I suppose it seems a little odd to give yourself a gift at Christmas. In truth, I’d ordered it as soon as I saw it and it just happened to arrive before the holiday. I waited until after the new year to really open it and examine the contents. 007 fans will enjoy, everyone else I hope you will tolerate.
MovieRob, the host of Acting School 101 on the Lambcast, invited me to join him for a discussion of the films of Sean Connery. Anyone who has been here before certainly knows that I think Connery IS James Bond so I was thrilled to participate. We countdown our own top five performances by Mr. Connery and have a good time talking about toupees and other acting tools.
In preparation for the podcast, I went through my laserdisc collection and put up a wall of Connery features. Four of my five picks can be found here. Try to guess what they are before you listen to the podcast. Have fun everyone.
It was a sad day and a joyous day, all rolled into an afternoon in the cinema. Sir Roger Moore, who was the third 007 in the official series of films, passed away just over a week ago. As they did with Gene Wilder and Prince last year, AMC Theaters arranged nationwide screenings of some of his work as a salute to the star of seven James Bond adventures. People who do not understand the film business complained last year that AMC was cashing in on the deaths by selling tickets to the older films. The overhead for these special presentations and the screens that they have to give up to arrange them, will hardly cover the cost of putting this together. Maybe as a way of defraying these criticisms, whatever proceeds came from this presentation were donated to UNICEF, an organization that Roger Moore had served as an ambassador for several years.
For a generation behind me, Roger Moore was James Bond. He started making these films in the seventies and was the primary Bond of the 80s as well (no disrespect to Timothy Dalton). Gen-X had a suave, pretty and humorous Bond to admire. Moore was never the physical threat that Sean Connery was, but he had the fashion sense, snobbery, and tongue in cheek attitude necessary to carry the franchise through a transition period. The Bond films were solid money makers, but they were not the blockbusters that the mid-Connery era films were. Roger Moore stuck it out though two solid films, and in his third outing helped return the series to the heights it once had. Even though the films were big and successful, they became a little too silly to have the status of “classic”. “Moonraker” and “A View to a Kill” are fun entertainment but are also a bit embarrassing. There is however one Roger Moore Bond outing that qualifies for almost all 007 fanatics top ten list, and that is “The Spy Who Loved Me”.
The two films chosen to represent Moore as James Bond in this tribute include that one truly extraordinary 007 adventure, and then his most serious outing, meant to restore the franchise to Earth after the shenanigans of the previous film. In an interesting choice, they actually played in reverse order for my double feature at least.
For Your Eyes Only
Fans of 007 who have read the books, will certainly appreciate the grounded nature of this entry. The story does not concern a megalomaniac trying to destroy the world, but rather a mercenary double agent who simply sees profit in selling out to the Soviets. It also includes bits and pieces of short stories and scenes from other Bond novels that had not been included in the films made of the original books.
As an illustration of the more serious tone of this story, Bond actually refrains from sleeping with the ingenue who seems to be a third his age. The romance angle that does get exploited concerns two grown women, neither of who look to young to find Roger Moore attractive. There is also a two pronged revenge story at the heart of the movie. The main Bond girl played by Carole Bouquet, is trying to kill those responsible for the murder of her parents. Bond himself pursues one of the villain in retribution for the killing of a friendly station head that Bond had trusted. We even forget the macguffian for most of the film as this pair of stories plays out.
In one of my favorite scenes in a Roger Moore Bond film, 007 races up a series of staircases to outflank an escaping vehicle that has to use a switchbacked road to reach the top of a hill. As Bond shoots at the vehicle it slides off the road onto the edge of a cliff. As it barely clings to the top, the murderous assassin is trapped in the car. Bond walks up to the vehicle, reminds him of the agent that he murdered and then kicks the car in a cold blooded move, sending tumbling down the side of the cliff to it’s demise. It’s a great moment for Moore to show he is not just a pretty boy playing at espionage.
