Saturday, July 27, 2013

007 Project #20 Dr. No

Dr. No

The first entry into the James Bond movie franchise has everything you want from a great Bond flick, except for a credible villain.  Dr. No himself is about as threatening as an angry kitten.  Maybe it is just my post-postmodern sensibilities, and maybe in the era of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a character like Dr. No presented more of a real danger. Watching this film today he comes across as rather ineffective and without teeth.  His plan is to hijack a Mercury rocket and then bend it to some nefarious purpose that was never really clear to me.  That alone, I suppose, could be a credible threat and reasonable plot for a criminal mastermind, but the scope of his operation seems greatly disproportionate to the size of his actual plan. 

What he is trying to do could be done with a super computer (even of the day, slightly futured-up) and a broadband radio station.  Instead, Dr. No has commandeered an entire Jamaican island, built a sub-sea nuclear reactor and a sprawling complex to house it in.  It just feels like overkill.  It’s like building a sub-lunar moon base out of the rarest diamonds just to disrupt a baseball game.  It is no real wonder that Austin Powers is almost a direct spoof of this movie.  Dr. No is almost a spoof of a villain compared to the amount of spying that goes into taking him down.  There is much made of the fact that he has metal hands and that he should be feared as a result of that feature.  Yet apart from mentioning that he has them, very little else is done with them.  I think he tries to karate chop (I’m still deciding if me saying that is racist) Bond at one point, but that’s about it.

Which brings us to the best part of the movie:  James Bond.  Connery knocks it out of the park right out of the gate making everyone wonder why anyone else was ever considered for the role (until Connery got Henry Jones old).  All of the James Bond action in this movie is spot on.  He’s charming, suave, always a step ahead of the bad guys, and most of all, he’s a man’s man.  He kills a man on the beach of Dr. No’s island and when Honey Ryder asks him why, he says, “because I had to.”  Sweet.  For me, this movie defines the Bond character perfectly.  There is plenty of intrigue, even with a plot as straightforward as this.  Bond is always stealthy and covert, but never completely subtle.  There aren’t a lot of reversals or plot twists, but that doesn’t make the ride any less fun, until we get to Dr. No’s house where things just kind of work out for the best.   

And there’s my real problem, I guess.  There is all of this great spy movie stuff going on in order to ferret out the mystery of what Dr. No is up to.  There are tense action sequences that get us onto the island.  There is a mental game of chess between Dr. No and Bond as they calmly discuss No’s plan at the dinner table.  And then there’s a climactic, I guess, scene where Bond turns a giant wheel, dumps Dr. No into radioactive water, and then jumps in a boat and leaves.  Ho-hum.

Also ho-hum is our Bond girl, Honey Ryder, who is practically an afterthought in this movie.  In later Bond films, for better or worse, the Bond girl usually factors into the plot in some way.  Not Honey.  She pops up on the beach in Act III searching for sea shells and, I guess, revenge for her father’s death.  She seems more motivated for the former than the latter and ultimately just ends up being an accessory to the story.  Honestly, I was far more interested in the Chinese secretary.

All in all, Dr. No isn’t a bad Bond film.  Thanks to Connery’s performance and the first two-thirds of the story, it is actually a pretty fun watch.  It just leaves me wanting more in the way of a conclusion and good, diabolical villain with a chilling scheme.  

Aimee Says:

Screw all of you, I like this movie. It's not really all that great, but it's not bad, and what's more, it's first.

This is what Bond movies are all about: 1960's travel to exotic places, Sean Connery looking slick and masculine, and a quasi-wacky super villain. That said, all of Stan's points are quite valid. This movie isn't too exciting, and it's painfully straight-forward. Ursula Andress wears a knock-out bikini and speaks dubbed dialogue; Quarrel is a fun ally until he gets killed. Villain has metal hands and a fish fetish. Check and check.

