THE FILM YAP » pierce brosnan We Never Shut Up About Movies Tue, 21 Oct 2014 04:19:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The November Man Thu, 28 Aug 2014 04:49:12 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The November Man - inside

“You can be a human being or a killer of human beings, but not both. Sooner or later, one of those will extinguish the other.”

So says Peter Devereaux, and he should know. After more than three decades as a top CIA operative, he left a trail of bodies so long it earned him his unofficial codename, from which the movie “The November Man” takes its title. That’s because after he comes through a place, one of his grizzled old handlers relates, nothing is left alive.

That analogy doesn’t really make any sense — of course plenty of things are still alive after November; that’s how we get spring — but then neither does much of the rest of the movie. It’s a frenetic mish-mash of shootouts and bombastic dialogue, with some damsels in distress and vague geopolitical outcomes in the balance.

Pierce Brosnan optioned the rights to the book series by Bill Granger right around the time he was given the boot as James Bond in 2005. It’s too bad they didn’t actually make this movie back then, because it would’ve seemed a lot fresher.

Stop me if this sounds familiar: A past-his-prime spy is forced into taking One Last Job, but things go bad and he is forced to wade through a quagmire of thugs and bosses of uncertain loyalties, all the while sternly lecturing the whippersnappers about what a badass he is, before providing them a demonstration.

Liam Neeson, Kevin Costner and other have already taken their stab at this premise, with varying degrees of success. (Up next: Denzel Washington with this fall’s “The Equalizer.”) Now it’s Brosnan’s turn, and while he makes for a nicely creased, convincing geezer spy, the story never becomes coherent enough to land any real emotional punches.

The setup is that someone has a very big secret about Arkady Federov (Lazar Ristovski), a Russian pol in line to take over the presidency. It seems he was a bad boy during the Chechen uprising, executing people and even taking a young girl named Mira as his personal sex slave. So Federov wants to take out anyone who knows anything about it, while the Americans (Will Patton and Bill Smitrovich are the senior spooks on the scene) want to leverage Mira against him.

Trouble is, no one can find her. So they settle for the next best thing, Alice Fournier (Olga Kurylenko), an advocate against sex trafficking who counseled Mira. Devereaux gets brought in to do a simple “exfil” — that’s “sneak somebody out” in spy talk — of Federov’s assistant, who has the goods on him. Alas, nasty things happen, setting off a chain reaction in which everybody is after Alice, and Devereaux becomes the only one she can trust.

There are a couple of X-factors, both in the forms of younger, lean and hungry assassins. Alexa (Amila Terzimehić) works for Federov and has the body of a ballet dancer, the beak of a hawk and the stare of a killer. David Mason (Luke Bracey) is a CIA stooge who used to be Devereaux’s protégé, until an op went bad and they became antagonists.

Much of the screenplay by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek — too much, really — is concerned with a chess match of wits between Devereaux and Mason, with the young guy better at rough-and-tumble skills while the older chap plays the superior long game. It’s the old “teacher still has a few lessons to impart to the student” shtick.

But then the movie morphs into a relationship story between Devereaux and Alice, with her bearing a terrible secret (which I figured out around the 45-minute mark). Neither dynamic gets enough air to survive on its own, and both end up suffocating.

Director Roger Donaldson has made some terrific thrillers, including “No Way Out,” which ratcheted up the tension inch by inch. But “The November Man” ends up as a lot of gunfights interspersed with confusing dialogue.

Or to put it another way: “You can have a revenge saga or a May/November romance, but not both.”

3 Yaps

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You Only Live Twenty-Thrice: Unofficial Bonds and Official Rankings Fri, 09 Nov 2012 05:01:39 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

“You Only Live Twenty-Thrice” is Nick Rogers’ look back at the James Bond films.

Each Friday until the release of the 23rd official Bond film, “Skyfall,” Nick will revisit its 22 official predecessors from start to finish, with a bonus post for the unofficial films in which James Bond also appears.

Technically, James Bond has been the lead character in 25 movies. But even he has cousins he’d rather not claim. The following movies are unofficial footnotes in official 007 history — ones that unfortunately emphasize the “ass” in “asterisk.”


Orson Welles. Hitler costumes. Garden-gnome security men. Woody Allen. Seals. Cowboys. Dancing Indians. Flying saucers. Exploding castles. Bubbles. Donkeys. Dogs. Levitating women. Seals. Horses. Deborah Kerr spouting Scottish gibberish.

A list of random things that could only coalesce in the deepest pockets of REM sleep? No. They’re all part of the nail bomb of nonsense detonated in “Casino Royale,” a 1967 spoof of James Bond “suggested” by Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel.

Crazed proponents of this dreadfully indulgent cabaret, which thumbs its nose at coherence, have branded its nigh-impenetrable plot the sincerest form of satire. That’s like citing the indecipherable nature of Zapf Dingbats as the foremost send-up of language. This psychedelic swirl of annoyance keeps going and going and going.

In 1954, CBS paid Ian Fleming $1,000 to adapt “Royale” as an episode of its anthological “Climax!” series. The first actor to play James Bond, or Jimmy Bond, as he was called? Barry Nelson (gasp!), an American, and Peter Lorre played the villainous foil Le Chiffre. Then, a year later, Fleming sold the film rights to producer Gregory Ratoff for $6,000 … so he could buy a Ford Thunderbird. (Fleming was on record as regretting this decision.)

Ratoff was unable to mount a film before his death in 1960, and Charles K. Feldman — the agent-turned-producer of “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “The Seven-Year Itch” — acquired the rights. After “Dr. No’s” debut two years later, Feldman tried to work with Eon Productions’ Harry Saltzman and Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli to put Connery in “Casino Royale.” But when that fell through, Feldman decided to send up the character instead in an all-star satire.

“Royale” became 1967’s eighth highest-grossing film — vastly outdone by Eon’s official 007, “You Only Live Twice,” but trumping Best Picture nominees “Doctor Dolittle” and “In the Heat of the Night.” But it’s an atrocity — the cobbled-together work of six directors (including the venerable John Huston, who also cameos) and what existed of Peter Sellers’ footage before he either quit the movie or was fired. (It’s said “Catch-22” author Joseph Heller, “Dr. Strangelove” screenwriter Terry Southern and the legendary Billy Wilder also had a hand in the hodgepodge script.)

The closest connection to Fleming’s source material finds Sellers as James Bond (nee Evelyn Tremble) at a baccarat table playing Le Chiffre (Welles) with help from Ursula Andress — Honey Ryder of “Dr. No” — as Vesper Lynd … and James Bond. (An explanation of that exponential weirdness in a bit.)

Two problems: Sellers seemed determined to make a legitimate spy drama, not a comedy — creating discordantly serious baccarat-table moments with Welles. Plus, Sellers and Welles loathed each other to the point that they were rarely on set at the same time. The exit of both actors from the movie is so bizarrely abrupt that it has to be a slap in the face to their unwavering prima donna attitudes. Sellers is gunned down in a hallucinatory scene of Scottish bagpipers (including Peter O’Toole as himself) and Welles is shot by a man … bursting through his surveillance monitor?

To compensate, a poor, unfortunate soul named Val Wells was tasked to salvage what he could and lean on David Niven footage to frame the story. Once suggested to play the official Bond for Eon, Niven here is Sir James, who long ago retired and has had “a sexual acrobat who leaves a trail of dead beautiful women” take his place.

Pressed into service after M (Huston) blows up his country manse, Sir James decides to flood the market with fake James Bonds to confuse the evil SMERSH. This includes Evelyn and Vesper, as well as Sir James’s nephew, Jimmy (Allen) and his daughter, Mata Bond (Joanna Pettet), sired from a tryst with Mata Hari.

Unsurprisingly, a $6 million budget doubled to $12 million — a figure no official Bond film surpassed until “The Spy Who Loved Me.” For all that money, there’s only the occasional explosion to function as an alarm clock and this brief, nifty car chase.

Wells should have simply junked the Sellers-Welles-Andress stuff — bankable as their names or affiliations might have been — and reshot the baccarat scenes with Niven. If nothing else, “Royale” would have been at least 45 minutes shorter. And there wouldn’t have been such a protracted wait for Allen’s inspired physical comedy in the final act — when he’s revealed to be the villain.

These fleeting moments of wit aren’t enough, though, to sit through what is otherwise a butt-numbing 131-minute endurance test — and a perfect example of Hollywood indulgence gone wrong.


Can 1983 just be written off as a lost year for James Bond?

First, the third-rate third-world misadventures of “Octopussy,” Roger Moore’s official 007 film. Then, Sean Connery making yet another dreary fat-paycheck return to the part for “Never Say Never Again” (its title referencing Connery’s 1971 quip that he would “never again” play 007 after “Diamonds Are Forever”).

It’s a remake of “Thunderball” — the lone official Bond not produced by a Saltzman or Broccoli. After a legal battle in which he asserted co-authorship of “Thunderball,” producer Kevin McClory got official credit for that film and its rights in perpetuity. He was enjoined to refrain from making another version for 10 years. And although it would be 18 before it finally happened, his timing seemed fortunate.

By the early ’80s, McClory banked on Moore’s departure from the official role (after Moore’s contract was up) and a poor choice from Broccoli to fill his shoes. Throwing $3 million and profit percentages at Connery, then 52, got “Never” going, and Broccoli, fearing a new actor couldn’t compete, persuaded Moore to stick around.

So, dueling 007s, both of which earned big box office. This one essentially updates one of the canon’s weaker films with video games and Jazzercise.

And although Connery is notably fitter and trimmer here than he was a dozen years earlier, he doesn’t even attempt an accent other than his own. But, hey, money talks in any dialect, right?

Eon Productions held trademarks on many things, but surely an isolated opening-credits sequence wasn’t one of them. Instead, a drippy, insipid title song from singer Lani Hall plays over a title skirmish that turns out to be a training exercise. Barred from using the “James Bond Theme,” composer Michel Legrand’s score embarrassingly struggles to find a musical touchstone. Much of it sounds like generic smooth-jazz you’d hear while trapped at a crummy hotel bar.

Instead, it would have been nice to first see Bond teaching — as we learn has become his lot at MI6 instead of fieldwork. As it is, we’re not sure just why he’s been given a shot to again prove himself in training, but he’s told he has too many “free radicals” in his body. And that’s what sends him to a spa clinic where, as in “Thunderball,” 007 catches wind of SPECTRE’s plot to steal U.S. nukes.

After hardy-har-har jokes about colonics and urinary trajectory, there’s one inspired fight — in which Connery, clad in sweatpants and sweatshirt, takes on a Jaws-like behemoth of his own and uses free weights as brass knuckles to no avail.

Once Bond tracks the nukes to the Bahamas, he beds Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera), “Never’s” weak-tea replacement for hot-toddy Fiona Volpe. Fatima is the main lackey to Largo (Klaus Maria Brandauer), a SPECTRE golden boy doing the bidding of Blofeld (Max von Sydow, wasted in an extended cameo). Her duties include seducing Bond, and this causes Connery and Carrera to share the most simultaneously silly and erotically charged sex scene of any Bond movie up to that point. (That’s Carrera doing her own thrusting .)

Oddly, Fatima becomes so concerned with being Bond’s No. 1 conquest, she threatens him at gunpoint, making him promise his memoirs will name her as such before he gets the drop on her.

During this scene, did director Irvin Kershner wonder how, and why, he went from “The Empire Strikes Back” to something along the lines of a bad TV movie? “Never” has only the thinnest sheen of professionalism, and it’s hard to watch “action” moments like this without snorting.