Although the title song is solid, with Sheena Easton looking gorgeous in the background of silhouetted nudes in the title sequence, the rest of the score is a disappointment. I like Bill Conti but the electronic instrumentation in the first half of the film drains the action sequences of any tension. The music tightens up in the last third but by that point, some people may have tuned out. The film adds considerable charm when Topal shows up as a suspect and then an ally of Bonds. There are two awful aspects to the film that you should be warned about, and neither of them is the fault of the lead actor. Bernard Lee, who had played “M” for almost twenty years, died as the movie was filming and the chief of staff of the Secret Service is filling in while “M” is on leave. The actor they cast and the direction he was given create one of the least pleasant characters on the British side. For the stinger at the end of the movie, they simply could not resist the novelty that the head of state at the time was a woman, so a Thatcher doppelganger is used for a punchline.
The Spy Who Loved Me
Ian Fleming’s least favorite of the books he wrote is turned into a film that almost everyone will love. It has no connection whatever to the original story and uses the title to build the premise around. In the seventies, the Soviets were still an enemy, but the notion of British and Soviet intelligence working together provides an irresistible twist to the film. This film does feature a rich villain with plans to wipe out the population, but it is all the by-play between the two spies that provides most of the fireworks in the movie.
Roger Moore was at the peak of his physical attractiveness for this movie. He was a mature man who looked like he could engage in a fight, woo a woman and still look good in his clothes afterwards.
His pairing with Barbara Bach as agent XXX makes some sense since both sides are missing nuclear subs, and the two of them look great together thorough most of the film. Of all his co-stars, she is the one that provided the most chemistry and helped Bond feel more real than he had in a long time.
“The Spy Who Loved Me” celebrates it’s 40th anniversary this year. It was a huge box office success and is probably best remembered for the title song, the villain “Jaws” and the parachute escape in the pre-title sequence. There is so much to recommend this film that you could put your finger down at any spot and have something good to say about that moment. The whole sequence in Egypt around the pyramids and ruins was beautiful to look at and nicely staged. The battle on the super tanker is a well staged action sequence. The chase sequences on the island of Sardinia were also excellent, and they feature the second best car 007 ever drove. A Lotus that doubles as a submarine.
When I was in London a year ago, I added myself to the film legacy of the submersible car by posing for a picture with it in the Bond Exhibit at the national film Museum in London.
Moore had another great tough guy moment in the film when he flicks a hand off his necktie and sends a secondary bad guy to his doom by doing so. He then straightens the tie and makes a typical Moore quip.
He may not have been everybody’s favorite 007, but he made more of the official Bond films than anyone else. He is the first of our 007s to make the jump to the next great adventure and we should all miss him as a human being. Lucky for us, he had these two outing to leave us with the best of impressions.
So a few weeks ago, I visited Great Britain for the first time. We were meeting a cruise and had only a day and a half in London to do some sightseeing. When looking on-line to find places to visit, my wife came across the page for the London Film Museum. Their current exhibit is a collection of vehicles on loan from EON Productions, that have been used in the making of James Bond films for the past fifty three years. This was easy, count me in.
The museum was at one time known as the British Museum of Transportation, so when we directed the cab driver to the location we wanted, that’s the way he referred to it. From the plaque above you can see it has in fact been re-christened.
The exterior is really just a storefront size space, you could easily miss it if you were not looking for the attraction, although like most tourist based locations, there is a barker out front occasionally, passing out flyers and encouraging pedestrians to enter.
We did not need the encouragement we had already purchased our tickets weeks before on-line. Actually arriving though got me all revved up again.As we entered the premises there is a large description on the wall of what the exhibit consists of.
The Upper mezzanine had a series of storyboards and a couple of props from early Bond Films, that’s where we started our visit after a ride in a small elevator.
We tried to look more like tourists but without putting on an Aloha shirt and a straw hat, I don’t think we could do a better job.
When we arrived on the lower level, the Vehicle displays began. In the interest of brevity, I will limit the photos to one per film, but believe me, I an loaded for bear on this trip.
Goldfinger’s Yellow Rolls Royce.