My only defense for this movie is that it is the first, and therefore, it has to serve as a kind of introduction to the series that would follow. This story in particular was selected for its relative simplicity, and it shows. For its small scale and budget, the sets were stellar. It's not the early Connery era at its finest, but it's pretty damn good...

...just not as good as roughly 19 other movies on the list. I don't think there's anything exactly wrong with it, and it's impossible to argue that it's not "Bond like" because it's the very first outing in the series. It just lacks in several areas and leaves you wishing it had been just a tiny bit more complex, and a tiny bit more thrilling.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

007 Project #21: The Man with the Golden Gun

The Man with the Golden Gun

There should never, ever, be a slide whistle in a James Bond film.  Ever.  I don’t care if it was filmed in the 1970’s, when the slide whistle was the opus of modern comedy.  There should never, ever, be a slide whistle in a James Bond movie. 


It was with the blowing of the aforementioned low-brow woodwind that what had been setting up to be a promising second showing from Roger Moore turned into something unrecognizable as a James Bond movie.  The Man with the Golden Gun starts you off with everything you want from another great Bond film, but then decides to go the other way, thanks, and ends up being a farce.  Everything in the first half of the film belongs in a great Bond flick.  You have a gimmicky villain with a master plan (a bit too grand for my tastes, but that’s ok); you have a suave Bond who is great with the ladies and constantly in peril, and you have the MI-6 gang doing their thing. There is action, there is intrigue; Bond is beating up karate students and romancing slightly horse-faced French belly dancers.  These are exactly the things you want from a Bond movie.

Then, somewhere around the 1:15 mark, things go terribly wrong.  The harbinger of doom is the implausible appearance of the redneck, racist Louisiana sheriff who provided meager comic relief in the previous film.  When he first shows up you think, oh great, what a dumb cameo.  And then he gets in the car with James and appoints himself James’ sidekick for this part of the mission.  So he rides shotgun during a rather uninteresting car chase which culminates in a Dukes of Hazzard level stunt requiring Bond’s car to jump a large inlet whilst turning a corkscrew in the air.  This absurd feat is punctuated by the absolutely unacceptable blowing of a slide whistle.

This 30-seconds of belly dance romance was a way better Bond movie
It’s possible you could overlook this part, if the thing that followed did not rival it in stupidity.  Apparently the car driven by Scaramanga can be easily converted into an airplane by simply attaching a few wings and what appears to be a mini jet engine.  Now keep in mind, this is an American car most likely made in Detroit out of real metal.  Yet the car takes off like a champ and goes soaring over the Hong Kong skies.  Once this happens there is really no turning back and things are only further compounded by a bumbling Bond girl who plays for cheap laughs like something out of Scooby-Doo.  All of this makes the reasonably Bond-level doomsday device at the end seem extremely foolish, wherein a better movie it would have worked.

The film concludes in classic Bond style, but by that point I have been lost.  The showdown on Scaramanga’s isle is pretty much exactly what you want and the denouement on Scaramanga’s ship follows suit, but all of the nonsense that precedes is damage done and the taint is impossible to deny.

Moore is solid again in his sophomore effort as Bond.  He is comfortable in the role, suave, intelligent and built for action.  True he looks extremely awkward in the karate fight scenes, but he’s also a fairly lanky Brit doing combat with lithe Asian martial artists.  His performance in this film, against the challenging odds of an absolutely ridiculous second act, solidifies him as a smart choice for the role.

Scaramanga is an excellent Bond villain. Like Goldfinger and a few others in previous films, he is intelligent and cunning with a gimmick that makes him unique without being bizarre.  Christopher Lee is exceptional in the role.  Herve Villechaize is fantastic as Nick Nack and transcends his Fantasy Island stereotype.

Britt Ecklund is a beautiful girl, but not a great sidekick

Goodnight is very fetching as Bond girls go, but she is bumbling and air-headed in a way that really cheapens the role.  Much like Tiffany Case in Diamonds are Forever, Goodnight is more Jar Jar Binks and less Chewbacca as a supporting character goes.  Maud Adams holds promise as Andrea, but ends up being a dead end.  If only she had a naughtier name.  Then again full frontal pool nudity and the name Chew Me didn't catapult Francoise Therry to Bond girl stardom.