At least stunt rider Mike Runyard executes sweet leaps during a motorcycle chase. We get a black Felix Leiter (in Bernie Casey) 23 years before the official franchise got around to it. And once you get past the Jazzercise, Kim Basinger makes for a so-so Domino. Honestly, Brandauer is the best thing about “Never” — a more appropriately aged and, despite the scarves, menacing Largo than Adolfo Celi.

Five years later, Connery would have his Oscar. The following year, he’d assume another iconic role as Indiana Jones’s father. But in 1983, all he did was contribute to a depressing dilution of the 007 brand — one that ended with a fourth wall-breaking wink indicative not of arch fun, but of bored indifference.


So, who and what are the best and worst of the official Bond films? A look at 007’s lovers, foes, musical numbers and the films themselves, in reverse order of worst to first, including “Skyfall” — a film that suggests Commander Bond has at least another decade, or more, of fight left in him.

The Villains
These rankings pertain to those considered the main villain in each Bond film.

23. Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan), “Octopussy”: Checking in at 60-plus, Khan feels like he’d be the villain in an well-armed version of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”

22. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Charles Gray), “Diamonds Are Forever”: The third Blofeld is the worst, more forgettable than formidable and donning drag to escape.

21. Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale), “Moonraker”: Top-notch dry humor, but this Hitler wannabe is laughably ineffective at staging “accidental” deaths for 007.

20. Elektra King (Sophie Marceau), “The World is Not Enough”: Marceau lacks enigmatic affectations to play up suspense or a sadistic edge once she’s revealed.

19. Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi), “Thunderball”: His eyepatch is unexplained and unthreatening, and his Spencer Tracy thickness is easily overcome in a final fight.

18. Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker), “The Living Daylights”: This merc literally models himself after Genghis Khan, but his shooting-gallery clash with 007 falls flat.

17. Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), “Quantum of Solace”: An oily fella with fascist-dictator bangs and a quasi-hunch, he squeals like a girl. No match for Bond.

16. Aristotle Kristatos (Julian Glover), “For Your Eyes Only”: A boilerplate villain, but one with a mean streak as he drags 007 and Melina across coral reef.

15. Kananga / Mr. Big (Yaphet Kotto), “Live and Let Die”: Bond-ifying his heroin plot would help him be more than just a sinister bad guy, but he has a great death.

14. Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi), “Licence to Kill”: In most Bonds, he’d be a sadistic second fiddle. Davi shines, but his megalomania is pointless and convoluted.

13. Elliott Carver (Jonathan Pryce), “Tomorrow Never Dies”: Pryce has a hoot here, giddy and breathless with a hitch in his throat and mockingly loosey-goosey.

12. Stromberg (Curt Jurgens), “The Spy Who Loved Me”: A real sixtysomething sociopath who, like Auric Goldfinger, is ruthless, methodical and patient in his plans.

11. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas), “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”: Set aside ridiculous monologues (“I’ve taught you to love chickens, love their flesh”) and savor the active pursuit as Blofeld tosses his cat aside to partake in some brutality.

10. Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya), “From Russia with Love”: As 007 and Tatiana have sex, she’s the one smoking. Plus, her final knife-toed swipe at Bond is unforgettable.

9. Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), “Die Another Day”: A beefy, blocky slab who’s like Hugh Grant’s homicidal twin — dandy but deadly and powered by uncut rage.

8. Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), “Casino Royale” (2006): A master manipulator of stock and secret agents, Le Chiffre legendarily lashes out at 007’s body and soul.

7. Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman), “Dr. No”: With metal hands and mixed-race heritage, he has somber, geopolitical motivation: Wanted by no one, he’ll target everyone.

6. Max Zorin (Christopher Walken), “A View to a Kill”: Memorably upsetting within PG confines, Walken empties Uzis into underlings and upstages Roger Moore.

5. Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee), “The Man with the Golden Gun”: In an otherwise so-so outing, Lee’s malevolence lingers long in the mind. His weapon bears the hallmark of demented homemade craftsmanship. Plus, he has a flying car.

4. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasance), “You Only Live Twice”: In five minutes, it’s the character’s definitive portrayal. When he twirls around to reveal his disfiguring scar, we know he survived that, so he can endure, and dispense pain.

3. Raoul Silva / Tiago Rodriguez (Javier Bardem), “Skyfall”: Silva often looks ready to begin the beguine. But his is a devil’s dance with frighteningly choreographed invasions of physical space, psychotic long cons and chaos-agent violence.

2. Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe), “Goldfinger”: He who first seems a small-potatoes schmuck becomes a psycho with an inferiority complex and rage issues.

1. Alec Trevelyan / Janus (Sean Bean), “GoldenEye”: Forever in 007’s head with a meaty, sobering monologue, this psychological foe stalks him well past this movie. 

The Lovers
These rankings pertain to main Bond girls given substantial roles:

34. Dr. Christmas Jones (Denise Richards), “The World is Not Enough”: Richards can do light and frothy. Here, she’s the world’s loudest, bustiest physics tutor — so robotic you look for which extra is operating her remote control.

33. Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland), “The Man with the Golden Gun”: This inane agent is trained in the arts of cowering, pouting, waxing and screwing up everything.

32. Corinne Dufour (Corinne Cléry), “Moonraker”: Say what you will about 007’s objectification, but “illiterate nympho” truly drops the misogyny to murky depths.

31. Tiffany Case (Jill St. John), “Diamonds Are Forever”: A dismally ditzy diamond smuggler who stiffly recites every line of dialogue as if from a cue card.

30. Lupa Lamora (Talisa Soto), “Licence to Kill”: Unconvincing and whiny (“I love James … so much!”), Soto fills the two-Bond-girl quota in a film disinterested in that.

29. Stacey Sutton (Tanya Roberts), “A View to a Kill”: Sleepy-eyed, throaty-voiced, this whimpering feeb doesn’t stand a chance next to Grace Jones’s May Day.

28. Paris Carver (Teri Hatcher), “Tomorrow Never Dies”: A tragic figure in no actress’s hands. But Hatcher never even tries summoning potential fear and conflict.

27. Octopussy (Maud Adams), “Octopussy”: Roger Moore yanks Adams’ lips to his with vigor, but there’s no spark and another self-confident woman turns to Jell-O.

26. Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles), “Moonraker”: Chiles turns in a somnambulant performance, acting as if she heard “Action!” two seconds later than anyone else.

25. Dominique “Domino” Derval (Claudine Auger), “Thunderball”: A one-dimensional drip who makes a painful attempt at silent curiosity in the film’s finale.

24. Elektra King (Sophie Marceau), “The World is Not Enough”: The first Bond girl as the main villain could have been psychologically fascinating. Instead, Marceau is wispy and insubstantial both as a lover and a foe.

23. “Strawberry” Fields (Gemma Arterton), “Quantum of Solace”: Fields makes less of an impact as a doomed lover than a way to strengthen 007’s bond with M.

22. Solitaire (Jane Seymour), “Live and Let Die”: By giving supernatural powers to 007’s penis, the film robs Seymour of chances to be more than a very pretty face.

21. Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell), “Licence to Kill”: Workable like much of the movie, but a specter of Teresa, with her short hair, sharp tongue and quick thinking.

20. Andrea Anders (Maud Adams), “The Man with the Golden Gun”: Had 007 simply targeted Scaramanga to avenge her death, the movie might have been better.

19. Sévérine (Bérénice Lim Marlohe), “Skyfall”: Stunning in a skintight gown, she symbolizes “Skyfall’s” idea of how protection can curdle into control. But in keeping with the Daniel Craig-era ethos toward most women, she’s almost an afterthought.

18. Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko), “Quantum of Solace”: The only lead Bond girl he never beds. Kurylenko nails her accent and the internalized rage of revenge.

17. Eve (Naomie Harris), “Skyfall”: Eve is ostensibly a forceful, flirtatious ally. But her motivations remain mysterious, especially during a sexy/dangerous shave scene with 007.

16. Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupko), “GoldenEye”: Her smile and sass are strong but show the series’ inability to fully tackle 007’s psychological complexity.

15. Kara Milovy (Olivia D’Abo), “The Living Daylights”: A lithe ingénue for whom we buy that Bond would fall head over heels and a fast-acting companion in battle.

14. Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman), “Goldfinger”: A classically named, fetching forebear Kathleen Turner, husky voice and all. But Pussy is unnecessarily spayed.

13. Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike), “Die Another Day”: Initially icy and bookish, her betrayal stings with shock. Even her attire is indicative of her hubris.

12. Kissy Suzuki (Mie Hama), “You Only Live Twice”: Façade or not, her marriage to 007 is contemplatively filmed and honorably tempers the series’ usual misogyny.

11. Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi), “From Russia with Love”: Beautiful enough to get men and women twisted up, Tatiana exudes a Hitchcock Blonde glow.

10. Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet), “For Your Eyes Only”: Steely and set on revenge, Melina is like “Goldfinger’s” Jill Masterson, only far handier and heartier.

9. Giacinta “Jinx” Johnson (Halle Berry), “Die Another Day”: No acting chops. Just glib backtalk, good fights and, as Honey Ryder’s darker doppelganger, lust incarnate.

8. Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress), “Dr. No”: Only cursory chemistry with Connery. But, oh, the smelling salts required after her legendary saltwater-and-sex entrance.

7. May Day (Grace Jones), “A View to a Kill”: An iconic lover and foe in just a few minutes of screen time. For the first time in a bedroom, 007 looks a bit helpless.

6. Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach), “The Spy Who Loved Me”: Cast days before shooting, Bach conjured up the most fascinating chemistry Moore ever shared.

5. Teresa di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg), “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”: Sexy like a schoolmarm and dangerous in a bipolar sort of way, Tracy is as resourceful as she is romantic. And her death is an emotional gut-punch unrivaled for almost 40 years.

4. Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen), “GoldenEye”: 007’s legacy of sex and violence in one eruptive package — her moment of orgasm and popping of bones aligned.

3. Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh), “Tomorrow Never Dies”: The most bellicose good Bond girl ever — sexy, breathtakingly self-reliant and every bit 007’s heroic equal.

2. Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi), “Thunderball”: The first Bond girl worth a damn, flustering 007 with her take-charge sexuality, verbal taunts and violent acts.

1. Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), “Casino Royale” (2006): Redefining “Bond girl,” Green’s snippiness shifts into tenderness and suspense before an astoundingly tragic death.

The Songs
These rankings include only main vocal themes from the official films.

23. “The Man with the Golden Gun,” Lulu: By a hair, the most badly bungled Bond theme, with truly lame lyrics and an annoying, two-syllable pronunciation of “gun.”

22. “Another Way to Die,” Jack White and Alicia Keys, from “Quantum of Solace”: Never once approximating the same key, White and Keys sound like cats in a sack, and White’s lyrics are equally tone-deaf — a Mad Libs parody of Bond.

21. “All-Time High,” Rita Coolidge, from “Octopussy”: With an embarrassingly ironic name, this adult contemporary glop has all the distinction of burnt, unbuttered toast.

20. “Tomorrow Never Dies,” Sheryl Crow: Crow isn’t suited to a smoky-nightclub vibe. You can hear uncertainty in her delivery and shredding in her vocal cords.

19. “From Russia with Love,” Matt Monro: Although the fromage of its cheese is significant, it gets just the slightest amount of slack as the first vocal Bond theme.

18. “Moonraker,” Shirley Bassey: Not the first bad Bond theme but the first bland one. Just try remembering even part of this lightweight tune’s melody in a few days.

17. “Thunderball,” Tom Jones: Jones sings the hell out of this from start to finish. The vibrato is right. But like the movie it accompanies, the vibe isn’t quite there.

16. “Under the Mango Tree,” Diana Coupland, from “Dr. No”: Before any true themes, Coupland put the right spin and sway on this lovely, lilting traditional Calypso tune.