The Rolls used in “A View to a Kill”, it was actually Cubby Broccoli’s personal car that he lent to the production.
Dolores gives some perspective to the mini jet featured in the opening of “Octopussy“.
For an invisible car, it was pretty easy to see this Aston martin from “Die Another Day“.
Tracy’s Thunderbird from “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service“.
The speedboat from “Live and Let Die“.
The Lotus that doubles as a submarine in “The Spy Who Loved Me”.
The AMC spinning Hornet from
The amazing reversible Mustang from “Diamonds are Forever“.
An Aston Martin with skis, from “The Living Daylights”
And this is SPECTRE’s Rolls Royce, that delivers Bond and Madeline to Blofeld.
There are many more images to share, I’m working on a video to post, but for now, eat your hearts out all you Bond fans who can’t make it to London. Maybe it will tour and then you can geek out like I did.
There are very few films that I see in theaters more than once anymore. Except for the occasional classic, a return visit to a theater for a contemporary film is rarely needed. I have a subscription service through DISH and Netflix and Amazon give me plenty of opportunities to see recent films again, without having to make a trip. There are however exceptions and one of the film series that I will take in as often as possible in a theater is James Bond.
It is no secret if you have visited this site before that I am a 007 fanatic. I had a lot of fun last year coming up with 7 things I loved for each of the EON James Bond films. This was all in aid of the debut of SPECTRE, the most recent addition to the James Bond canon. As a fan there is always something satisfying about a new episode with 007, but it is also easy to be disappointed, especially in light of how great the previous chapter was. Inevitably, SPECTRE was going to suffer a little by comparison to the previous film. Bond’s ancestral home is destroyed, his Aston Martin DB5 is massacred, and his boss steps off the stage in a thrilling ending with a villain that was exceptional. It’s hard to find ways to make what comes next feel compelling. The screenwriters did find a hook to try and keep things at this heightened level, they make all of the events in the previous three Bond films the design of a secret organization with a strong hidden connection to 007 himself.
I suspect most Bond fans would have been happy to move on and start with some stand alone assignments. That’s exactly the way I felt at the end of Skyfall, we were at a new beginning. To quote Michael Corleone, “Just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in again.” SPECTRE ends up with a Jerry rigged connection to the three previous Daniel Craig films. I originally wrote that this was my biggest problem with the movie. I did not see the film as a failure, but I was less enthusiastic than I might have been. There was however a beacon of hope that might alter my opinion a bit. As an enthusiastic fan, I’d purchased a special pass that came as a steel engraved card with my name on it and the SPECTRE Octopus logo. It entitled me to see the film once every day, in any format that it was playing in at a Regal Theater. I took advantage of my financial commitment and as a result I have now seen the movie more than a half dozen times on the big screen. This has given me a chance to adjust to some of the rapid character points and clumsy plot development that I was originally hesitant about. It also gave me the ability to see a couple of things that are actually important to the ability of the Bond films to continue to entertain.
Ever since the departure of Pierce Brosnan as Bond, the producers have tried to get Bond back to basics and turn the character into a more reality based character. Gone are the invisible cars and avalanche surfing days. They have been replaced by extensive scenes of torture and casual cruelty. Casino Royale features a grim Bond freshly minted into the 00 ranks. His opponent LeChiffre is a terrorist financier who manipulates the situation through a romantic mole. It turns out that there is a secret figure behind the plot that emerges at the end, Mr. White. In the follow up, Mr. White is a figure in a mysterious consortium called Quantum, and they have their fingers everywhere, including at the side of M. Suddenly, this organization looks like it will be the main opponent for Bond in future films. When we move to the third Craig film though, Quantum has disappeared and it seems like a rogue hacker that Bond is up against. According to the plot of the current film all of these are linked together under an umbrella organization, with a name familiar to Bond fans from the 60s.
