Saturday, March 28, 2015

Bond is Back!

As you may or may not know, I am a huge fan of the James Bond series. I love all the incarnations of the character on screen (though some more than others), and have also read most of the books. (I like to save them like treats!) Though things have been really stressful for me lately, I did find a lot of joy in the release of the new teaser trailer for Spectre. I love what Daniel Craig and Same Mendes are doing with the franchise. I can't wait to see how they bring back the ultimate Bond villian: Blofeld.

In honor of this release, here is a post that was originally written for my movie blog during the release of Skyfall. Here are the top and bottom 5 Bond films, in my opinion.

The Best Bond Films

5. Live and Let Die

The first movie for any actor taking on the Bond role is usually given special attention, and Live and Let Die is no different. Much like Dr. No, the movie begins with an investigation into the deaths of several agents. It also eventually leads to a mysterious bad guy on an exotic island. From there, though, the similarities rescind as Roger Moore slips into the character and makes it his own. Less brutish and more suave, Moore plays Bond as the quintessential gentleman spy. He stands in stark contrast of the Harlem enemies that surround him.

Released in the early 1970's, the film's producers decided to take advantage of the rising popularity of blaxploitation films. They mined Fleming's novel of the same name, amping up the urban elements to give Moore's Bond a harder edge. Although the idea could have easily collapsed into parody, Guy Hamilton keeps the film slyly behind the line.

Aside from the broad comic styling of JW Peppers, Live and Let Die hits every note perfectly. Yaphet Kotto is cast perfectly as Kananga; Jane Seymor is enchanting as the mystical Solitare. The tarot readings which are interspersed throughout the picture really give the movie its own style. Mankiewicz's script is a vast improvement from his previous Diamonds Are Forever. This is definitely Moore's best Bond film, if not one of the best in the entire series.

4. Goldeneye

After years of financial woes, MGM finally produced Goldeneye, Pierce Brosnan's first outing as Bond. A new decade brought a new actor in the role, and a more fun take than Dalton's serious performance. The plot centers around a rogue Russian general who steals the controls of a satellite capable of wiping out the world's financial market. What makes Goldeneye such a good Bond film is that it pits 007 against another 00 agent; one who is just as capable as Bond himself. Not only must Bond attempt to save the world, he must also settle a personal vendetta. The plot, then, takes on a layer that many of the films don't enjoy.

Goldeneye sort of reinvents the 007 wheel. It had to establish an entire line of new actors in the roles that had begun to be taken over by generic actors. Award winning actress Judi Dench is cast as the new "M," a role that she has kept even through the Daniel Craig reboot. Samatha Bond stars as Moneypenny, with only Desmond Llewelynn returning as Q. As discussed before, Alec Trevelyan is an excellent bad guy. Famke Janssen's Xenia Onatopp recalls the more fun female villains, even if she does play a little over the top.

Overall, the film is a high point in nearly every aspect. From the theme song to the credits and opening action scene, Goldeneye establishes a new Bond for a new decade. It begins a long string of successful Brosnan adventures.

3. Casino Royale

Once again, another first makes our list. After the disappointing Die Another Day, and another round of financial problems for MGM, EON productions decided to reboot the Bond franchise. They decided on a new actor, Daniel Craig, and adapted Fleming's first novel. The book is my favorite, and translates much better to film than I first believed. The first two acts are written specifically for the film, however the last is taken nearly straight from the novel.

What makes this film work so well is the fact that they changed nearly everything about Bond, while keeping the spirit alive and well. First of all, they took away the gadgets. Instead of having a fancy watch to get him out of a fix, Craig's Bond has to think his way out for himself. It's a breath of fresh air from the gimmicks. Also, the filmmakers updated the way the films are shot and edited. Audiences have grown more sophisticated, even since the Brosnan Bonds. There was a fear that 007 was becoming a relic; many saw him as less exciting than the Jason Bourne's or XXX's. The producers recognized this fault and injected some adrenaline into the franchise. The result is a stylish, hard hitting action film that not only competes with other series, but shows them exactly why Bond's been around for 50 years.