15. “Licence to Kill,” Gladys Knight: Not the most chilling voice to sing of making people pay until their dying day. But Michael Kamen’s hefty orchestrations win out.

14. “GoldenEye,” Tina Turner: A sufficient, if not stirring, Bond theme that incorrectly suggests the film that follows will merely be going through the motions.

13. “We Have All the Time in the World,” Louis Armstrong, from “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”: Satchmo’s signature voice drives this sweetly, shuffling valentine to the sweet discovery of true love. But given tragic events, it becomes a cruel, ironic daydream.

12. “Skyfall,” Adele: J.A.C. Redford’s lavish orchestration and lyrics that are stirring in hindsight salvage unexpectedly snoozy vocals from Adele, who holds back throughout.

11. “The Living Daylights,” a-ha: The second-straight strong, edgy pop spin on Bond. It’s a persistent little earworom that sets the pulse of the movie it precedes.

10. “Die Another Day,” Madonna: Although its jittery sonic schisms are oft derided, it’s expertly integrated into the film with lyrics ripped from Bond’s psyche.

9. “For Your Eyes Only,” Sheena Easton: An aggressively sugary power ballad with a memorable, if not mighty, melody on which Sheena Easton vocally gives her all

8. “Diamonds Are Forever,” Shirley Bassey: For the first time, a touch of funk in the slippery drumbeat, which slinks around under Bassey’s hypnotic, brassy vocals.

7. “The World is Not Enough,” Garbage: Vastly superior to the film it accompanies, this irresistibly seductive torch song/sales pitch for domination swoops and soars.

6. “You Only Live Twice,” Nancy Sinatra: No Bond fanfare so immediately induces goosebumps like this swooner. Sinatra’s dispassionate vocals are an afterthought.

5. “Nobody Does it Better,” Carly Simon, from “The Spy Who Loved Me”: Though musically rooted in its era’s mellow adult-contemporary sound, boyishly boastful lyrics, Simon’s impeccable vocals and gradually building flourishes are legendary.

4. “A View to a Kill,” Duran Duran: As ’80s New Wave meets ’60s classicism, it hits like a shiv to the side with chillingly evocative lyrics and upper-register vocal frenzy.

3. “Live and Let Die,” Paul McCartney: No Bond theme shifts as many gears as deftly or dangerously as this aggressive rocker, which ends on a long, ominous note.

2. “You Know My Name”, Chris Cornell, from “Casino Royale” (2006): A swaggering orchestral-rock number that fuses Cornell’s ragged howl to a driving beat, crashing strings, intrusive brass and a chorus of haunting lyrics.

1. “Goldfinger,” Shirley Bassey: Oft imitated (even by Bassey) but unmatched, this instant-classic knockout built the template for Bond-theme mystery and grandiosity. 

The Films

23. “Moonraker”: A giant leap backward for Bondkind, this slow-moving, clownish capper to an iffy decade generates no awe over sending 007 into the stratosphere.

22. “The World is Not Enough”: A sterile, sluggish adventure smothered by halfhearted attempts at suspense and the unforgivable wasting of a great henchman.

21. “Thunderball”: More interested in taking Bond to the bank than the brink, the blocky, overlong underwater action is drearily bad and the plot is lacking in payload.

20. “Diamonds Are Forever”: Less Sean Connery’s glorious return than a cheesy caricature, Connery shows none of the charm or confidence that made him great.

19. “Octopussy”: Uncharismatic villains, dead-eyed love interests, embarrassing disguises, lackluster action and a depressingly old 007 equal Moore’s second-worst.

18. “A View to a Kill”: Rather than creatively capitalizing on Moore’s aging, 007 enters blandly utilitarian territory while facing an unexpectedly strong villain.

17. “The Man with the Golden Gun”: Often, and unfairly, labeled “worst Bond,” it’s still a so-so romp, with a tremendous big bad, that could’ve been a bit more ragged.

16. “Quantum of Solace”: Often to the detriment of what makes Bond Bond, this go-go-go capper to “Casino Royale” (2006) slows only briefly but for the right reasons.

15. “Live and Let Die”: 007 walks a thin line in blaxploitation territory. But it was then a unique cultural juxtaposition and a fitting introduction to Moore’s Bond.

14. “Licence to Kill”: Timothy Dalton had little time to probe 007’s psyche. But, without quips, smirks or innuendoes, his raw, exposed nerves creates a big payoff.

13. “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”: George Lazenby is inept. But the film is half terrible, half tremendous — neither unsung masterpiece nor unmitigated disaster.

12. “Tomorrow Never Dies”: It counters a skimpy plot with slick craftsmanship, heretofore unseen adrenaline and aggression, and a hellzapoppin tempo.

11. “For Your Eyes Only”: By lifting a veil Moore often draped over 007’s violent tendencies, “Eyes” goes grittier and restores vision, albeit not 20/20, to the series.

10. “Die Another Day”: Both a trippy rendering of 007’s staple ideas of duplicity and identity and an absurdly entertaining return to gadget-driven, gee-whiz what-ifs.

9. “Dr. No”: More mystery than adventure and comparatively low-key to its successors. But legends start somewhere, and “Bond before Bond” is fascinating.

8. “The Living Daylights”: Timothy Dalton’s dashing, dangerous debut as 007 showed an instinct to mix outward thrills and inner turmoil if not the full initiative.

7. “Goldfinger”: It killed off the careless, fallible Bond so the glib, gun-toting embodiment of cool could live. Sleek and swift, it’s stuffed with iconic moments.

6. “The Spy Who Loved Me”Moore’s masterpiece. Bond goes big with a jaw-dropping opener, shrewd love interest and Jaws, his most frightening opponent yet.

5. “GoldenEye”: Boasting a superior villain and Bond girl, it treats 007’s livelihood as a zero-sum game fraught with impossible choices between friends and missions.

4. “You Only Live Twice”: Bond buries the needle on coolness, hitting a cruising altitude of kitschy spectacle with an imaginative plot and impeccable production.

3. “Skyfall”: Pitched at the level of a psychological thriller and more stunningly photographed than any other Bond, the latest film looks toward the past and future with clear eyes — blending awesome action with sometimes uncomfortable intimacy you might find on a stage.

2. “Casino Royale” (2006): With raw emotions and action sequences, it’s as invigorating for its intimate revelations about 007 as for its hard-charging spectacle.

1. “From Russia with Love”: This cerebral thriller dares you to keep pace with its racing narrative of disloyalty and deception and establishes numerous 007 tenets.

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The Bond Legacy Wed, 07 Nov 2012 05:35:33 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Nick Rogers, Joe Shearer and Christopher Lloyd discuss the James Bond cinematic legacy as “Skyfall” lands in theaters. Who was the best Bond? How has the franchise evolved over the last 50 years? And should we really ever forgive George Lazenby?

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You Only Live Twenty-Thrice: “Die Another Day” Fri, 19 Oct 2012 04:01:57 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

“You Only Live Twenty-Thrice” is Nick Rogers’ look back at the James Bond films.

Each Friday until the release of the 23rd official Bond film, “Skyfall,” Nick will revisit its 22 official predecessors from start to finish, with a bonus post for the unofficial films in which James Bond also appears.

Mindless, joyless, stale, dumb, meandering, indistinguishable. The “Batman and Robin” of the Bond series. Save for that last knock, these are some of the kinder descriptions critics concocted for “Die Another Day.” At best among the big-time Bond-movie list-makers, it’s the fifth most awful of them all. At worst? Well …

Without question, “Die Another Day” is a rocket ride that ultimately blasts through the stratosphere of craziness to test the very threshold of coherence — even more so than “Moonraker.” But unlike Roger Moore’s folly, “Day” is unequivocally awesome. As Bond rankings go, Top-10 kind of awesome.

“Day” ably lifts graphic-novel weight in Act One before expertly tossing it aside for airy, comic-book gleefulness. It’s even got an outlandishly grotesque villain: Zao (Rick Yune), a bad, bald albino with translucent eyes, DNA permanently stuck between Asian and Caucasian and diamonds lodged in his cheeks. (Although not the big bad, Zao is a Duracell thug Renard should’ve been in “The World is Not Enough.”)

Calling “Day” over the top suggests limits to its lunacy that don’t exist. A DNA replacement therapy on a remote Cuban island. Bionic super-suits. 007 essentially outrunning the sun. But these excesses embrace everything that’s exotic and electrifying about 007 — the sex more vivid, the betrayals more blindsiding, the twists more hairpin, the villains more unhinged. It’s as close a cousin to “You Only Live Twice” there’s been. But dumb “Day” is not — a trippy pulp rendering of the canon’s longstanding ideas of duplicity and identity.

For what may turn out to be the last time given the Daniel Craig direction, the series hearkens back to the gadget-driven, gee-whiz what-ifs of its 1960s roots, abetted by a budget almost five times that entire decade of Bond. And this high-speed ascent into G-force levels of absurdity mirrors its climactic action sequence: The vehicle may flirt with structural collapse, but it lands, amazingly and dazzlingly.

Even the “James Bond Theme” almost breaks apart here under composer David Arnold’s slippery techno break-beats in the iconic gun-barrel sequence.

But there’s nothing else bright and shiny about “Day’s” first 30 minutes — which begin with Bond surreptitiously surfing the gray, Communist coastlines of North Korea. He’s there to infiltrate the military base of the Harvard- and Oxford-educated Colonel Tan-Sun Moon (Will Yun Lee), who’s trading African blood diamonds for high-tech hovercrafts to navigate minefields. (Even the first-act levity is brutal: We meet Moon walloping a punching bag inside which his anger-management therapist is trapped.)

After an unknown mole informs Zao, the Colonel’s right-hand man, of 007’s true credentials, Bond detonates his booby-trapped briefcase in desperation. His decoy diamonds are embedded in Zao’s face, and 007 gives chase to the fleeing Moon.
Sports cars explode and hovercrafts spiral end over end. But there’s no self-congratulatory swagger to this pre-credits sequence. That’s because at the moment when it would otherwise end glibly, it darkens with defeat: Bond is captured by Moon’s father, a general, and becomes a thoroughly well-tortured prisoner of war.

“Day” also has the most sinister opening-credits of all — using CG to explain and enhance the narrative. Pinpricks of light explode like pain in Bond’s nerve endings with every sucker punch. Smoldering coals lack flame but sear Bond’s flesh with heat. And then there are scorpions, with whose venom Bond is repeatedly infected.

You could almost consider them visual hallucinations into which Bond must retreat if he is to withstand the assault. Given the unpredictably jittery schisms and percussive stomps of Madonna’s title song — like a toreador dancing on Bond’s sanity — throw auditory delusions in there, too.

Although oft derided, Madonna’s song is expertly produced and integrated into the story. (It makes up for her stiff, uncredited cameo as a fencing instructor cum exposition machine.) As with Garbage’s “The World is Not Enough,” the lyrics are cleverly interwoven into a character’s emotions (here Bond himself):

“I’m gonna destroy my ego
I’m gonna suspend my senses
I’m gonna delay my pleasure
I’m gonna close my body now”

(Madonna’s video is also yet another of her eye-openers, with Madge filling in for 007 during reenactments of “Day’s” torture and fencing-fight scenes. What begins as stylish cross-promotion turns graphic when Madonna slices open her stomach and just gets weirder from there.)

Then, the real shocker of “Day’s” first act: Bond has been there 14 months, disavowed by MI6 over five seasons of sustained suffering. And no Bond prior to Pierce Brosnan could pull off bearded and bedraggled so masterfully. All that saves Bond is General Moon’s lament for his late son: The General thought Western education would help his son build a bridge to geopolitical civility. Instead, it corrupted him absolutely, and he agrees to exchange Bond for Zao — now an anarchic terrorist whom MI6 has captured — in hopes he’ll flush out the Colonel’s collaborator — likely the same man who burned Bond.

