Tuesday, May 3, 2011

James Bond Start to Finish

Part One:

I posted the article elsewhere about a year ago.  Some alterations were made for this presentation.

     Originally, I had decided to sit down and watch the first couple James Bond films, in part because I wanted to watch Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace again, but wanted to get myself back in a Bond sort of mood.  And partly because I was on a 60s action adventure movie kick.  But, after watching the first couple films, I realized I’d started something that I wanted to see through to the end.  I had sort of subconsciously decided to watch all the official Bond films, in order.

     In some cases, it was my first time seeing the film in two decades.  Some are familiar favorites I watch with some regularity.  Viewing them in their original order gave me a different perspective than I’d had before, enjoying little bits of continuity and cringing at occasional repetitiveness.

Didn't I see you guys a couple years ago?

     What follows are my reviews upon watching each film, and then a few thoughts I had after watching the whole series over a few months.

Dr. No:  The first Bond film is probably my favorite performance of Connery as Bond, though not my favorite Connery Bond film (probably From Russia With Love).  He’s cold, ruthless, but smooth when he wants to be; when it gets the job done.  The music, the setting, the dialog, and the totally over the top spy adventure set the stage for one of the most successful film franchises of all time.  Gorgeous ladies, daring heroes, and vile villains make for the stuff of Cold War era legend.  A must.  A true classic.

From Russia With Love:  The second film picks up not long after the first, with Bond having earned himself an enemy in SPECTRE.  Connery plays Bond a bit less savage here, and a little more suave.  But he’s still tough and ruthless when he needs to be.  The locations are gorgeous, the story intriguing, and the ladies lovely.  I especially enjoy Daniela Bianchi, whose femme fatal is a bit more playful than expected.  What I like about Connery, and recently Craig, is the brutality of the hand to hand fighting.  No clean chops here.  Bond brawls and plays as dirty as he can in his climactic fight with Robert Shaw’s competent thug.  Good stuff all around.

Goldfinger:  They can’t all be winners, and Goldfinger is the first Bond film that doesn’t quite do it for me.  Connery is fine, as are the various ladies.  But the villain is pretty lame, and his plot is only so-so.  It’s the first film to have the ‘Q-Branch test room’ sequence, which gets out of hand rather quickly.  Overall, it’s simply a bit underwhelming and uninspired.  There are certainly good moments.  But it’s not one of the best.

Thunderball:  A classic Bond film, this is another world spanning adventure filled with exotic locations, women, and gadgets.  Connery leaves his hat behind, does a lot of swimming, and battles the bad guys while pursuing as many lovely ladies as he can.   The early Connery films are great looking movies, that lovingly look around the world of the 1960s.  Take a trip back and enjoy.  Excellent stuff.

You Only Live Twice:  A somewhat uninspired chapter in the James Bond franchise, much of this film felt phoned in.  With only one major location, Japan, even the usual world hopping element of Bond is missing.  There’s another giant shoot out at the enemy layer.  And most cringe inducing is the film’s extremely condescending attitude toward the Japanese (including Connery in terrible makeup that’s supposed to let him fit in).  Some of the scenery is really good, and there are some attractive ladies.  Not a good out for Connery who would be replaced by George Lazenby in the next film.

Connery as a Romulan?

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service:  On my third attempt, with the aid of coffee and a comic book to read when it got too bad, I finally made it through this film from star to finish, conscious.  With Telly Savalas and Dianna Rigg as supporting cast, it should have been great.  Rigg should have become my favorite Bond girl.  But, alas, the script’s dullness is surpassed only by that of the leading man, George Lazenby.  I have no idea how he got the job, but his complete lifeless performance killed this movie.  As of its release in 1969, it’s also the longest Bond film, and the most desperately in need of substantial editing.  With long sequences of hot photocopying action, two extended and boring ski sequences, and lots of standing around, it just takes forever to get anywhere, and when it does…Who cares?

I hope there's enough ink!

Diamonds are Forever:  Sean Connery returns for one last go at James Bond (in an official franchise film).  He’s noticeably older, and the film is pretty standard Bond stuff.  But it’s good, and it looks nice.  A few interesting locations and a much more lively script than On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, make it a nice semi-comeback for the series.  Not great, but pretty good.  And the two gay hitmen are a riot.

I've got it.  Crispin.

Live and Let Die:  Oh, my.  This cringe inducing Bond film is only slightly less racist than the book it’s based on.  When you boil the plot down, it’s basically Bond VS Black People.  I used to really enjoy this film, but I think it was my love of Yaphet Koto and the beauty of Jane Seymour.  As an adult, however, the rampant racist stereotypes, slow pacing, and extended, not funny, comic relief of Sheriff J.W. Pepper  make this a rough start for Roger Moore’s tenure as Bond.  Not going on my list of the best.

The Man With the Golden Gun:  Ah.  The best Bond movie since Thunderball has Bond facing off against a super skilled assassin/playboy, played by dashing Christopher Lee.  Shades of The Most Dangerous Game mix well with some gorgeous exotic locations and beautiful women (especially the very cute Britt Ekland).  Moore is fully comfortable with the role and he plays it well, though a touch more tongue in cheek than I like.  And though it’s longer than the previous film, it has much better pacing, so it’s easier to watch.  There is an unfortunate brush with comic relief, again in the "Ugly American" form of Sheriff J.W. Pepper.  But he’s slightly less annoying than in Live and Let Die.  While the story isn’t especially complex, it’s well done and a fun watch.  A must for Bond fans.

The Spy Who Loved Me:  When people think of James Bond, I think this is really the movie they’re thinking of.  Super-villain?  Crazy science fiction hideout?  Weird silent henchmen with odd killing technique?  Sexy Russian woman?  Underwater fight scenes, skiing, world travel, weird gadgets, fast cars,  and a huge gun battle finale?  Yes.  It’s all those things and more.  A movie that could have single handedly inspired the Austin Powers franchise, it’s a must for fans, and probably one of the easiest to just sit down and watch.  Is it the best?  No.  But it’s one of the most fun.

Moonraker:  Though it frequently descends into goofy humor, and the end battle mirrors the end of Thunderball a bit too much (space for water), this movie is actually much better than I remembered.  Hugo Drax is another crazy megalomaniac bent on reshaping the world to his own vision.  The sets and location shooting are impressive, with plenty of world hopping going on.  The leading lady is smart and sexy, and the usual Bond notes are hit at the expected places.  It’s funny that this used to be one of my least favorite of the franchise, but I now enjoy it quite a bit.  I prefer the more ‘down to earth’ Bond films.  But as far as the more silly ones go, this isn’t bad.

Not Star Wars.  Totally not Star Wars.  We mean it.
James Bond Will Be Back in Part 2 of this article...


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