The conspiracy gets deeper, the violence levels affecting the general population gets greater, and Bond and MI-6 are
like the boy plugging the dyke with their finger. At this point the series is getting murky and it begins to feel a little like an X-Files episode with the tag line “Trust No One.” I don’t need a jet pack or submersible car, but I would like a little fun to go along with the adventure. In going “Bourne” the producers were at risk of losing much of what made James Bond fun for several generations. SPECTRE does not return us to the parody days of Brosnan and Roger Moore, but it finally does restore a sense of humor to the movie series. So let me spend some time praising the virtues a a little levity in the newest film.
The cold opening has a couple of moments that bring a smile to our faces. Bond stalks his prey behind a deaths-head mask and suit and has a local beauty for cover while he does so. When he gets her to the hotel room and kisses her, we might be expecting a romantic clutch but instead when she turns back to him after climbing on the bed, she is taken aback by his near instant transformation into a regular suit with an angry looking weapon at his side. He steps out and says he’ll just be a moment. Finally a laugh in a Daniel Craig film. [To be fair there were a couple in Skyfall but this movie is clearly more engaged in Bond’s humorous side.] He does get a Roger Moore moment when as the building that he shot into collapsed and then triggered a similar collapse in the one he is occupying, he ends up landing on a couch after dropping a couple of stories, with a sconce in his hand. A second laugh in the pre title sequence, this might be a laugh fest.
We also get a return to the traditional byplay with Miss Moneypenny. They don’t quite flirt but it seems as if they could. When she delivers material to his apartment at night, there is a subtle joke about his lack of effort at decorating. When he reaches out to her in the middle of a car chase, at three in the morning, he comments on her having a male guest at her place at that time of night. This is the possessive James Bond we knew from the old days, paying attention only when it suits him.
Bond juxtaposes his bad ass assassin facade with a jesters grin when he dispatches two killers sent to kill the widow of his first target. She claims that it will be a no use for him to intervene because in five minutes there will be another killer at her door. His response “Just enough time for a drink.” A little gallows humor to ingratiate himself with a key informant. Thank you Mr. Bond. When he boldly bluffs his way into a secret meeting of the phantom group, he calls the screener an asshole as he introduces himself as Mickey Mouse, oh yeah, in Italian. When the head of SPECTRE reveals himself at the meeting to James, he does it with a little cuckoo call. The bad guys have a sense of humor as well.
Only one moment of humor feels exaggerated in a way that is similar to a Roger Moore Bond. During the car chase in Rome, Bond’s DB10 ends up behind a slow moving mini-Fiat. The driver comically remains in front of Bond until pushed into a parking spot and then the airbag goes off. That felt very clown like. Bond’s exit from the car before he parks it in the Tiber river is also a bit over the top, but only in the same way that the ejector seat was in Goldfinger. Most of the humor in the film plays off of the way Bond expresses himself. He remains cool and cocky, even when being tied up to be tortured. They don’t go quite as far as to make a joke based on the bad guy scratching his testicles (like they did in Casino Royale) but there is a moment of levity before Christoph Watlz reveals his character’s new name. Bond speaks softly and greets the white Persian cat that walks across his lap in a casual way. No joke, just a moment of incongruous levity.
A second issue that I need to reconsider is the title song. When I first heard the Sam Smith tune “Writings on the Wall”, I was underwhelmed. His breathy deliver and wan styling seemed too soft for a James Bond film. When you watch the opening credits and see the nude silhouette of Daniel Craig, surrounded by faceless girls and octopus tentacles, it is almost laughable.
But once you get over the novelty of that image, it is both frighting and sad, and that’s what the story is ultimately about. The sadness of uncertainty, especially about love. The tune becomes a haunting reminder of all the losses for Craig’s Bond, and the fear that he can never have the real love and stability that he professes to want. A lot of people have said that they see this movie as a remake of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. They believe the relationship with Madeleine is doomed. If that is true, then the music has perfectly captured that notion. I’m not a 100% convinced but I am a lot closer to seeing this as a lesser Shirley Bassey effort rather than a miserable Madonna failure.