Smooth sailing, right? Keep calm and carry on while fleshing out a traitor? Not so fast. M (Judi Dench) is convinced Britain gave up too much in exchange for Bond. And she fears this sentimentality may cost them handsomely in the long run. Not only is Bond’s licence to kill revoked (again), but this time it’s his freedom when he’s medically quarantined.

You could count on one hand the Bond films that face the character to confront an ultimate fear: That he would find love only to lose it in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” That his defense mechanisms would be stripped bare in “GoldenEye.” That he may not be the committed, collective agent he thinks he is in “Casino Royale” (2006). If only briefly, “Day” joins them: Here, MI6 has finally found Bond to be useless chaff.

So, how do writers Robert Wade and Neal Purvis tackle Bond’s anxiety? Here’s where the comic book kicks in. He simply escapes by, uh, faking cardiac arrest. Just like that, we’re in the creamy, rich center of a vintage 007 adventure, surrounded by the hard shell of a lively thriller about revoked-license vindication and vengeance. When 007 tells the hotel clerk “I’m just … surviving,” it’s more than a quip. It’s a mantra for a man whose own makers have stripped him of his relevancy.

Bond’s investigation leads to Cuba, where the brass has a smoky, spicy Cuban flavor and Arnold twists the “James Bond Theme” into the seductive sway of the nation’s son music style. What better place to pick up stogies again, right, as well as other smokin’ creature comforts?

Down to the knife strapped to her hips, Halle Berry is a darker-skinned doppelganger of “Dr. No’s” Honey Ryder — similarly birthed from the sea as lust incarnate. Giacinta “Jinx” Johnson is the name of this NSA agent, who quickly sees through Bond’s ornithologist cover. And “Day” has no reservations about giving Berry her second sex scene in as many years — albeit in a role as far removed from Academy Award consideration as it gets — that feels as much like an exorcism of pain as an expression of pleasure.

Bond has never been a sexual camel, so it’s no surprise that he thrusts, scratches and claws at Jinx like a starving wildebeest. And Jinx reciprocates the intensity with thrusting that takes Grace Jones’ grinds in “A View to a Kill” much further.

Berry is easily the actress with the most fame coming into a Bond-girl role. The “X-Men” films showed she could acquit herself well with sassy backtalk and blockbuster fights, as she does here. (She spits a couple of good defiant zingers at Bond’s “friend with the expensive acne,” and, for a time, there was talk of a spinoff series with Jinx.) But “Monster’s Ball” let Berry flex dramatic muscles her audiences didn’t know she had. Why not give her even the briefest amount of pillow talk in which she and Bond could confront emotional turmoil as explicitly as their sex?

Bond and Jinx eventually team up to take down Gustav Graves, a self-aggrandizing British diamond maven who has exploded onto the global market with lavish wealth in a matter of months. About 14 months, to be precise. It isn’t just a Union Jack parachute that makes Graves yet another distorted reflection of our hero. And just as you finger Graves for the mole, Purvis and Wade throw in a head-spinning, out-there twist.

Graves is actually Colonel Moon, and the insomniac side effects of altering his DNA have only elevated his adrenaline. It’s a brave and crazy variation on a modern Bond idea: What if we mistake today’s enemy for tomorrow’s friend only because he looks exactly like us?

Through the glowing, cybernetic tangle of wires in the eerie “Dream Machine,” Graves biometrically mimics an hour of slumber every day. It’s just one of several simulation touchstones in the script (both 007 and Moneypenny engage in virtual-reality environments), with which Purvis and Wade have more fun than in any of their other four Bond films.

As Graves, Stephens looks like Hugh Grant’s homicidal twin, dandy but deadly. And this particular Bond villain’s brand of rage is pure and uncut. A beefy, blocky slab of man, Graves challenges 007 to a fencing match that morphs from a ginger, gentleman’s game to a brutal, life-and-death broadsword battle. It’s a high-intensity modern brawl that still pays homage to the sheer high camp of the escalating situation.

As a man who must live out his dreams, Graves has gussied up a nightmare under the guise of global improvement. His satellite — aptly named Icarus, as Graves flies too close to the sun with his father’s wings — purports to harness the sun’s power and funnel it toward the globe’s darkest corners for crop development. What he really wants to do is carve up the Korean DMZ, take back South Korea by force and, with his unstoppable weapon, the world.

It would seem Bond has another ally — Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike), an MI6 cryptologist undercover as Graves’ publicist. “Sex for dinner, death for breakfast” is how this icy, bookish spy describes Bond although she, unsurprisingly, eventually warms to his charms.

“Day” force-feeds plenty of eye candy — especially once Bond, Jinx, Frost, Graves and Zao converge on an Icelandic ice palace housing what Auric Goldfinger’s laser might look like in the 21st century. (This extravagant, otherworldly and practically built location that recalls the gloriously labyrinthine ’60s lairs of production designer Ken Adam.) So much that we give very little thought that Moon’s mole might not have been a man, and Frost’s betrayal stings with shock more than Elektra’s in “World.” After all, in a movie clearly giving anything a shot, why does there have to be an evil Bond girl?

Here’s where most people seem to bail on “Day” altogether — its moment of horrible, terrible, no-good, very-bad CGI. Bond escapes in dramatic fashion, hijacking Graves’s rocket car. It’s an inspired way to avoid incineration from the oncoming Icarus ray, but the way he dodges an avalanche is … well, far less visually impressive.

At the time, it was easily the most inexcusably bush-league CG effect in a blockbuster since the plane crash at the finale of “Air Force One.” But — but — “Day” pulls many “buts” from its lowest points — is it any less outlandish than the conveniently placed jetpack in the almost much-more beloved “Thunderball”?

Bond then doubles back to rescue Jinx using “the Vanish” — all the self-driving power of the 1997 and 1999 Aston Martins with more of the … invisibility? In interviews, producer Barbara Broccoli seems ashamed of “the Vanish,” like atonement was made through the skinflint gadgetry of “Royale.” After 20 movies, there’s no reason to be ashamed of giving Bond the most wonderful toys.

If anything, “Day” doesn’t use this pinnacle of anything-goes gadgetry enough. Perhaps Aston Martin, one of 20 companies paying a rumored $100 million total for product placement, limited overuse of a car no one could see. At least they get their money’s worth as Bond and Zao automotively duke it out in luxury cars empowered with small-arms fire.

That’s not even the final gambit of goofiness. Graves and Frost take Icarus to the air, where Graves reunites with ol’ pop in the futile hope of making him proud. It’s an odd pause for patricide that’s nevertheless powerful — even if it is like watching Joaquin Phoenix in “Gladiator” were he wearing a bionic suit that could deliver 100,000 volts of electricity.

Naturally, Bond and Jinx have given chase, and they separate to handle business with their respective foes. Frost’s sports-bra attire for a knife duel with Jinx seems an obvious stretch for exposed flesh, but really, it’s indicative of the hubris with which Graves has infected her. And as for Graves, well, all the diamonds in the world won’t help you if you let someone else pull your parachute on a depressurized plane.

Broccoli unfairly poo-poos the movie, but she’s right about one thing: There was absolutely no choice but to dial it down to a grounded reality in the next installment whether they moved forward with Brosnan or someone else. But that’s not because “Die Another Day” is an abomination of which to be ashamed. It’s because, alongside “Twice,” it’s peak Bond at its most aggressively outlandish and shamelessly entertaining.

Next week: ”Casino Royale” (2006)


In ways overt and obscure, “Die Another Day” references each of the 20 preceding 007 films. There are common casting circumstances (Madonna appearing in the film, albeit not in the opening credits, as Sheena Easton did in “For Your Eyes Only”). Bond revisits old haunts in Cuba a la “GoldenEye,” albeit under more ultimately pleasurable conditions. Past titles are name-checked in the script (“Diamonds are forever,” Graves says.) And during the Q briefing, gadgets from “Thunderball,” “Octopussy,” “A View to a Kill,” “From Russia with Love” and “Licence to Kill” can be seen in the background.

Halle Berry is the only actress to play a Bond girl after nabbing an Academy Award. But it didn’t help her luck on set. Debris from a smoke grenade entered her eye during an action sequence, and a half-hour operation was required to remove it. And while filming a hot sex scene, she began to choke on a fig, prompting Pierce Brosnan to administer the Heimlich Maneuver.

As for that sex scene, it originally had an additional few seconds in heaven, with Berry moaning loudly. The MPAA ordered them trimmed in order to preserve the PG-13 rating.

The British Airways flight attendant who serves 007 his martini is played by Roger Moore’s daughter, Deborah. She went on to appear in HBO’s “Rome” and the BBC’s “Sherlock.”

“Die Another Day’s” premiere was only the second at which Queen Elizabeth II was in attendance. The first was “You Only Live Twice,” 35 years earlier.

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You Only Live Twenty-Thrice: “The World is Not Enough” Fri, 12 Oct 2012 04:01:45 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

“You Only Live Twenty-Thrice” is Nick Rogers’ look back at the James Bond films.

Each Friday until the release of the 23rd official Bond film, “Skyfall,” Nick will revisit its 22 official predecessors from start to finish, with a bonus post for the unofficial films in which James Bond also appears.

There are many people to blame for “The World is Not Enough.” But the main culprit is a rival secret agent — one who fears only nuclear war and carnies, drinks Captain Morgan and Tab, and boasts phallic-shaped whorls of chest hair.

Yes, the Austin Powers series sends up only the 007 films that came 24 years (or more) before Pierce Brosnan even took the part. And in 1997, Brosnan actually headlined two films (remember “Dante’s Peak”?) that earned more than “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.”

But by Brosnan’s third go-round in 1999, Mike Myers’ silly satire had exploded from comedy curio to blockbuster behemoth. “International” raked in millions on the VHS market in 1998, propelling its 1999 summer sequel, “The Spy Who Shagged Me,” beyond the $200-million mark at the box office.

Worst of all, Austin Powers’ success seemed to make the Broccolis gun shy about letting their next Bond film have any fun at all, lest it be mentally lumped together with Myers’ aggressively bawdy parody. The unfortunate result is a sterile and shockingly sluggish adventure smothered by halfhearted attempts at suspense; after “Moonraker,” it’s hands-down the worst Bond movie of all.

Brosnan makes “Yeeeeeeargh” noises thanks to Bond’s clavicle injury and exceeds minimum effort only fleetingly. By putting the best action scene before the credits, “World’s” wad is blown early. The convoluted narrative wastes the potential of a villain who, on paper, seems like Bond’s greatest physical challenge. “Die Another Day” has more satisfying comic twists than the dramatic one on which “World’s” entire plot hinges. And in an unintentional nod to the “Powers” films, it casts an actress more inanely robotic than any Fembot as a Bond girl.

“World” announces its stultifying intentions from the get-go with what would have been, in its original form, the most pitiful pre-credits sequence yet.

Bond is in Spain to retrieve money stolen from Sir Robert King, a British oil tycoon and longtime friend of M (Judi Dench), which has wound up in a Swiss banker’s hands. He’s cleaning up for 0012, killed by an assassin before he could deliver the money to MI6. But before the banker gives up the killer’s name, his own duplicitous assistant (Maria Grazia Cucinotta) shoots him, and Bond is saved in the chaos by long-range sniper fire that thwumps through the windows.

In the end, Bond escapes with the money, descending a few stories by rope to the pavement below. To a data-entry clerk, dentist or actuary, falling a few stories might be enough thrills for a lifetime. But James Bond bravely exits planes without chutes, dangles from national landmarks, jumps from skyscrapers, skydives from mountaintops.