Overall, The Man with the Golden Gun has all of the makings of a great Bond film, but it is plagued by asinine 1970’s pop movie trappings that completely undermine its potential.  A decent plot, a great villain, and a strong showing by Roger Moore cannot overcome the disappointment of a bumbling Bond girl, a doofus comic relief character, and ridiculous stunt devices.

Aimee Says:

This movie really wasn't so bad. I think we've all had enough of the hick Sheriff character, but I don't think it holds the movie back as much as it could. Stan was almost personally offended by the corkscrew jump but in all honesty, I thought it was pretty cool, and it set the tone for the film to be a little sillier.

Now, whether or not a James Bond movie should be a little sillier is up for debate. I'm inclined to say that it's usually better when Bond is slick and exciting, but Moore's Bond is a playful change of pace, and I think he can carry it off.

That being said, I have my limits, and they were tested. Specifically, while watching Christopher Lee and Herve Villechaize drive an AMC car of some type into a special barn where it was given wings. The duo then pilot/drive this abomination off into the sky. It doesn't even look cool; it looks like something from the cover of one of the less-popular Choose Your Own Adventure books.

Like this movie, almost all choices lead to sadness

All in all, the film is a little too wacky for its own good. The Bond girl is abysmally stupid, and I hate that, because I believe they could have gone the other way with her fairly easily. Her ineptitude adds nothing to the film; it is lacking even in quaint charm. I liked the look of Maud Adams here but luckily, we'll see her again in a few films, and it will be awesome.

Moore, Lee, and Villechaize knock it out of the park, but unfortunately the park is a little small; maybe even a little silly. It's a bit like having major-league baseball players descend upon a T-ball field--sure they excel, but what the hell are we watching?

I definitely didn't hate this movie, but it stands forever in my memory as the Bond film which caused Stan and I to have an extremely heated and unexpectedly serious fight that very nearly ruined the entire evening. This fight, when taken down to its essence, was a classic pitting of views. You see, Stan was aggravated that they never do more with Scaramanga's superfluous nipple after having made such a big deal about it and I felt it was fine and what more could you do? Was it supposed to shoot lasers?

And now I must retire, because I'm starting to feel the need to argue the point again.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

007 Movie Project: #22 Moonraker


Once we get to the space shuttle launching pavilion, you have lost me.  Half of this movie is a pretty solid Bond spy movie, the other half is a poorly thought out sci-fi movie that seems to want piggyback on the success of real sci-fi movies like Star Wars and Star Trek.  Simply put, James Bond does not go to space.  He prevents evil masterminds from launching devious plans that take place in space, but he does not go to space.  He also does not have absurd laser battles in space. 
I’m going to just plain ignore the ridiculous speed gondola chase and the incessant fascination with Roger Moore and boats, because they are almost forgivable when you consider where the second half of the film goes.  I am content to say that the first half of the film is fine as it is, cable car battle and all.  What I take umbrage with is the fish out of water space plot that comprises the remainder of the film.  Aimee says it best when she says that this movie tops itself so much that you forget pretty much anything that happens before you go to space once you get to space.  This is in part because all of the stuff that happens in space is just too much.

Maybe if we went to space and just had an espionage plot on a space station things would be ok, but oh no, we have to have an army battle in space with jet packs and lasers.  We have to explode a space station and drive space shuttles around like they are cars.  It is too much.  The world of James Bond is meant to closely mirror our own.  It is roughly grounded in our reality.  So when this movie attempts stunts like the space battle and the shuttle duck hunt, things that are no where close to what is realistic, it goes way too far, particularly when you consider that those other successful sci-fi movies named above do not stretch the plausibility of what is possible in space as far as this movie does.  It’s just too much.  Call me old fashioned, but I much prefer an earth-based Bond who ferrets out spies and double-agents and prevents evil masterminds from hatching their horrible schemes (which is what we have for 50% of the movie).

