time. Le Chiffre is dead, the tournament is over, and the heroes are in love, but now we have to go on vacation with them? For the rest of her life? Yes, the extended romance is just there to pack emotional punch for the betrayal, but it halts the momentum and wears out its welcome long before the action starts back up. Lessons could have been learned from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and the efficiency with which the Tracy Bond story becomes part of the main narrative, not just an addendum to it.

Falling asleep at the wheel of her own love story.

All that aside, Casino Royale still serves up a smart, observant take on the Bond character, one that builds slowly and pays off with a great final shot and a recognizable theme song. The film recreates the Bond legend from scratch while still leaving room for the series to feel Bond-like, something that’s sorely missed in the direct sequel, Quantum of Solace. And, honestly, the third act diversion seems to work for some people. Obviously, I think those people are wrong, but I think a first-time Bond and a flawed script coming in at #3 is a nice consolation prize. Being “almost the best Bond film ever made” will just have to do. I’m looking at you, Paul.

The James Bond Project

3. ???

4. Casino Royale

5. Goldeneye

6. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

7. Tomorrow Never Dies

8. Octopussy

9. The Spy Who Loved Me

10. Thunderball

11. Dr. No

12. For Your Eyes Only

13. The World is Not Enough

14. Live and Let Die

15. Licence to Kill

16. The Living Daylights

17. You Only Live Twice

18. Quantum of Solace

19. Die Another Day

20. The Man with the Golden Gun

21. Diamonds are Forever

22. A View to a Kill

23. Moonraker

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Bond #5 – Goldeneye

You know the jokes people make about James Bond? Well, he’s heard them too.

. . .AS IAN FLEMING’S JAMES BOND 007: Pierce Brosnan

SETUP: Bond and his partner Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean) invade a Russian chemical plant during the cold war, but only Bond survives to complete the mission. Years later, Bond’s interest in a suspicious woman named Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) leads him to a stolen helicopter and a Russian doomsday weapon code-named “Goldeneye.” These scenes are supposedly unconnected.

BUT IN REALITY: These scenes are totally connected. Goldeneye is in the possession of Onatopp’s boss, Janus, an arms dealer descended from Lienz Cossacks, Russians betrayed by the British and executed by Stalin after World War II. Bond tracks Janus and discovers his true identity: Alec Trevelyan. The former agent plans to unleash the Goldeneye on London for profit and revenge, but Bond puts a stop to it and promptly drops Alec from his own satellite.

“Consider it a loss of signal.”

VILLAINOUS DISFIGUREMENT: Bond escaped the Russian plant by setting off explosive charges earlier than expected. It worked for Bond, but not so much for Alec. The defecting agent thought he had six minutes to fake his death, but instead had only three. The result was a bomb blast to the face and a healthy, villainous dose of scar tissue.

THE MUSCLE: Xenia Onatopp kills with sex or, specifically, with her iron vice thighs during sex. But say you’re feeling adventurous and think, hey, you’ll just knock her into some walls or something and that’ll show her. Well, she’s also a masochist and your struggling is just going to encourage her. Bond never takes that chance and she dies from sudden impact with a tree.

Why didn’t Grace Jones have this power?

BOND GIRL AND FEMME FATALE: Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco) is a Russian computer programmer, and the sole survivor of the Goldeneye theft. She’s beautiful, of course, but surprisingly capable as far as Bond Girls tend to go, a trend that would continue from the 90s to the present day. She’s also brash, pushy, and not afraid to call the men in the room on their bullshit. I’m a fan.

“PAY ATTENTION, 007”: As with the Timothy Dalton transition, the film gives Brosnan a traditional scene down in Q lab, complete with Super Dave-style sight gags in the background. The movie is light on gadgets, but Q still provides a new BMW, a leather belt containing rappelling wire, and a ballpoint pen grenade that features prominently in the finale.

“Now pay attention. This looks like a bungee cord, but it’s actually just a rope of explosive– 007, are you listening to me?”

MOST EMBARRASSING CULTURAL MOMENT: Xenia. Onatopp. Or maybe the cartoonish hacker character played by Alan Cumming that dies in a Tex Avery moment, quick frozen by a burst coolant pipe.

Or maybe it’s Xenia. Onatopp.

BOND’S BEST ONE-LINER: “The writing’s on the wall,” spoken moments after the pen grenade explodes. It’s corny, but there wasn’t a lot of gold in this film and this line made Q laugh, so what the hell?

WORTH MENTIONING: “Goldeneye” is the name of Ian Fleming’s estate in Jamaica where he wrote most of the Bond novels and short stories… Minnie Driver has a tiny cameo in the film as a tone deaf Russian singer… For the first time, we hear what happened to Bond’s parents as Alec mentions the climbing accident that took their lives. Years later, continuity crisis is narrowly averted when Sean Connery chose not to appear as James Bond’s father in Die Another Day as had been rumored.

“Abort doomsday device. Bond movies still make perfect sense. Repeat, stand down.”