This is play-place ball-pit territory for Bond, and it’s clear this sequence was initially intended as a “dazzler” before a segue into the opening credits. So was born what remains the longest pre-credits sequence of any Bond film — coming in at 14 minutes — and the bad idea to shorten the one compelling action setpiece the movie can muster.

Bond brings the money back to MI6, a safe haven in which to crack painfully dated political jokes about knowing where to put a cigar. But the cash has been rigged with an explosive fertilizer, unknowingly triggered by chemical residue on Sir Robert’s lapel pin.

For the first time, villains have hit Bond right where he lives, and this aggression will not stand. Spying the banker’s assistant on a boat through the freshly blown hole in MI6 headquarters, Bond gives chase on the Thames — in a rocket-powered boat that slingshots around the river like a light, errant kite.

This steeplechase with boats revisits the “Live and Let Die” chase, only urbanized and adrenalized as Bond and his quarry slingshot over, around (and sometimes through) numerous obstacles. Plus, 007 is defending the violation of MI6’s sacred space, and the foamy spray attacking Brosnan’s face accentuates his dogged determination. (Bumped up as it was in the movie, the sequence was somewhat shortened; the extended sequence is what’s below.)

Garbage’s irresistibly seductive sales pitch for world domination awaits in the opening credits. Amid swooping harps and gunshot snare-drum snaps, singer Shirley Manson’s torch-song delivery glides the number into the dangerous and grandiose. There’s an urgency and mystery to composer David Arnold’s musically unresolved conclusion, and longtime Bond-theme lyricist Don Black’s chorus feels ever more skillful in hindsight when you consider it Elektra’s pitch to Renard:

The world is not enough, but it is such a perfect place to start, my love.
And if you’re strong enough, together we can take the world apart, my love.

Now, we’ve not yet met Renard or Elektra. But we’ll soon know them as potentially fascinating Bond characters that, by the end, elicit only an all-time sigh. Honestly, the song, in four minutes, creates a connection the 127-minute movie cannot.
A KGB agent turned environmental terrorist, Renard is targeting Sir Robert’s oil interests. And what hasn’t killed him is making him stronger. MI6 left a bullet embedded in this anarchist’s head that is slowly and surely ending his life, but endowing him with superhuman pain tolerance as it pushes deeper into his brain.

Renard is a baldpate with rheumy, scarred eyes that feel like a brutal-bloke variation on Donald Pleasance’s appearance in “You Only Live Twice.” And he’s played by Robert Carlyle, the frighteningly hair-triggered Begbie in “Trainspotting” and a sweet steel worker-cum-stripper a year later in “The Full Monty.”

Elektra (Sophie Marceau) is the woman Renard famously kidnapped once before — Sir Robert’s daughter and heiress to an oil empire he assumed control of upon marriage. Her life came at the cost of her innocence, as she used sex to lull Renard into a false sense of security and got away after taking control of a firearm. And with Sir Robert’s assassination, MI6 has every reason to believe Renard is coming for her again.

There could hardly be a more metaphorically rich set-up for Bond and Renard’s battle — a villain who feels no pain colliding with a hero in noticeable agony from the get-go after slamming his collar bone into the Millennium Dome. And Elektra could be a fascinating, psychologically complex Bond beauty — emboldened to independence almost to a fault by the way she survived the violence that surrounded her, using her body and bullets in much the same way Bond does.

Ah, but those are keen, nigh instantaneous suspicions you have about the circumstances surrounding Elektra’s escape and her devil-may-care demeanor, especially when you consider her Greek namesake had little love lost for a parent.

And Renard? Well, that depends on how badass you think it is to watch him hold a scalding rock and do little else. Not once is his capacity for pain truly tested; in fact, of all things, he flinches when Bond punches his face. Turns out he’s a big ol’ wuss for love, with all of Bane’s broken heart and none of his demonstrable brawn.

That’s because — dun, dun, duhhhhhhhhhn — Renard is now doing Elektra’s bidding and was her regular lover before the injury dulled his senses. It seems Elektra never got over dad elbowing mom out of the oil business. And she really didn’t like him using her as bait to flush out Renard. MI6 believed Sir Robert’s motives to be pure; Elektra sees them as complicit foes to be felled along with her other competitors.

There’s one brief bright spot to what is, plain and simple, a bait-and-switch on Renard. It lets Carlyle fling atypically tough talk for a Bond movie — “How does it feel knowing I broke her in for you?” — and showcase his range. “He … he was a good lover?,” Renard asks Elektra of Bond, his voice slightly trembling over pleasures he can only remember and never revisit. It’s all the more reason for him to be jealous of Bond … and attack him with a fiery, unquenchable bloodlust that we never see. They exchange the most cursory of blows on a sinking submarine in the finale — as anticlimactic as anything else the film has to offer.

As for Elektra, she betrays both Bond (to whom she’s become a lover) and M (for whom she’s a surrogate daughter). As producer Barbara Broccoli has said, “Bond thinks he’s found Tracy, but he’s really found Blofeld.” She’s referring to the great love and louse of 007’s life — the latter a woman he married, the former her murderer on the same day.

However, Marceau seemed more palpably upset about losing her dog in the same year’s “Lost and Found” than she is persuasively enraged here to pursue global destruction. (Her plan: Detonate a nuke in Istanbul to make her newly constructed pipeline the only game in town for “the bright, starry, oil-driven future of the West” and drive up her profits.)

That’s partially because the narrative is so convoluted — even straining to bring back Robbie Coltrane’s Russian gangster Zukovsky, introduced in “GoldenEye” — and sketchily fills in her history. But it’s mainly because Marceau is wispy and insubstantial both as a lover and a foe. She lacks the intimate conviction of a woman for whom Bond would truly let his guard down, the enigmatic affectations to play up the suspense surrounding her motivations, and the sadistic edge of villainy once her plot is revealed.

The third act finds Bond in Elektra’s garrote chair, its knobs and notches slowly and painfully twisting his spine. And you can sense the filmmakers similarly attempting ratchet up the tragedy and tension: To make it out of this mission alive, Bond will have to kill a woman whom he allegedly loved with more than his body.

To Brosnan’s credit, he at least tries to convey that Bond’s instincts may be at cross-purposes. But if the filmmakers wanted true resonance — a part of his soul dying when he puts a bullet in her head — well, we’d need to be convinced he’d have uttered three little words only George Lazenby and Daniel Craig have gotten to say.

They would have also had to cancel Christmas — as in Dr. Christmas Jones, a nuclear physicist at an ICBM base from which Renard steals a missile.

Admittedly, “Denise Richards” and “doctoral intellect” probably aren’t two great tastes that taste great together. But when the material and direction are right, as they were for her in “Drop Dead Gorgeous” and “Undercover Brother,” Richards is fine with light, frothy stuff. Here, you’re scanning background extras to see if one is operating her via remote control and wondering which circuits are misfiring.

Worst of all, the script turns Richards into an exposition machine — asking her to shout her dialogue about science in hopes it will somehow make her seem authoritative. In the end, she’s just the world’s loudest, bustiest physics tutor.

So, what about the action? Well, aside from the boat chase, director Michael Apted seems largely disinterested in that … or at least making it seem anything more than an obligation. Or, really, anything other than James Bond vs. some sort of helicopter.

Bond goes skiing again for the first time in 14 years, only to be interrupted by “parahawk” aircrafts — with which he engages in ho-hum combat before surviving an avalanche. (At least the second-unit photography of the French peaks standing in for the Caucasus Mountains is phenomenally pristine.) And in a bit cut from “GoldenEye” but revived here, Bond survives a swinging helicopter scythe. It’s rather convenient how this pilot just waits for Bond to fire upon him.

For a moment, though, “World” is undeniably, unforgettably classed up one last time by Desmond Llewelyn, in his final appearance as Geoffrey Boothroyd, aka “Q.”

Llewelyn planned to play Q “as long as the producers want me and the Almighty doesn’t,” but the 85-year-old actor died in a car crash mere weeks after “World’s” release. Given the introduction of John Cleese as his bumbling protégé, the producers clearly had a contingency plan in place. And even though it wasn’t an intentional sendoff, Llewelyn’s final moments here blend finality with frivolity.

The look on Llewelyn’s face suggests a conclusive farewell, the elevation of his brow speaks to what he has known, and we have known, over 36 years of the character: When it comes to the cool factor, there is no James Bond without Q.

Next week: “Die Another Day”


The movie takes its title from the English translation of the Latin Orbis non-sufficit. It’s the real-life family motto of Sir Thomas Bond, a 17th-century British Baronet and, as revealed in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” the motto of James Bond’s family — supposed descendants of Thomas.

Joe Dante — director of “The Howling,” “Gremlins” and “Innerspace” — was approached to direct. So was Peter Jackson. However, after Broccoli screened “The Frighteners” — Jackson’s underrated, ill-fated first Hollywood film — she lost interest.

“The World is Not Enough” was to have, per the four previous Bond films, a second, end-credits song. However, director Michael Apted discarded British crooner Scott Walker’s “Only Myself to Blame” and used a remix of “The James Bond Theme.” A wise choice, as the movie was sleepy enough before Walker’s standard-issue torch-song croon. However, in Japan, “Sweetest Coma Again” — by that nation’s answer to Muse, Luna Sea — was used over the end credits.

The Bond films only have one more Oscar than they do a Golden Raspberry. Denise Richards won a 1999 Razzie, honoring the year’s worst in film, for Worst Supporting Actress. Richards and Pierce Brosnan were also nominated for Worst Screen Couple.

Q’s boat used in the pre-credits chase has a top speed of 80 miles an hour — more than 8 times the legal limit on the Thames, which caused the sequence’s filming to take seven weeks. Also, its 350 horsepower engine could force the bow of the boat under water, and this circumstance was written into the movie.

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You Only Live Twenty-Thrice: “Tomorrow Never Dies” Fri, 05 Oct 2012 04:01:59 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

“You Only Live Twenty-Thrice” is Nick Rogers’ look back at the James Bond films.

Each Friday until the release of the 23rd official Bond film, “Skyfall,” Nick will revisit its 22 official predecessors from start to finish, with a bonus post for the unofficial films in which James Bond also appears.

“You were very good on the bike.” — Wai Lin

“That’s a result of never growing up.” — James Bond

Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar. Sometimes, a kiss is just a kiss. And sometimes, James Bond is just a kid.

An impeccably tailored, quick-witted, sexually mature, martini-swilling kid who throws a hell of a tantrum when he feels tortured. But still, in heart and mind, a kid for whom boats, planes, trains and automobiles are but life-sized Hot Wheels, imaginatively smashed together in hellacious spectacles of steel and smoke.

There’s barely room any grains of subtext in the multimillion-dollar sandbox of 1997’s “Tomorrow Never Dies.” It’s got two white-knuckle sequences for the books, Bond litters the ground with more shell casings here than ever before, and the climax is all a tangle of wires and fires.

All that’s missing from the most action-packed 007 adventure yet is our hero using his mouth to add exaggeratedly childish sound effects to explosions, gunfire and accelerating cars.

Still, while Alec Trevelyan is no longer a physical threat to our Commander, his sobering words forever echo in the ears of Pierce Brosnan’s Bond. Here, as 007 pushes a wife into infidelity for the first time in any film, it’s Trevelyan’s crack about finding forgiveness in the arms of willing women for dead ones he failed to protect.

There are consequences to Bond’s cuckolding, which let Brosnan flash a few glances of guilt amid the gangbusters action. A pity he doesn’t play these scenes opposite an actress better than Teri Hatcher. Thankfully, for the brunt of the movie, he’s alongside the most bellicose, good Bond beauty we’ve ever seen— Michelle Yeoh’s Col. Wai Lin, a Chinese spy collaborating with 007 who is, like none before, every bit his heroic equal.