Too bad too, because the opening parachuting stunts were absolutely spectacular.  Who knew they were only the tip of the iceberg for how absurd this movie was going to get.
Roger Moore is solid as Bond again, but his performance is greatly upstaged by all of the space brik-a-brak.  The result is a Bond who is a little flat and given little to do, particularly once we achieve orbit.  The earth-based stuff is much better and in line with the charm and wit of Bond’s normal MO.  Moore is not terrible, but he doesn’t shine like he does in The Spy Who Loved Me and Live and Let Die.

Despite her name, Holly Goodhead proves to be a capable and strong Bond girl who plays Bond’s rival as much as she plays his love interest.  Her connection to the CIA and other twists keep her character interesting and the fact that she manages to keep her clothes on for the majority of the film is quite impressive.  It is also refreshing to see the theme of strong Bond girl overpowering the trend of the airhead Bond girl in the movies leading up to this one.

Drax is one of the most impressive Bond villains in the series not only because he has successfully constructed a space shuttle launching pavilion and a space station years ahead of any of that in the real world, but he is one of the few Bond villains to have his act so together that he nearly succeeds with his devastating plan.  Drax himself is pure evil and while not quite as cunning as previous villains he does prove persistent in his attempts to have Bond eliminated.  You must give him points for tenacity.  But again, the real villain worth talking about in this film is Jaws!  Kiel is back and better than ever.  He is such a likeable villain that his return is inevitable and greatly desirable.  And fortunately, the character is done justice in this reprise.  Jaws, once again, is the relentless foe that cannot be killed and pursues Bond at all costs.  At all costs that is, until he falls in love.  I realize this seems absurd, but in this film it works and doesn’t feel nearly as dumb as a giant space army battle with laser guns.  As a matter of fact, Jaws is so likeable that you are actually cheering for him once he finds love in the form of a diminutive, yet buxom blonde.  You get to cheer again when Jaws renounces his evil ways and ends up teaming up with Bond and Goodhead in the climactic battle.  A Bond/Jaws team-up might seem like the ultimate insult, but it works.  Somehow, it works.  Plus, for the first time, we get a Bond villain who also gets to sail off into the sunset with his gal.  Good for you Jaws!

Overall, Moonraker is half decent Bond movie, half bad sci-fi.  Unfortunately, the second half is so unbelievably bad that it cannot prop up the useable, and occasionally quite good, material from the first half, and a Jaws/Bond team up cannot bring the outrageous ending back from the brink.

Aimee says:

I want it noted that Moonraker is only on the low side because it's not a very good Bond film. It's really more of an Austin Powers plot, only played rigidly without much levity. No, that's not very fair--I think it's actually not a bad movie altogether. It's a typical late-1970s sci-fi, and if you just take it like that it's pretty fun.

But, of course, it is a Bond movie, and as such, I must rank it lower. I think the Bond girl here is great--we get a lot of bumbling moron types in these movies, so I'm always happy to see someone who is confident and competent as well as sexy.

The first half of this movie is very promising, but it goes off the rails when we find out just how insane (and complex) is the scope of Drax's plans. What starts as a fairly typical "Bond needs to find a missing space shuttle" plot quickly comes to a bizarre space drama about breeding a super-race or something. I don't really know what the end game was, but it culminates in an epic space battle.

Yeah... Bond, you've overstepped. You get in fights and you sneak around. You make clever reversals, and you out-smart the super-villain. You do not spend extended periods of time in a space shuttle fighting with lasers.

In short, I didn't hate this movie but I definitely didn't feel it was a true "Bond" adventure, especially after the halfway mark. For that reason, it's near the bottom. Not the absolute worst, just a "jump-the-shark" type entry to the series.

