Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Worst to Best: James Bond Movies

What, you might ask, does James Bond have to do with Stephen King?
 
Answer: virtually nothing.  One of the main characters in The Langoliers might fairly be said to be a sort-of Bond-like figure, I suppose; plus, Pierce Brosnan starred in both The Lawnmower Man and Bag of Bones.  But that's about it.
  
Nope, this post is just 'cause, y'all; just 'cause.

Let's talk fandom for a moment.  Despite the hiatus The Truth Inside The Lie has (mostly) been on this year, y'all know me; know how I roll when it comes to Stephen King.  New book?  I'm there first day.  New short story?  I'm buyin' that magazine posthaste.  I watch all the movies, I read all the comics, I do my best to watch all the interviews and lectures.  In short: I'm a fan, and there's no need to prove it to anyone.

But while my King fandom is certainly my most voluminous fandom, it is by no means my oldest one.  That distinction goes either to Star Trek or to James Bond, and the reason why I included the "or" is because I literally can't remember which one I encountered and fell in love with first.  If one of Silva's goons had a gun to my head and insisted that I pick one, I'd say it was Bond that came first; but to be honest, I just don't know.

What I do know is that my love for both predates my love of Stephen King by at least ten years, and maybe close to a dozen.  This is not to say that I love either more than I love King; it's just to say that they come first if only in a chronological sense.

And because of that, those fandoms of mine helped me develop my sense of how to watch/read/interpret stories.  I became the sort of Stephen King fan I am in some degree because of the way I developed as a fan of both Bond and Trek.  In all three cases, I quickly became less than content to restrict myself merely to the primary form of those stories: I was not content only to view James Bond movies, and turned to the novels to supplement my enjoyment; the same goes for Star Trek; and in the case of Stephen King, the opposite was true.

The Truth Inside The Lie is, for me, an exploration of the reasons why: why am I a Stephen King fan?  What does it say about me?  Why did I become a massive King fan as opposed to a massive Tom Clancy fan?  I read both in high school; so why did one stick, and not the other?

Ultimately, it's a simple pursuit: who am I?  Why do I enjoy the things I enjoy?  Where did I come from, and where am I going?

So that's why talking about James Bond on this particular Stephen King blog is permissible.  In order to examine those "why"s, Bond has to be in the conversation somewhere.

If you are still reading and have not given yourself a cerebral hemorrhage through the viciousness of your rolling eyes, know ye one and all that I won't be doing much more fancy talk of that nature during this post.  I suspect I'll be talking about a lot of explosions, breasts, and theme songs instead, possibly sometimes all at once.

Let's get started by briefly considering the movie that gets my vote for the absolute worst James Bond movie of them all:
  
    
#25 -- Never Say Never Again (1983)
  

 

Purists will point out that Never Say Never Again is not a "real" James Bond movie, and from a certain point of view, they are right.  The film was not produced by the same production family that made the other Bond films, starting with Sean Connery in Dr. No and going up to this year's upcoming Spectre with Daniel Craig.

How, then, does Never Say Never Again exist?
 
Simple: in 1961, James Bond creator Ian Fleming did a very naughty thing.  He had been attempting to get a film series based on Bond off the ground for years, and had spent a good portion of the late 1950s working with (among others) a producer/director named Kevin McClory.  Fleming, McClory, screenwriter Jack Whittingham, and Fleming's friend Ivar Bryce spent a goodish period of time verbally collaborating on an idea for a new Bond story designed to bring the character to life in cinemas.  The project never quite came to fruition, despite Whittingham writing several drafts of a screenplay based on the story ideas the group brainstormed together.

Fleming took all of this material and wrote it in novel format, then published it as Thunderball in 1961 without so much as a thank you to the other men in the book's credits.

Rightly incensed, McClory sued Fleming, and eventually won the film rights to the novel.  This is why his name appears on the credits for Thunderball and on no other Bond film.

Until, that is, Never Say Never Again.  McClory had, in the suit against Fleming, also been awarded the rights to produce a remake of Thunderball after ten years had passed.  As soon as they did, McClory launched efforts to start a competing series of Bond films using a remake of Thunderball as the basis.  Those plans fell through numerous times before finally being realized in 1983's Never Say Never Again.