Together, Bond and Wai have only 48 hours to expose and extinguish a third-party threat to engineer World War III between China and the United Kingdom. This is one of Bond’s toughest deadlines yet, and it mirrors one of the tightest, more tumultuous shooting schedules any Bond film had faced.

Coincidentally, it was the first without the franchise’s progenitor, Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli, who died of heart failure in June 1996 and to whom “Tomorrow” is dedicated. Even on “GoldenEye,” Broccoli’s health was failing, leaving his daughter, Barbara, and stepson, Michael G. Wilson, to take production reins. Here, the duo’s first time on its own was a real thunderball.

Apart from the implicit expectation that each subsequent Bond film trump the last, Barbara and Wilson were under extra pressure from billionaire Kirk Kerkorian. The latest owner to hold the hot potato that was MGM/UA, Kerkorian wanted a successful follow-up to “GoldenEye” that would correspond with an IPO for studio stock.

This rush job drove “Tomorrow’s” production budget to $110 million (nearly double that of “GoldenEye”), saw filming commence with neither a finished script nor a complete cast, and reportedly provoked on-set squabbles among principal crew shaped the story last-minute.

Hatcher and Jonathan Pryce, the film’s villain, hadn’t been cast when main photography began in April 1997, merely eight months before the film’s release date. It’s rumored Pryce filled a vacancy left by Anthony Hopkins, who bailed on the bedlam of getting new script pages each morning after three days.

Plus, “Tomorrow” didn’t seem in the most prestigious directorial hands. Canadian Roger Spottiswoode’s last three theatrical films were “Turner & Hooch,” “Air America” and “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.” Yeoman’s work as it may be to deal with Sylvester Stallone’s comic timing, corralling a runaway Bond is a whole other animal.

So, “Tomorrow” had a ramshackle production and a threadbare, make-it-up-as-we-go plot. It’s more than made up for with slick, blazing action craftsmanship — with adrenaline and aggression the likes of which a Bond movie had never seen — as well as a significant jump in visual effects from “GoldenEye” and a hellzapoppin tempo that makes it feel like the devil is at Bond’s back.

The pre-credits sequence finds Bond — or “White Knight,” as he’s generically codenamed — atop another snowy Russian mountaintop a la “GoldenEye.” Here, he’s infiltrated a terrorist swap meet, where bad guy Henry Gupta (Ricky Jay) has bought a GPS encoder produced by America’s military. Meanwhile, M (Judi Dench) and the British brass that supersede her influence watch remotely from MI6.

The subsequent action scene is driven by an idea hinted at in “GoldenEye”: Observant boots on the ground like Bond’s trump dispassionate, drone-based destruction. (It also finds 007 in rare PSA mode, referring to smoking as a “filthy habit” before slugging a cancer stick from of a nameless thug’s face.) That’s because the admirals order a cruise missile strike — not noticing, as Bond has, nukes mounted on a jet, whose detonation would “make Chernobyl look like a picnic.”

There’s a smoothness to Brosnan’s choreography with heavy-duty firearms that we’ve simply not seen in other Bonds. Preceding characterizations were undoubtedly more judicious with their bullets, but again, the upped stakes come calling. In this sequence, as 007 storms the jet to hijack it and hightail it out before the cruise missiles arrive, Brosnan treats his weapon like a lithe, familiar partner, with whom he effortlessly wipes out bad guys in a ballroom dance of bloodshed.

Chips and circuits burrowing and reconstituting into flesh lend the opening credits a cybernetic fluidity. It’s a jump into the pool of zeroes and ones overseen by the film’s media-mogul villain, Elliot Carver (Pryce), and a precursor to the darker side of digital data in the “Girl with the these Tattoo” remake’s credits. Technically proficient and ominously unsettling, the images are nevertheless diminished by a deadly dull Bond theme.

Sheryl Crow eventually adapted her juke-joint voice to fit in on Top-40 radio, but the smoky-nightclub vibe simply doesn’t suit her. Her gravel and grit work lamenting love lost over a sparsely strummed acoustic guitar, but you can hear the uncertainty in her delivery, and the shredding in her vocal cords, as the chorus swells.

As with the three previous Bond films, a dueling song plays over the end credits. Its name is “Surrender,” but as kd lang repeats “Tomorrow never dies” ad nauseum, you sense it was only so named for lack of another option. Better than Crow’s number if still exceptionally predictable, lang’s is simply the lesser of two evils. One can’t help but think there wasn’t a strong roster of songs from which to choose.

“Tomorrow” would have been better off mimicking “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” — forgoing a vocal theme for an instrumental number. Composed for the film, Moby’s reworked version of “The James Bond Theme” is as high-tech, harried and hurried as “Tomorrow” itself, but it’s strangely unused. (That said, composer David Arnold fuses the era’s techno style to classical elegance far better than non-John Barry composers before him.)

Moby’s cultural ubiquity awaited a few years later. But before that, he essentially envisioned an all-new movement to a longstanding theme. And by sequencing Brosnan and Sean Connery together in samples, he respectfully bridges past and present.

It would make a far more frenetic musical counterpoint to Carver’s plan, for which he’ll use the GPS encoder Gupta snatched. Carver’s plot hatches with shades of “The Spy Who Loved Me” (his stealth ship much like Stromberg’s Atlantis) and “For Your Eyes Only” (his sea drill scissoring through British frigate HMS Devonshire).

Carver then orders the destruction of a Chinese jet observing the frigate, the theft of a nuclear missile from the sinking Devonshire, and the death of any survivors using Chinese firearms. All of this from his German ivory tower, where he writes up a newspaper headline for the horror he’s just orchestrated, his face alight from the glow of an omniscient, Orwellian bank of TVs.

With both nations on the brink of war, M tasks 007 to investigate evidence she’s kept silent — a signal from one of Carver’s communications satellites, which she suspects guided the Devonshire into Chinese waters. (Again, Dench excels at bulldog bursts in which M defends her power in this new regime against shouting men.)

On the hubristic posters that drape his skyscraper, Carver boasts a menacing scowl. But Pryce has a hoot and a half, leaving Carver giddy and breathless over his psychopathic exploits. He puts a Peter Lorre-esque hitch of glee in his throat when he gets excited. He slaps and slams a portable keyboard with one hand (and must have one hell of a spell-check). And no Bond villain has ever gotten so mockingly loosey-goosey before.

Carver is provoking war not only for ratings but to stage a coup in China; in exchange for the power Carver provides, his puppet government will grant him exclusive broadcasting rights there for a century. If Bond can’t stop him, well … maybe the Internet will in a few years.

In the grand scheme of Bond villains’ dreams, Carver is no Goldfinger or Blofeld. And his eventual demise is somewhat of a letdown.

But Carver develops an uncommonly personal stake in seeing Bond suffer. See, Bond has wooed away mistresses, assistants, henchwomen and pilots of bad guys before, but never their wives. Just when it seems Walther and Smirnoff will be Bond’s two most loyal bedside companions in the movie, Paris (Hatcher) — with whom 007 had a fling years earlier — gives up her body and information to infiltrate Carver’s offices. In an uncommonly horndog moment, Bond raggedly gnaws at her body.

Hatcher took the role to fulfill her husband’s dream of being married to a Bond girl. (They later divorced. Shocker, right?) Later, Hatcher said, “It’s such an artificial kind of character to be playing that you don’t get any special satisfaction from it.” In no actress’s hands would Paris be a tragic figure. But Hatcher never even tries summoning Paris’s potential fear and conflict before Carver has her murdered.

Some good comes from Paris’s exit, though. First, there’s a blast of morbid humor after the fact from late, long-faced character actor Vincent Schiavelli, playing a forensic scientist who specializes in hits that can’t be traced. (“I am especially good at the celebrity overdose,” he brags.)

Most importantly, the movie never looks back afterward. “Tomorrow’s” second hour is one furious action setpiece after another — each one terrific, many letting a Bond girl steal the show and a couple of them acknowledging 007’s adolescence.

First, Brosnan lets loose an exuberant, boyish laugh as he literally turns his BMW 750i into a toy in a chase as limber as it is intense. Then, there’s a HALO (High Altitude, Low Opening) jump, which took 80 attempts and is impressive in any language — even the Spanish one in the clip below.

But those are just a floor show before the aerial fireworks once 007 pairs with Wai to foil Carver’s plan. Yeoh was introduced to American audiences a year before with the American-dubbed reissue of Jackie Chan’s “Supercop.” And to protect 007’s sacred vanity, “Tomorrow” could have neutered her natural martial arts skills.

Instead, Wai is sexy because she’s so breathtakingly self-reliant — skittering and scrambling high and low while filling out a catsuit that would make Emma Peel beam. Even with a gun in her face, Wai will go down kicking. And “Tomorrow” lets her intimidate 007 a bit, Brosnan pausing for some jumpy hesitation around her.

Albeit with a sexual spark, there’s an element of “The Defiant Ones” as Bond and Wai, handcuffed together by Carver, evade his clutches and bicker who will drive their escape motorcycle. (This sparring for position is real, as Spottiswoode independently told each actor to not let the other gain control.)

It’s merely a bonus that the ensuing juggernaut action addresses a very real problem of how two people shackled to each other sit on a motorcycle. This rough-and-tumble rollick through Vietnam plays like an Old West showdown with a helicopter. And it’s not just a big blockbuster payoff once the helicopter tilts vertically like an urban assault blender, it’s yet another bold embodiment of 007’s brave craziness.

Sure, “Tomorrow” excels mostly as a go-go-go thrill machine. But it’s a lot like one of the canon’s more cleverly naughty entendres, uttered here by Moneypenny: “You always were a cunning linguist, James.” Obvious and crass enough to please everyone’s inner schoolboy, but presented with just the right touch of eloquence and ingenuity.

Sometimes, James Bond is just a kid.


The competition to perform the official Bond theme was fiercer than usual, with a dozen submissions. Among the un-chosen: Danish rockers Swan Lee, a lesser-known (read cheaper) spin on the Cardigans sound, whose number wound up in the “Hitman: Blood Money” videogame; British band Pulp, whose take isn’t bad once it gets past frontman Jarvis Cocker’s usually indifferent, sneering, piss-take introduction; and British dance band Saint Etienne’s bongo-bouncing Sixpence None the Richer knockoff, which lacks either edge or grandeur until the last minute. “Tomorrow Never Dies” is the only one of Pierce Brosnan’s four Bond films not to open atop the American box office. By a $3.5 million margin, it was bested by a delayed-from-summer, $200 million blockbuster that some pundits predicted would end its director’s career. You may know it as “Titanic.”

Let loose in the 1920s, 007’s aggressive sexuality would give the Crawleys the vapors. However, “Tomorrow” has two connections to “Downton Abbey.” Hugh Bonneville, Downton’s Earl of Grantham, briefly appears as an HMS Bedford crewmember, and “Downton’s” creator, Oscar winner Julian Fellowes, plays the British Minister of Defence.

Long before he played Dracula, the Phantom of the Opera, King Leonidas or Tullus Aufidius, Gerard Butler was just a Leading Seaman on the doomed HMS Devonshire:

The original title was “Tomorrow Never Lies,” in reference to Tomorrow, the film’s newspaper in the film. However, an error in faxing the title to MGM led to its interpretation as “Tomorrow Never Dies.” The studio liked that so much it stuck.

Next week: “The World is Not Enough”

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You Only Live Twenty-Thrice: “GoldenEye” Fri, 28 Sep 2012 04:01:12 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

“You Only Live Twenty-Thrice” is Nick Rogers’ look back at the James Bond films.