Friday, July 5, 2013

007 Movie Project: Die Another Day

This summer we are blowing your mind by counting up all of the Eon Productions James Bond films!  We'll rank all 23 official Bond films and tell you which are the very best and which are less than spectacular.  We'll also pick our favorite Bond, Bond girl and Bond villain.  So strap in and join us as we stroll through the Bond library!  We'd love to hear what your favorites are along the way!

We'll get the absolute worst of the bunch out of the way directly

Die Another Day

Too much.  Die Another Day is a Bond movie killed by excess.  Excess of spectacle, excess of useless characters, excess plot, this movie just has too much of everything we don’t need.  The plot is nonsensical, and not in a workable way, but in a “why are we doing this” way.  The scripting is stilted and scenes between Bond and both of his love interests end up being extremely awkward and stiff, never smooth and suave.  And while both of those have been problematic for the series historically, DAD (sorry dads out there) suffers from a third strike in the form of absolutely over-the-topness.  Absolutely.  Case in point, near the end of Act II, Bond engages his nemesis (which is a feint, as his true nemesis is set up to be, though never realized as, the person who betrayed him in North Korea) in a fencing duel that quickly escalates into a full blown sword fight.  That alone is pretty interesting and smacks of the glass museum fight from the Moore era. But rather than enjoy the moment and its novelty, the fight goes on far too long, becomes far too involved, ends up outside and all over the grounds of the private club causing volumes of damage, and ultimately resolves unsatisfactorily with the intervention of the character who fills the role described above.  It’s too much.

All of this is symptomatic of the cinematography and style of filmmaking which also lets the film down again failing to knit together a coherent story.  And when the story starts to lag, the movie fills the gaps with trendy filmmaking gimmicks like slow motion, fast motion, and quasi-Matrix level computer generated camera angles.  The film is so busy being told in a fashionable way that it doesn’t get told very well at all. (see Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance)

The opening sequence and the bit with Q (man, oh, man I miss Desmond Llewellyn), played here successfully by John Cleese, are about the only parts of this movie worth seeing.

Brosnan continues to please as Bond, but is given so little to do that you almost forget this is a Bond movie.  He is consistently upstaged by the sidekick he is saddled with, but we’ll get to her in a minute.  It is unfortunate that his era will end on such a low note, but Brosnan certainly has left his mark on the role and to his credit, never had a bad performance as the character.

Bond Girl Miranda Frost: Fetching but wasted in a confusing plot.
Now, I mentioned a sidekick.  Halle Berry is set up as our Bond girl for this film, but she also feels as out of place as Terri Hatcher or Denise Richards felt in the two previous Brosnan era movies.  Honestly, her character comes across more as a second rate Michelle Yeoh from Tomorrow Never Dies than anything else.  Her character is an agent along the lines of Yeoh or Pam Bouvier from Licence to Kill, but lacks the conviction or the impact of either of those characters.  Berry’s performance is less than spectacular and it is unsurprising that the desperate attempt to spin her character Jinx off crashed and burned before it ever left the hanger.  On the flip side, the underused Miranda Frost character provides a bit more meat for a Bond girl, but is also given little to do and is often lost in the shuffle.  This is wasted potential, particularly since she should be the primary villain.  For my money, Rosamund Pike is also far more fetching than Halle Berry here.

Toby Stevens (Gustav Graves) and Rick Yune (Zao) share the role of top villain playing dual foes for Bond.  Gustav is the primary villain and mad planner, but his plot is beyond megalomaniacal and borders on the insane, along the lines Dr. No or Moonraker (which this film is a veritable remake of).  The scenes where he matches wits with Bond are exceptional, the rest is a bit off.  Zao, on the other hand, is a great top level henchman, and is sadly not given as much to do as might have been helpful to the film.  I still don’t know why they never take the diamonds out of his face?

Overall, Die Another Day is a definite low point for the franchise.  Excessive everything, ridiculous plotting and terrible stylistic filmmaking drown competent actors and potentially interesting story elements to create a mess that guaranteed that this would be the last film of the Brosnan era.  They tried so hard to pack this film with homages to the franchise due to the release falling on an anniversary year, but it comes across, instead as a James Bond garage sale where everything is overpriced and no one has a clue what they are selling.  This was an easy pick for the bottom of the barrel.