My final criticism in the original review was about the climax of the film. The damsel in distress card is played and that is such a conventional moment. It was also arrived at quickly and without much sense. Madeleine leaves Bond abruptly, disappears and ends up tied to the railroad tracks, oops, sorry, tied up in the building about to explode, and Bond has to find her. Their exit from the building is really solid however and the music score pumps up the boat/helicopter chase pretty well. I love the fact that M,Q, and Moneypenny have something to do at the end, but it is a little disconcerting that the new intelligence agency, that is supposed to be state of the art, has no alarms, guards or obvious security. The anti-terror squad shows up at a helicopter crash in less than a minute, but the head of the new inter-agency intelligence network takes a header 15 stories down into the lobby of the headquarters and no one shows up except our crew.
Finally, although it comes before the credits, there is a bit of a stinger and the producers know exactly where to hit a real Bond fan to make us want more. A miraculous resurrection is lingered over with a shot of the historically significant gear shift knob, and 007s oldest ally comes in to slap us awake at the exit. Cue the original theme played over the scene in perfect placement and now I want to see the movie again and I can’t wait until the next installment shows up.
In case you had not noticed over the last few weeks, I am a James Bond fan. I may even be an apologist, since I managed to find things to like in all the Bond films, even the ones at the bottom of my list. From a critical point of view, it’s best not to let your passions interfere with your judgement, but as someone who has listened to a lot of argument, I can tell you that passion often trumps good judgement. A thoughtful idea is often no match for an instance of visual gratification or nostalgic touch on ones memory. I can’t really pretend not to have a prejudice in regard to these films and everyone reading this should be forewarned, this is an opinion influenced by fifty years of conditioning.
[Spoiler Alert] A plot point is discussed in the next paragraph that might reveal more information than you want on characters in the film.
“SPECTRE” is a solid action film, with the requisite 007 tropes, and several terrific sequences. It was very satisfying in my opinion, but it does not rise to the levels of greatness it’s predecessor achieved. That it suffers in part from that comparison is largely the fault of the screenwriters who found it necessary to inject every Daniel Craig Bond film with a continuing story line concept. “Skyfall” is the Craig version of our hero with the least degree of attachment to the previous films, and one of the reasons it works is the stand alone nature of the script. “SPECTRE” reaches into the grave to pull a thread that suddenly becomes the link between all of these stories. There is an intriguing idea in having the greatest threat to humanity and humanities greatest protector be connected in a very essential way, but it strains the story to make it work in the quick way it has to develop. “The Ten Commandments”, “East of Eden” and “Thor” all explore the same territory but manage to do it with more aplomb than can be mustered here. There is not enough time to go into Bond’s history again, and then make him the “Good Twin”.
That having been said, let’s talk about the stuff that makes the movie worth your time and money. The Bond girl in this film is a bright psychologist who is half Bond’s age. She is also fairly self sufficient when it comes to some of the action bits. Léa Seydoux is a blonde innocent trapped in a world of venomous manipulators. The fact that she becomes part of the story is a result of one of those threads I mentioned before, being tugged at in a pretty effective scene. A recurring character is a victim of Polonium type poisoning, and his only desire is to protect his daughter. James is traditionally a misogynist in the chauvinistic style of the past. He dismisses women and he treasures them simultaneously. The writers give Madeleine Swann enough to do to make her not be an impediment that Bond must drag around for the last third of the film. They do however fall back on the oldest of story telling shortcuts in modern suspense films and it is a bit tired. Daniel Craig’s James Bond has been on a train before, but usually on the outside getting a beating as the scenery passes. In this film, his character finally gets to appreciate the romantic elements of train travel that made previous versions of Bond so happy. Of course he does get the beating as well.