Each Friday until the release of the 23rd official Bond film, “Skyfall,” Nick will revisit its 22 official predecessors from start to finish, with a bonus post for the unofficial films in which James Bond also appears.

Whither James Bond in the 1990s? A cultural relic crushed under the rubble of the dissolved USSR? The last bargaining chip for a beleaguered studio with a revolving door of leaders and owners? A name deplorably, and confusingly, hijacked to sell Cadbury candy?

Between 1989 and 1995, the real world that the Bond films came to reflect changed drastically. The Soviet Union’s dissolution was but one shift. The Berlin Wall fell. Germany reunited. The Persian Gulf and Bosnian wars began. Countries reduced nuclear arms left and right. Civil war in Rwanda claimed nearly a million lives.

After six years away, did the world need James Bond?

This question simultaneously haunts and invigorates 1995’s “GoldenEye.” And, in one of the franchise’s most adrenalized action sequences, the answer arrives in a moment of cerebral context and kicked ass.

Bond (Pierce Brosnan, in his long-overdue debut in the role) has narrowly escaped death at the hands of Ouromov (Gottfried John), a rogue Russian general. After the ensuing firefight, Ouromov kidnaps Natalya Simonova (Izabella Scorupco), a hapless computer programmer and sole survivor of an Ouromov-orchestrated slaughter.

Bond could leave Natalya behind; after all, he’s now seen the face of Janus, the Russian gangster with a plan to commandeer a satellite weapon for dirty deeds. But that? That is not what heroes do.

Any lingering doubt of Bond’s place in the new world order is obliterated with the bricks through which he blasts that tank. It’s both a breathtaking effect and a brilliant assertion that this is a legendary face of heroism — a man undaunted by danger and unafraid to literally knock down a wall for what’s right. This scene occurs at the end of the film’s second act, but it’s the moment that Brosnan truly arrives at his own interpretation in the role as an almost balletic man of action — less visibly tortured than Timothy Dalton, more brutally efficient than Roger Moore.

And it’s not simply a sight gag when the Pegasus statue adorns Bond’s commandeered beast of war like a cement hood ornament. Here, Bond evokes Bellerophon, a Greek hero who tamed the Pegasus and rode it to victory against monsters most foul. An impulsive, brash hero facing and conquering the strange and unknown en route to triumph? What better metaphor for a post-Cold War Bond?

This isn’t the only mythological meme in “GoldenEye”; not by coincidence does the villain brand himself Janus, after a two-faced Roman god of beginnings and transitions who could look to the past and the future. This is a villain on whose mind yesteryear weighs heavily, painfully and unforgivably, and he will put 007 through his paces.

Sure, “GoldenEye” suffers from some ill-aged, mid-’90s effects work, but it remains an engrossing, emotionally engaging introduction to Brosnan’s Bond — parceling out a potent pocket of pain for the character en route to the reboot of 2006’s “Casino Royale.”

It certainly snatched a major victory from the jaws of what seemed like certain defeat. What remains the longest hiatus in franchise history jeopardized the series’ longstanding promise: “James Bond will return.”

The box-office fizzle of 1989’s “Licence to Kill” shook and stirred the Bond camp. John Glen, director of five consecutive films, was tossed. So, too, was Richard Maibaum, nearly synonymous with the series after co-writing 13 of its 16 films. Save “additional dialogue” for 1968’s “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” Maibaum wrote virtually nothing else in the last 30 years of his life, which ended after illness in 1991.

Producer Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli put Danjaq, the parent company of EON Productions (which makes the Bond films) up for sale. And he got embroiled in what became a multi-year battle over international TV rights to the Bond films — asserted by French mega-studio Pathe after merging with Qintex, an Australian broadcasting company that had bought MGM/UA, the distributor of every Bond film.

Production dates on a new movie passed in 1990, 1991 and 1993. After that, a new regime at MGM/UA made amends with Broccoli and began talking Bond on the producer’s terms — which included honoring Dalton’s three-picture contract. But as production was delayed yet again in early 1994, Dalton, five years older after his last go-round and no start date in sight, announced he wouldn’t be returning.

This wasn’t a new problem, but finding a replacement was never easier. Post-“Remington Steele,” Brosnan’s career became a stalled-out mess of TV action, straight-to-video schlock and brief turns in “The Lawnmower Man,” “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Love Affair.” Moreover, becoming Bond let Brosnan honor the wish of his late wife, Cassandra Harris, who introduced Brosnan and Broccoli while on the set of “For Your Eyes Only” and succumbed to ovarian cancer in 1991.

And with Broccoli’s declining health, two longtime Bond-film associates stepped into the producers’ spots — his daughter, Barbara Broccoli, and stepson, Michael G. Wilson, both actively involved in various franchise roles for years. Theirs was the first Bond film to not use any existing elements from Ian Fleming’s source material.

New world. New Bond. New blood. New ideas. So, how does “GoldenEye” radically reintroduce us to Commander Bond? With the worst-ever musical fanfare to darken the gun sight through which the hero saunters. This sleepy, skronky score of “chicka-chicka” percussion, chintzy, synthesized brass samples and more chanting than an Enigma record comes from Eric Serra — the composer of choice for French filmmaker Luc Besson.

Save the sparsely somber, downbeat piano during Bond’s eventual meeting with Janus, there’s irreparable dissonance between Serra’s notes and the movie’s tone. Most telling: Serra’s original accompaniment to the tank scene was replaced by a piece from composer John Altman. Here’s Serra’s original take, fraught with weird, modulated voices that recall the Art of Noise run amok.

At least Bond is introduced with greater force, pounding the pavement on a dam adjacent to a USSR chemical weapons facility. (As it turns out, we’re in 1986, with history rewritten to put Brosnan in the Bond role then, as was originally intended.) He accesses the facility only after a jump from atop the dam — a real-life 720-foot dive performed by Wayne Michaels that set a record for the highest bungee jump off a fixed structure. A 2002 Sky Movies poll called it the best movie stunt of all time. Clearly, those people have forgotten the opening moments of “The Spy Who Loved Me” or even “Moonraker,” in which prerequisite safety measures weren’t plainly visible the entire time.

But Bond isn’t the only MI6 agent there; Alec Trevelyan, 006 (Sean Bean), awaits him for a mission to destroy the facility. “For England, James?,” Alec asks before action. “For England, Alec,” goes the familiar, confident response of a longtime comrade. Once spotted, Alec is far more ruthless with his weapon, and an itchy trigger finger puts him at the wrong end of Ouromov’s gun. After a nearly point-blank bullet to Alec’s head, Bond flinches for his friend and commences his escape.

It’s not promising to see “GoldenEye” hinge the kicker of this 1995 sequence on the sort of visual effects that felt hoary in 1985. But still, someone actually jumped from that motorcycle midair; stuntman B.J. Worth has said he could feel the plane’s kerosene spray on his face.

“GoldenEye” is the first Bond film to use computer-generated effects. And where they truly come in handy are in Daniel Kleinman’s opening credits. Kleinman honors the time-honored traditions of Maurice Binder (who died in 1991) while introducing one himself: a sequence that befits the story to follow. In almost Dali-esque fashion, scantily clad hotties use their stilettos to topple figurehead statues and dismantle the hammer and sickle. But even in Tina Turner’s sufficient, if not terribly stirring, Bond theme (written by U2’s Bono and The Edge), there’s a sinking sensation that “GoldenEye” might just be going through the motions.

And despite the nice “Goldfinger” homage, that feeling continues during a muscle-versus-hustle car chase in Monte Carlo. It’s between Bond’s Aston Martin DB5 (later replaced by a BMW Z3 per a three-picture deal for product placement) and a Ferrari F355 driven by an as-yet-unknown femme fatale.

Ah, but the fear of middling stuff gets sloughed to the side once we see this leggy beauty in action. Xenia Onatopp is an amorous anaconda who lures men into bed and squeezes the life out of them with her seemingly iron thighs. Famke Janssen so lustily throws herself into these sexual kills that you can practically sense her precise moment of orgasm with the popping of bones. This is the first time we’ve seen a Bond girl so actively, remorselessly evil; only May Day from “A View to a Kill” comes close, but even she came around to 007’s way of thinking by the end. Onatopp cannot be persuaded; Bond will either be her executioner or her victim.

She fuses the franchise’s legacy of sex and violence into one unforgettable, eruptive, deadly package. And while Bond neither sleeps with nor succumbs to her — “Once again, the pleasure was all yours,” she snarls after he bests her once again — Janssen is a flesh-and-blood predator whose juices flow with the thrill of the hunt.

“GoldenEye” pleasantly tweaks old standbys as well. Moneypenny is no longer a mere formality, as Samantha Bond gives her the same effortless, flinty moxie as Lois Maxwell in her heyday. To her, the penalty for Bond’s “sexual harassment,” words finally spoken, are that he may one day have to make good on his innuendoes. And although there’s a tinge of sadness in seeing once razor-sharp Desmond Llewelyn clearly reading lines off cue cards, Q is a wilier old coot, finally sharing Bond’s middle-school chortle over the cachet of cool contraptions at his disposal.

The movie reserves its most radical re-envisioning for M, a formidable, newly female presence played by Judi Dench — who has continued to hold the role through six more movies. No longer the simple authority figure Bond either obeyed or defied, Dench’s casting creates an ideological battle of sorts for control of this particular coop — the mother hen versus the cock of the walk.

She’s not interested in how her predecessor minded the store, openly branding Bond a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur” and “a relic of the Cold War” over drinks in her office.

“You think I’m a bean counter,” she says to a snide, petulant Bond in her tirade. “But I have no compunction sending you to your death.”

Dench specializes in this stolid, impassive, no-bullshit berating, and there’s a cold, snapping sting to her final statement. Moments later, she softens the blow by telling Bond to “come back alive” from a mission to investigate Onatopp and Ouromov’s theft of an attack helicopter. But it doesn’t dilute the potency of their relationship.

M is the lone woman in a sandbox of men, and it’s handcuffing her influence. And besides, isn’t intelligence gathering supposed to be safer now? More distant and detached, with the action carried out by drone planes and missiles? But she knows Bond, with his old-school, on-the-ground dedication, is her best defense. Here begins a begrudging, often-squabbling mother-son bond that, from all indicators, comes home to roost in “Skyfall.”

Onatopp and Ouromov’s trail leads to a wintry bunker in Severnaya, where Onatopp guns down everyone with a smile before the duo absconds with controls for GoldenEye — a long-dormant Soviet satellite weapon capable of wiping out entire cities with an electromagnetic pulse or EMP. What they don’t know is that Natalya has survived; what she doesn’t know is that her presumed-dead, smarmy-horndog cubicle-mate Boris (Alan Cumming) is actually one of their stooges.

One of the movie’s central questions: How can you move on after you survive an attack your close colleagues don’t — ones who allegedly died in the service of a greater nationalistic ideal for the benefit of their country? If you’re wondering how that applies to 007, well, Sean Bean isn’t in this movie for nothing.

There are helpful Russian gangsters like Valentin Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane), who, after quid pro quo from Bond, arranges a meeting with Janus. And then there’s Janus himself — the pseudonym of Alec, whose ragged, right-cheek scar represents a face gazing into the past.

When Bond discovers Alec is alive, it’s in a graveyard of titans who have fallen into disrepair and irrelevancy — the same traits Alec ascribes to MI6, against whose interests he was working from the get-go. That’s because his thousand-yard stare into bygone days goes back well before his work with Bond.

We learn why in an unforgettable scene of existential drama — rife with betrayal, questions of loyalty and how men of violence balance their karmic ledger — in which Bean delivers the meatiest, most sobering Bond-villain monologue of all. It’s one that solidifies our suspicion that for the 33 years we’ve known Bond, there are consequences we can’t even begin to comprehend.