Aimee here:

Wow, that Marvel Project seems like it was over fast. What are we reviewing again? Bond films? Ok. This is something I thought I was already comfortable with doing, but after watching them all again (some for the first time!) I realized that some long-held biases were completely unfounded, and some assumptions I made were totally false. I came to know what a "true" Bond film really was, and which films lived up to that weighty standard. Too over-the-top? Too much action? Not enough levity? Severe dearth of sharks? Over the coming weeks we'll see many examples of the finest tropes in 007dom, and many, many examples of James lurching across the big screen like a cinematic Frankenstein, cobbled from bits of unused scripting from his previous films.

Unfortunately, there is no worse film in this regard than Die Another Day.

Die Another Day started off rough for me, and while I was of movie-going age when it came out, I refused to see it--despite a deep love of the Pierce Brosnan Bond. I must say, my opinion of it did not change much having finally sat down with it. The Madonna title song (and her subsequent unnecessary cameo!) are pretty dismal, as Bond anthems go. It's certainly no Goldfinger.

Hello, Madonna, you're looking strange as always.
This film's plot makes no sense. I had Stan explain it to me half-way through because I honestly wasn't at all following it. Like my husband, I have no idea why a henchman/villain wouldn't remove diamonds from his face. You can get all the plastic surgery you want, but I'm pretty sure like Interpol or the CIA would be only too happy to ID you based on the diamonds lodged in your face without a fuss. Seriously. How many people are there out there who have 1) the opportunity to have at least a dozen diamonds lodged in their face and 2) the opulence necessary to say "nah, no need to remove these!" Maybe it's different in the universe that this film takes place in (as it clearly wasn't ours) but I think that just having that kind of injury would make you subject to a lot of unwanted attention during daily tasks like walking outside or talking to people.

So it's a diamond-smuggling plot about a North Korean kind-of-defector I think who becomes a German man in about 4 months. Assuming Bond is captured and immediately put in prison, he's only gone for a few months before getting out, in which time the North Korean that he (supposedly) killed has built up an enormous infrastructure for his nefarious plots, turned Frost to his side (or was there ever a question?), had enormous amounts of surgery/DNA therapy to become German-looking but also British, remove all trace of previous accents, and put together a mega-plan that will allow you to rule the world and get revenge on your father. In four months.

In the middle of this, we have Halle Berry wearing the Ursula Andress bikini for no other reason than to wear it and we have the signature vehicle for no other reason than to see it and we have a lot of miserable homage that goes way, way over the top and is just painful, really, and bad. Halle's character is just worthless here. A terribly forgettable Bond girl and a performance that is really very flat are the only standouts for one of the most-heralded castings in the history of the franchise.

Look, she's astonishing in this bikini, make no mistake, but there's no reason for her to wear it. None.

We have Q branch providing a really over the top cloak for the vehicle which, honestly, makes little sense for the application of this film. I won't judge too harshly as Q is the only good thing in this film...although no one could take the place of Desmond Llewellyn, who had recently died. The scene with Q is good, though, and one can definitely appreciate all the previously-featured gadgets that make cameos here. But for the much-hyped 40th anniversary, I must say that they should have stopped there with the homage.

The film suffers greatly at the hands of absolutely dated film-making techniques, that I am personally glad have managed to stay in the early-2000s.

This was the only Bond film on the entire list that I had trouble sitting through. To say that I didn't enjoy it would be an understatement. I detest the virtual reality Moneypenny/Bond "love scene". Really, everything in the movie was like that--unnecessary, over-the-top, and painful to endure. It's quite plain they wanted this to be a loving homage, but they fail all over the place. There's a basic lack of respect and understanding for the films that came before--even the ones that featured Brosnan.

Die Another Day is terrible. Next!