OVERALL: Reconciling the jingoistic, adolescent history of James Bond with an audience increasingly concerned with social and political responsibility, while still making sure enough things go boom, is one hell of a juggling act, but Goldeneye never drops it. In my opinion, the film is a minor miracle. It reinvigorated the franchise back before “reboot” was a Hollywood buzz term, and it successfully launched Pierce Brosnan as the Bond for the 90s generation. And it did so behind a shockingly self-loathing screenplay.

Wrong or right, the mid 90s was a time of reevaluation on the globe, in the workplace, in the bedroom, everywhere. The Cold War had finally thawed and with it the unspoken edict that we had to maintain the social contract exactly as our parents had kept it, lest we show those damn Commies the gap in our collective resolve. The dreaded political correctness crept into the conversation, and then dominated it. No more meaningless sex, no more “charming” workplace flirtations, no more wrong-headed mistreatment of minorities or foreign cultures, and for god’s sake, put away the stick when talking about overseas policy.

Seriously, Russia just left this crap lying around.

What’s a guy like James Bond to do?

Serious conversation preceded the release of Goldeneye about what role James Bond played, if any, in the modern landscape. Six years and a Soviet Empire had passed since the character had been seen on screen, and some argued that it was time to let the venerable spy finally retire. James Bond was the past.

The Goldeneye screenplay, churned out by a small army of writers and brought to the screen by workman director Martin Campbell, faced these critics head on in a movie that’s often celebratory and more often apologetic. Moneypenny calls Bond on his sexual harrassment. His new boss (*gasp* a woman!) calls him a misogynistic dinosaur. His contacts laugh at him for staying with MI6 when he could earn much more as a freelance player in the new global climate. He’s even held at gunpoint by the villain in an attempt to coerce his female lead. The whole thing plays like James Bond’s Very Bad Day.

“Crap. Did I clear that bridge?”

A centerpiece scene between Bond and Trevelyan tips the film’s real agenda. Alec, still masquerading as Janus, agrees to meet Bond and chooses a particularly meaningful spot, a graveyard for Soviet icons. Statues of Lenin and Stalin lie scattered about, forgotten and useless. Here Alec lays out his motivation for betraying his country, one relic to another. He explains how he risked his life to topple regimes, only to be told later that it was all for nothing. Alec wants revenge and money and all the usual perks, but mostly he just can’t accept the world changing without his permission. Bond doesn’t have that problem. Despite all the tremors in Bond’s world, he’s still the same character he’s always been, unflinching. He won’t change, can’t change, but he can protect us from people like Alec who don’t want to accept the world on its own terms. Alec needs to remake his environment. Bond has no such problem. If he doesn’t quite adapt, he certainly endures.

Alec asks Bond if “all those vodka martinis silence the screams of all the men you’ve killed, or if you’ve found comfort in the arms of all those willing women for the dead ones you failed to protect.” Bond stays the same, lonely and haunted, so that the rest of us don’t have to.

A hawkish cop out? I don’t think so, but we can debate if you like. At the least it’s a point of view, an original thought in a franchise that had been largely on auto-pilot since sometime before the Beatles rocked Ed Sullivan. Pierce Brosnan would go on to make three more Bond movies, none of them quite as remarkable as his first. Martin Campbell would return to the franchise many years later for another restart, another undisputed classic.

The James Bond Project

4. ???

5. Goldeneye

6. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

7. Tomorrow Never Dies

8. Octopussy

9. The Spy Who Loved Me

10. Thunderball

11. Dr. No

12. For Your Eyes Only

13. The World is Not Enough

14. Live and Let Die

15. Licence to Kill

16. The Living Daylights

17. You Only Live Twice

18. Quantum of Solace

19. Die Another Day

20. The Man with the Golden Gun

21. Diamonds are Forever

22. A View to a Kill

23. Moonraker

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Bond #6 – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

For any George Lazenby haters out there, this won’t be your favorite post.

. . .AS IAN FLEMING’S JAMES BOND 007: George Lazenby

SETUP: Bond prevents a mysterious woman’s ocean suicide, then fights off her bodyguards. Later, Bond meets the same woman (Diana Rigg) at a casino and saves her again, this time from a gambling debt. The woman’s father, a smuggler, approaches Bond and makes him an offer: if Bond “tames” his daughter, he will help Bond locate the elusive criminal mastermind Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas.)

BUT IN REALITY: Blofeld has taken over the Swiss mountain resort of Piz Gloria, and schemes to blackmail his way into a noble title by unleashing a virus on the world’s livestock. Bond wrecks Blofeld’s plans, but finds himself actually falling for the smuggler’s daughter, Tracy. When the danger has passed, Bond marries Tracy and retires from spy work, but Blofeld takes his revenge by shooting Tracy just moments after the ceremony. The film ends with a weeping, devastated Bond holding his dead wife and talking about how they have “all the time in the world.”

Killed by dramatic irony.

