Archive for category James Bond
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
11. Dr. No
14. Live and Let Die
15. Licence to Kill
22. A View to a Kill