Three characters get used more in this film than they have in previous films. “M” is a player in the story and not just a spear holder as as so often been the case. This is a continuation from the previous film that is welcomed. The political angle of the story is an opportunity for “M” to do something not just say things that advance the plot. Ralph Fiennes might have played Bond twenty years ago, now he is well cast as the civilized version of espionage, that the world will see. “Q” is the resident geek who gets a chance to make choices that will give Bond the ability to act more freely than he might have, and “Q” gets to work in the field a bit more as a consequence. Moneypenny is the least used character, but she does ultimately get out from behind the desk or computer and helps out as well. These are all improvements that a Bond fan like me will be glad for. They were the kinds of things I anticipated at the end of the last outing.
Now when I saw a year ago that the title of the new film was going to be “SPECTRE” , it was inevitable that the head of that criminal organization would return in this re-booted universe. There was not really any doubt that Christoph Waltz was going to be that character. If there were a grand plan that the organization was responsible for and Bond was sent to stop it, I’d have been alright with that. As it is, we have a more insidious plot that draws on recent films to make us doubt our allies and ourselves. The paranoia factor is ratcheted up so high, it makes the quislings of Quantum seem like pikers. As it turns out, they and every other foe that our current version of Bond has faced end up being tied together in an unnecessary complication of previous plots. Yet somehow, with the stakes as high as they are, it feels like this is a showdown between figures that really have not had a relationship before. The story tries to build a background but it is under done and unsatisfying. There are still some sequences though that make the mano a mano approach work anyway. When Bond boldly enters into a meeting trying to pass himself off as a member of the organization, the shadowy image and disembodied voice work at building some suspense and tension. There is also a good scene back in London, late in the film , which contains the viciousness of the organization and it’s leader quite well. The scene of torture in the desert is a bit anti-climactic but it turns out to be the penultimate confrontation rather than the final one, thank goodness.
Waltz does not get as much screen time or character development as a villain probably needs. Le Chiffre and Silva in the two highwater marks of this iteration of Bond were the models of that kind of storytelling. Here it all relies on moods and asserted links to previous actions to make Waltz the bad guy. When he finally acquires a signature feature of the character, I thought the real plot was kicking in, unfortunately, this takes place in the last fifteen minutes of the movie. So the challenge that Bond usually faces is the formidable substitute, Mr. Hinx. David Bautista is a modern version of “Oddjob” or “Jaws”. He is relentless, tough and resilient. He also has enough charisma to pull off the silent role and get away with having a single verbal line in the film. Although Bond ultimately prevails over his enemies, they may not be down for the count permanently. I’d be fine with that as long as the story were more direct and the pacing a bit stronger.
All of this criticism might make you think I did not like the film, as I’ve already said, far from it, I enjoyed the heck out of it.
This is the unique ticket I bought from Regal Entertainment, it entitles me to admission to see “SPECTRE” every day that that it plays in a Regal theater. They only sold 1000 of them across the country, so it is a unusual souvenir and a threat to the financial foundations of that company, because I plan on using it a lot. The opening scene by itself might be worth a visit or two. There is a really solid car chase through Rome that provides some thrills and a couple of the humorous beats that a Bond film should have. The fight scene on the train is another few minutes that make a return visit worthwhile.
I don’t care much for the Opening Song, it seems to lack a melody and there is never much drive to it. I have learned over the years though that some things can grow on you and I finally appreciate the Chris Cornell song from “Casino Royale” so maybe this will work it’s way into a more favorable status down the road. The “Day of the Dead” setting in Mexico City was visually interesting and the lonely trek through the Austrian Alps to try and track down a lead was a solid moment of loneliness. There were some aspects of the secret desert lair that were also interesting, so I can say that the movie looks great. I just think it needs to be a bit tighter, and it would have benefited from starting a fresh adventure rather than dragging in parts of the past few films. Monica Bellucci was hailed as a breakthrough in casting a mature woman as a counterpart to Bond, but her part is brief . It did have an awkward sexual element to it but there was also the most sensual image of the film in one of her scenes so if you are a fan it might be worth it to you but it was frustrating that she was gone so soon.
I may come back and offer a different view of the film, maybe after the tenth trip I take on my dime and Regal’s foolishness. For now let’s just say 007 fans will be satisfied and the world is safe for a couple of more years.