VILLAINOUS DISFIGUREMENT: Blofeld’s disfigurement changes each time he appears in the series. Here he tries to masquerade as a member of a lost line of nobles by taking on their traditional family trait: missing earlobes.

THE MUSCLE: Irma Bundt (Ilse Steppat) is den mother to the brainwashed patients at Piz Gloria, which fronts as an allergy clinic to hide Blofeld’s true plans. She spends much of the movie as a shrieking chaperone, keeping Bond from getting too close to the girls, but shows some talent in the murder department when the need arises. In fact, it’s Bundt that takes the fatal shot at Tracy Bond while Blofeld drives the getaway car. And she never even pays for the crime.

BOND GIRL AND FEMME FATALE: “Teresa was a saint. My name’s Tracy.”

Tracy is hot, but this shot always makes me think someone is trying to kill a Pantene commerical.

Teresa Di Vicenzo lost her mother when she was a child and spent the rest of her life rebelling against her father. She’s educated, strong, well-traveled, has a flair for gambling, drives fast cars, and flaunts a scandalous past. In short, she’s perfect for Bond. When the story begins, Tracy is just an assignment. By the time she’s saved his bacon in Switzerland, she’s his fiancee. The plot requires Bond and Tracy to fall in love mostly during the chase scenes, but her death still hits with an emotional gut punch, something that the Casino Royale filmmakers wish they could say about Vesper Lynd. But that’s another review.

“PAY ATTENTION, 007”: Q barely shows up in the film, mostly just to satisfy continuity, but for the first time in the series he’s allowed to act like Bond’s friend. He attends the wedding and seems generally pleased to be invited… but then breaks down and complains about Bond’s handling of government property.

MOST EMBARRASSING CULTURAL MOMENT:

OK, Lazenby does kind of rock this outfit, but the kilt doesn’t really represent the look that Connery’s Bond was famous for, and is maybe a subtle dig at Connery, an actual Scotsman, for bailing on the character. Worse, this outfit is part of Bond’s alias at Piz Gloria, the effete intellectual Sir Edmund Hillary. Bond plays the role, dubbed, as a gay man and seduces girls at the retreat by convincing them he just needs a good snuggle under some LSD lights to change to his mind. By far the worst sequence in the movie, and about 10 minutes too long.

All sex in the 60s was exactly like this.

BOND’S BEST ONE-LINER: “This never happened to the other fellow.” Bond’s first line of the film after Tracy’s bodyguards rescue her from being rescued, which Bond follows immediately with a direct smirk at the camera. See, Bond’s not played by Sean Connery anymore, so…

WORTH MENTIONING: Lazenby was a complete unknown when he was hired for the role and the public, in love with Connery, had a hard time accepting him in the role. The box office suffered. Lazenby still had an offer to return, but the actor declined, believing that the Bond character would become obsolete in the 70s. Connery returned for Diamonds are Forever and Lazenby never quite achieved the career his performance in this film seemed to promise… Bond’s last line — “We have all the time in the world.” – is one of the most famous quotes in all of the Bond series. It’s the name of the film’s love theme, and appears as the epitaph on Tracy’s grave in the opening few moments of For Your Eyes Only.

OVERALL: What a bizarre, uneven, wonderful film. The only Bond movie that truly embraces the “psychedelic” 60s (the film was released in 1969), On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is at times just as unwieldy as its name, yet still delivers some of the most memorable moments in the film history of the character.

“Who loves ya, baby? Hahaha. By the way, not me.”

George Lazenby gives a criminally underrated performance, asked both to fall in love and to suffer crushing tragedy in between gunfights, ski chases and an absurd(ly awesome) bobsled finale, and he actually sticks the landing. Yet, for some reason, he’s thought of as the punchline, Johnny No-Name who kept the seat warm for Connery and, eventually, Roger Moore. Even today, there are fans who dismiss this movie based just on its star or its premise.

This is insanity.

Image unrelated.

OHMSS is the first film in the series to allow weakness anywhere near James Bond, and he’s stronger for it. By the end of this film, Bond is no longer the unthinking superman he had been under Connery. His decision to quit, and the inevitable result, give the character some necessary depth (incidentally the same depth Connery had been looking for before he quit.) The films have used this as a jumping off point for the Bond character, looking to this event for the answer to why he drinks, womanizes, and detaches himself via witty one-liners. After this film, Bond makes sense.

OHMSS is definite top five material and fans who love classic Bond should give it another look, although I just can’t rank it any higher while the uncomfortable Piz Gloria seductions weigh down the middle. Tracy so would have disapproved.

The James Bond Project

5. ???

6. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

7. Tomorrow Never Dies

8. Octopussy

9. The Spy Who Loved Me

10. Thunderball

11. Dr. No

12. For Your Eyes Only

13. The World is Not Enough

14. Live and Let Die

15. Licence to Kill

16. The Living Daylights

17. You Only Live Twice

18. Quantum of Solace

19. Die Another Day

20. The Man with the Golden Gun

21. Diamonds are Forever

22. A View to a Kill

23. Moonraker

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