2. Dr. No

Our final first on the list is the very first Bond film. I have a special affinity for this one, as it's the first one I ever watched. Having never seen them before, I decided to pick up a couple at the local video store (years ago when they still existed.) I began with this one, and was really blown away. More of an investigative mystery than the rest of the series, I was drawn in by the actual plot of the film. Once Connery takes the screen, his attitude and charisma make it hard to turn away. He is handy with his fists, and able to talk his way into (or out of) anything.

This film establishes nearly every aspect of the franchise that would become standard. The exotic locations, the bad guy bent on world domination, and even the beautiful women on Bond's arm are all here. Though it moves slower than the rest, it also relies more on Bond's personality to carry the film. Connery tears up the screen here, and clearly enjoys doing so. This is a must see for anyone wanting to dive into the Bond films. There's plenty of reasons why, at 50 years old, its still one of the best.

1. Goldfinger

Perhaps this one is no surprise, but most people would contend that Goldfinger is the best of the Bonds. Dr. No established the franchise, From Russia With Love broadened the pallet, and Goldfinger erupted the popularity. This one takes all of the elements that made the previous films successful and turns them up to 11. Bond is even more suave and charming here. His nemesis has an even more outlandish plot, and the Bond girls have even cheekier names.

Goldfinger is one of the most fun entries into the franchise. It really marks the last time that Connery seems to be relishing the role, rather than doing it for the money. It also spends a good deal of time showing Bond toy with his adversary, before jumping into the action. The film has some of the most iconic images of the series; from the gold painted woman to the famous quote "No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die." Though the films may go for another 50 years, they will find it ever more difficult to touch the man with the Midas touch.

The Worst Bond Films

I would like to say that, despite the title, there's really only one Bond film that I think is bad. I mean, just really a terrible film. The list here (except #1) is of my least favorites of the series. I still watch them from time to time and find things to enjoy about them. They just aren't tops when I reach for a DVD.

5. Diamonds Are Forever

On paper, Diamonds had a lot going for it. First of all, Sean Connery was back. That was a HUGE score for the fans and filmmakers alike. Next, Blofeld was returning as the villain. Fans have been wanting Bond (i.e. Connery) to get Blofeld for years; especially after the murder of Bond's wife in the previous film. Screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, of Superman fame, was scribing the film. Everything just seemed to be falling into place. Except, that it didn't.

Perhaps the expectations were too high, but Diamonds didn't really make a huge mark on the series. The action scenes were there, the puns were there. The element that was missing was the magic. Though there's nothing I can point to that is really bad about the film (well, maybe the special effects), there's also nothing very good, either. It is a pretty formulaic entry that just doesn't really pop. The premise is a strange one (stolen diamonds that lead to Jimmy Dean playing Howard Hughes) and Charles Gray's performance as Blofeld didn't really do it for me. Diamonds isn't a bad film; it's just not a great one.

4. A View To A Kill

Roger Moore holds the record for the most amount of (official) James Bond films. He also has the distinction of being the oldest serving 007 of the series. In his last Bond film, A View To A Kill, he truly starts to show his age. Impressive for a man of his age, Moore's ability to perform action scenes doesn't stand up to the expectations of the fans. Moore knew this, and had even been reluctant to accept the role once more.

Moore's age is definitely not the only thing hampering this film. The plot, which delves into the trendy topic of microchips, isn't the most interesting. There's also some things about horse racing thrown in there for bad measure. The only real highlight of the movie is Christopher Walkin's outrageous performance as the film's villain. He brings his usual bizarre delivery and high level of energy to a script severely limiting the rest of the cast. Grace Jone's presence is so out of place in this film that she is completely jarring. She would have, perhaps, been better suited for one of the latter pictures pitted against Brosnan in a setting that was a little more wild than mine shafts and stables.

Over all, A View to A Kill is watchable, though not the grand swan song that Roger Moore probably should have received. He should have bowed out after For Your Eyes Only on a high note, or at least after the (surprisingly) fun Octopussy.