Note how director Martin Campbell and cinematographer Phil Meheux frame Bond and Alec like chess pieces — moved around by an unseen, omniscient master and sacrificed as is seen fit. And the way the light hits them emphasizes the dark and grittiness of their surroundings — brief shafts and blasts that obscure faces and truth. It’s no wonder that Campbell would return to more explicitly explore Bond’s tumultuous inner turmoil 11 years later with “Casino Royale.”

“Come back alive,” M has told him, but to what kind of life? One in which love, friendship and certainty are so easily annihilated? “GoldenEye” treats 007’s motivation, his very livelihood, as a zero-sum game fraught with impossible choice between friends and missions. And although Brosnan fits silkily into Bond’s suaveness, he’s almost all business here, and like Dalton, we see hints of roiling anger. Even the woman with whom he enjoys a casual sex tussle at the beginning is an MI6 analyst gauging his psychological fitness. For all the confidence he carries into the role he was born to play, Brosnan is unnerved at all the right moments.

And Alec will doggedly pursue 007 far beyond this movie. That’s because he breaks the bottle into which Bond has stuffed any too-personal moments of carnage and casualties. Psychologically, he’s the greatest foe Bond has ever faced — a mirror-cracked reflection of his heroism. His petulance, inferiority complex and physical might all roll into one compelling characterization. And he’s the perfect foe against whom to pit Bond in a savage hand-to-hand brawl 500 feet above the ground.

Working on Alec’s behalf, Ouromov and Onatopp have given him the GoldenEye. With Boris’s help, Alec intends to clean out the Bank of England and use the satellite’s EMP to erase the evidence, destroy its records and ruin Britain’s economy. Bond and Natalya eventually track Alec and Boris to Cuba, where the two duke it out from a precarious position above a satellite dish. It’s a wholly believable pummeling between blood brothers whom betrayal has torn apart. Save a few fleeting moments, Brosnan and Bean performed these stunts themselves, and Brosnan’s hand injury even caused a delay in filming.

It’s a stone-cold moment of retribution when Bond drops Alec … undercut moments later by the warm smile he flashes to Natalya as she approaches in a helicopter. Yet again, the series isn’t ready to lay Bond’s psychological complexities completely naked, cold and bare. But in ending a long, six-year hiatus, “GoldenEye” can hardly be faulted for occasionally conceding to casual entertainment — especially with a superior villain, action sequence and Bond girl of all-time status.

Whither James Bond in 1997, 1999 and 2002? Leading the charge of blockbuster thrill machines, some of them bizarrely brilliant. Whither James Bond in 1995? Back, with far more authority and accomplishment than expected.

Next week: “Tomorrow Never Dies”


“GoldenEye” means far more than just the title of a James Bond film and flagship Nintendo 64 title. Ian Fleming created 007 while writing at his Jamaican estate, which he nicknamed “Goldeneye.” Plus, Operation Golden Eye was the name of a World War II plan from the Allies to monitor Spain after the Spanish Civil War should it align itself with the Axis Powers. That plan’s architect? Lt. Commander Ian Fleming of British Naval Intelligence.

Mere months after her breakout role opposite Chris O’Donnell in “Circle of Friends,” Minnie Driver briefly turned up in “GoldenEye” — playing Russian gangster Valentin Zukovsky’s mistress and unglamorously warbling Tammy Wynette’s classic “Stand By Your Man.”

MGM approached John Woo to direct “GoldenEye,” and he declined. However, “GoldenEye” is still the first 007 film to be directed by someone other than a Brit, as Martin Campbell is a native New Zealander.

“GoldenEye” is the second straight 007 film to not shoot at Pinewood Studios, home of the famous 007 Studio. At the time, it was being used for “First Knight,” which co-starred the inaugural onscreen 007, Sean Connery. Instead, producers converted an abandoned Rolls-Royce factory and christened it Leavesden Film Studios.

To avoid destroying St. Petersburg’s streets during the tank chase, the Russian tank’s steel tracks were replaced with rubber tracks from a British tank. A trained stunt driver also sat prone and hidden in the tank, controlling it while it looked like Pierce Brosnan, hair billowing in the wind, was actually driving.

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Expectations for Skyfall Fri, 21 Sep 2012 14:20:17 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

“Skyfall,” or Bond 23, will be released this October in the UK, just a few weeks shy of the 50th anniversary of the release of 1962’s “Dr. No,” aka Bond 1. Bond has much to live up to, given the pressure from recent mainstream franchises like the Bourne and Batman films. And “Skyfall” almost didn’t happen because of financial troubles threatening studio MGM back in 2010.
The crack screenwriting team of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade — who cowrote the last five Bond films and transitioned from one Bond (Pierce Brosnan) to another (Daniel Craig) — are paired with Oscar-nominated screenwriter John Logan (2000’s “Gladiator”). According to Craig, he approached director Sam Mendes at a party in New York and suggested he should direct the next Bond, which he has — bringing with him a varied directing background from “American Beauty” (1999) to “Jarhead” (2005) and “Away We Go” (2009).
This is Craig’s third turn as 007, and he’s successfully moulded James Bond into a modern man of action, moving the character away somewhat from the traditional suave international man of mystery of the Sean Connery or Roger Moore era.

The Plot

This is always the most closely guarded secret of a big film release, particularly for a franchise like Bond. Luckily, the trailers haven’t given too much away, so even the most diehard film fans can be kept guessing. Based on those trailers, though, the rumour mills have been churning out some pretty heavy doom and gloom plot threads. From the general atmosphere, it seems as though both Bond’s loyalties are being tested and MI6 is under attack. One poster for “Skyfall” features an upside down Big Ben. Things seem to be coming apart at the seams, what with Bond drinking heavily in a seedy bar after being shot, M (Judi Dench) lurking behind flag-draped coffins and even part of the MI6 HQ blown up. M herself is a big part of the overriding plot in “Skyfall.” According to Bond’s new nemesis (see below for details), she’s been “a very bad girl” and mentions to Bond about how there were only two of them left. M is also seen getting a telling off from Chief of Intelligence Mallory (Ralph Fiennes, of 2002’s “Red Dragon”) for losing a list of agents’ names; hello, NOC list storyline of 1996’s “Mission: Impossible.”

The Villain

Considering things are coming apart for Bond and MI6, it is probably fitting that his new nemesis could possibly be a former agent, one that has worked side by side with Bond. In the trailer, note the set up of the point of view shot from where Bond is sitting, tied to a chair at one end of a long room. At the other is an elevator which dramatically opens, revealing a blonde Javier Bardem as Raoul Silva. No doubt he plays a pivotal role in the “Skyfall” plot; his background and reasons for his villainous activity are a closely guarded secret. There is a sinister atmosphere surrounding Silva; perhaps Bardem will be channelling some Anton Chigurh, his frightening character from “No Country For Old Men” (2007).

The Girls

We know of two girls in the new Bond film. Bérénice Marlohe’s glamorous Sévérene is the typical Bond girl — an alluring, seductive and dangerous femme fatale thanks to the fact that Silva is her boss. In the trailer, however, she pleads a warning to Bond about him, prompting the idea she might be playing for both sides or has perhaps already fallen for Bond’s charms. Things have never boded well for her character type in the past, as they frequently meet sticky ends. Naomie Harris’ character, the highly trained and capable field agent Eve, plays a much more pivotal role. In one scene in Turkey, she and Bond are working side by side, something rare for him as he usually works alone, when something about their mission goes wrong. She’s also commanded by M to “take the bloody shot,” but at whom? She’s aiming at Bond and the man he’s fighting on top of a moving train. As a possible match for Bond, her character will definitely move the plot forward in “Skyfall” and Harris’s varied film bio will come in handy, having starred in two “Pirates of the Caribbean” films and played Ian Dury’s lover in 2010’s “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll.”

The Gadgets

With new gadgets, or at least updated ones, comes a new Q to design them and present them to Bond. For the first time in Bond’s extensive history, Q is a young man (even younger than Bond) and played by up-and-coming Brit actor Ben Whishaw. He’s been building experience on the stage in roles like “Hamlet,” but his most notable film role was the lead in Tom Tykwer’s dark and seedy 2006 thriller “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.” The character was last seen in “Die Another Day” (2002), played by John Cleese (1997’s “Fierce Creatures”), who was R then became Q during the course of the film. Bond’s new Walther PPK/S is now equipped with owner recognition via palm print (that’s surely going to feature somewhere), much like the guns used by the Judges in “Dredd.” The Aston Martin DB5 is back and no doubt laden with hidden gadgets, both offensive and defensive. Hopefully, with the return of Q and his R&D division, the technology won’t get too futuristic, and perhaps there’ll be some good, old-fashioned quick wit from Q himself.


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Coming to DVD and Blu-ray Jan. 3 Tue, 03 Jan 2012 02:08:10 +0000 Continue reading ]]>


One man’s worst nightmare becomes a threat to the world in this medical thriller with an all-star cast. Thomas Emhoff (Matt Damon) is thrown into the midst of a medical crisis when his wife falls victim to a virus that quickly becomes airborne. As the public begins to panic, medical examiners race to find a cure. Also starring Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Rated PG-13

I Don’t Know How She Does It

Kate Reddy (Sarah Jessica Parker) is a busy wife and mother trying to hold things together at home and in her career. As she watches her own best friend juggle the demands of work and home, Kate finds herself stretched even thinner when she begins work on an account that demands more travel, more attention and more of Kate. Also starring Greg Kinnear, Christina Hendricks, Kelsey Grammer and Pierce Brosnan. Based on the novel of the same name.

Rated PG-13

Also on DVD and Blu-ray this week:





“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” (Katie Holmes, Rated R)

“The Guard” (Don Cheadle, Rated R)

“Mildred Pierce” (Kate Winslet, Not Rated)

“Puncture” (Chris Evans, Rated R)

“The Greening of Whitney Brown” (Brooke Shields, Rated PG)

“Chateau Meroux” (Barry Watson, Rated PG-13)

“Removal” (Billy Burke, Rated R)

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Coming to DVD August 3rd Sun, 01 Aug 2010 03:00:57 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Kick-Ass

Dave may have the heart of a superhero but not necessarily the superpowers. That, however, doesn’t stop him from living out his wildest, comic book style adventures. Inspired, he becomes Kick-Ass, taking to the streets to fight crime. Doing so, he finds himself face to face with violent criminals and a band of new, crime fighting friends.

Rated R

Read Lauren’s interview with star Aaron Johnson…

The Ghost Writer

Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan start in this intellectual thriller about a ghost writer who may have discovered a dark secret about Britain’s prime minister while working on the project of writing the leader’s memoirs. As accusations mount that the prime minister could be linked to a war crime so does speculation from reporters and activists.

Rated PG-13


Anna Taylor (Christina Ricci) is alarmed when she wakes up to find her own body being prepared for burial after being involved in a tragic car accident. A car accident that apparently caused her death. The funeral director handling her body explains she is simply on a journey to the after life. But Anna remains confused about what’s happening to her and her boyfriend can’t shake the suspicion that something about his girlfriend’s supposed death isn’t what it seems.

Rated R

Also on DVD August 3rd

Open House (Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Rated R)

Finding Bliss (Jamie Kennedy, Denise Richards, Not Rated)

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Steve Zahn, Rated PG)

Blood Done Sign My Name (Rick Schroder, Rated PG-13)

Spike (Edward Gusts, Not Rated)

Hoboken Hollow P&S (C. Thomas Howell, Not Rated)

To Save a Life (Bubba Lewis, Not Rated)

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