3. Never Say Never Again

If there were two Bond films that I would never watch again, this one would be one of them. First of all, the film isn't officially a James Bond picture. A rival studio bough the rights to one of Flemming's novels (Thunderball) from his coauthor and attempted to launch their own franchise. Years of legal battles later, and all we got was Never Say Never Again...which is a remake of Thunderball. I have to say that the original was never one of my favorites, and the remake doesn't do much for me either. It tries to update the world of Bond with a few awkward scenes (including a video game to the death!) and a pretty haggard looking Sean Connery. He may have well as worn a shirt that said "I'm Just Doing It For The Paycheck."

The best thing I can say about this one is that it never lead to what would have been a terrible branch off of the character. Just imagining Connery doing these things for several more years before being replaced by some terrible actor is excruciating. Not to mention the utter confusion fans would be facing whenever they heard about a new Bond coming out. In the end, it's just better to skip this one.

2. Moonraker

At the end of The Spy Who Loved Me, fans were told to expect Bond back in a film called For Your Eyes Only. Before the script for that film could be finished, a funny thing called Star Wars erupted from nowhere to become a mega sensation. Suddenly, every studio is looking for their own space age property to exploit the fad. New series were born (Battlestar Galactica) and old ones given new life (Star Trek.)  Even films that had been successful in their own rights were suddenly retrofitted to cash in. That's were Moonraker comes in. Producers decided to launch Bond into space to make a quick buck, deciding to "adapt" Flemming's third novel. They threw out everything but the main character's name and began concocting a reason for Bond to hop a shuttle.

To be fair, the first two acts of the film play out like most of the other 007 movies. A stolen shuttle leads Bond on the trail of an eccentric millionaire who travels the world in a plot for domination. Bond kicks some ass, makes some love, and then blasts off. The problem with the first part is that there is no real story connecting the pieces. It's just fodder between action scenes that doesn't really engage the viewer. (I'm sure it also bored those hoping for a sci-fi action adventure.) There are a few solid stunts here that belong in the annals of Bond history. (The cable car and airplane jump come to mind.) However, there are many that seem rehashed rather than fresh.

The ultimate flaw with the movie is, of course, that Bond goes to outer space. It's a ridiculous idea that should tell filmmakers that they are running out of steam. (Did you see Leprechaun or Jason X?) Bond generally takes a lot of liberties with physics and reality, but these space battles and laser shootouts go WAY over the line.

Moonraker doesn't really cut it as a Bond film; nor does it stand out as a science fiction film. Though it made tons of money upon its release, it has come to be known as the worst James Bond film made. Well, that is until our number one selection.

1. Die Another Day

Die Another Day is, without a doubt, the worst James Bond film ever made. It has the worst plot, the worst theme song, the dumbest villains, and the most ridiculous gadgets ever put into the series. Let's take a look at why it sucks, shall we?

First off, the concept of the movie is really stupid. A band of misfit Koreans create a solar satellite and are going to use it to start a nuclear war between North and South Korea. Okay, this could have been interesting if the filmmakers would have insisted on a better script. Instead, they found the plot less important than working in references to ever other Bond film that came before it. Just because this is the 20th official film doesn't mean you have to call our attention to it in every scene.

Secondly, the villain is a "gene therapy" altered Korean guy with a buddy who has diamonds stuck in his face.... Really. That's what you're going with. Really. (I mean, they can change a guy's DNA, but they can't remove diamonds from his friend's face?)

Finally, that Madonna song is pure shit. Whomever decided to let her write and record a Bond theme should be thrown out on their ass. And a big F YOU to the idiot who decided she should be in the movie, too.

Even the credit sequence is bad. It's cool that they are conveying a passage of time while Bond is being held prisoner. They even show the torture he has to endure while he's there. The problem is that they have dancing flame and ice women, mostly nude in typical Bond fashion. Uh, did someone miss the fact that he's being tortured? There's no way to make that sexy, and no reason you should try.

If View was a sad exit for Roger Moore, Die was a 2x4 full of nails to the face for Pierce Brosnan. There were plenty of reasons that the next Bond would have to feature a new actor, however, I think producers should have done Pierce a favor and let him have one more good outing to end his 007 career on. Die Another Day is the sourest of notes to cap off an otherwise stellar turn as our favorite secret agent.


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