Being no fan of Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli, the producer of the "real" Bond movies, Sean Connery agreed to reprise his role.  The movie's year of release witnessed a "Battle of the Bonds" as Never Say Never Again came out only a few months after the "real" Bond movie of the year, Roger Moore's Octopussy.  But Never Say Never Again starred the first -- and, therefore, the "real" -- 007, Connery; and it was based on a Fleming novel, so it also had that going for it.  So, let's be fair: WAS the "real" James Bond movie the real James Bond movie?

Well, if Never Say Never Again is the "other" James Bond movie, and it's in last place on my list, what does that tell you?

Say what you will about Octopussy, it's at least got many of the Bondian hallmarks.  Never Say Never Again is a cheap-looking mess, one which does admittedly have the terrific hook of Sean Connery, but which also appears to have been filmed -- and budgeted -- under duress.  The Bond movies strive for, and typically achieve, glamour and beauty and excitement; Never Say Never Again strives for those things, but fails.  If Octopussy is the equivalent of taking a holiday to coastal France, Never Say Never Again is the equivalent of taking a holiday to coastal Alabama.  I kind of enjoy coastal Alabama, myself; but it's just not coastal France in any way, now is it?

Connery gives a fun performance; he's nowhere near the heights of his early-Bond days, but he has a twinkle in his eye and looks better in his fifties than he looked in his forties.  The Bond girl is Kim Basinger, who was good looking, and who would have fit in quite nicely on a beach in coastal Alabama in this bikini:




Even by 1983 standards, that is tacky as all get-out.

The theme song is sung by Lani Hall, and it is early-eighties mellow pop; I don't hate it, but I probably should.  The musical score is by Michel Legrand, and it is hands-down the worst music ever written for a James Bond movie.

The bad guy is Klaus Maria Brandauer, who seems legitimately crazy, and who during one scene gives Basinger an incredibly sloppy wet kiss that haunts me to this day.

The movie has its fans, and bless their hearts for that.  What a dull world it would be if we all agreed that this movie is crap, which it is.

#24 -- Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
  




Part of me thinks this is actually worse than Never Say Never Again.  I mean, at least that production was crippled by not being able to use certain hallmark elements of the Bond films (such as the Monty Norman / John Barry theme music, or the familiar repertory of actors in the roles of M, Q, and Moneypenny).  That production has an excuse for failing.  What is Diamonds Are Forever's excuse?

In one word: panic.  The previous film in the series (On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which starred George Lazenby, the first non-Connery 007) had been a big hit, but it had been a much smaller big hit than the film before it had been.  In fact, it had only done about half as well, which is admittedly a hefty decline in grosses.  "Too dark," said fans; "where's the fun?"  Lazenby had been an on-set disaster of sorts, and had -- at the behest of friends who allegedly had only the best of intentions for him -- more or less quit the series as soon as filming ended.  Combined with the weak reception, the series was in need of a new new star, and two names were strongly considered.

Those names: Adam West and Burt Reynolds.

You read that correctly.  Adam West and Burt Reynolds.  To be fair, either might have ended up working; visually, they looked the part, so if their British accents had been up to snuff, who knows how it might have turned out?

But eventually, somebody had a great idea: throw a boatload of money at Sean Connery, beg him to come back, and give him whatever other concessions he required in order to make it a reality.  Which is exactly what happened.

And to celebrate the return of the original Bond to the fold, the screenwriters cooked up one of the silliest (and THE campiest) Bond adventures anyone had ever even thought of.  It's got diamond smugglers, it's got mafia thugs, it's got stand-up comedians, it's got faked moon-landing footage, it's got a moon-buggy chase (not on the moon, sadly), it's got gay henchmen, it's got death via scorpion, it's got death via cement shoes, it's got a rampaging gorilla, it's got casinos, it's got rednecks, it's got gymnastics, it's got mud-baths, it's got toilets, it's got a strangling via bikini-top, it's got a one-man makeout session.  This movie is fucking nuts, guys.  I hate it, but as I typed that description, I kinda started to love it again.  That feeling will end the moment I begin watching the movie again, because it is dreadful.

It isn't all a loss, though.  Connery, foreshadowing his rogue 1983 re-return to the role in Never Say Never Again, is having a blast, and if it's evident that he gives zero fucks about what is going on, it is just as evident that he was committed to making the film be fun for audiences.  It was a big hit (twice as big as Majesty's, so he evidently succeeded).

Apart from that, it also has THE best Bond song, Shirley Bassey's "Diamonds Are Forever"; a slinky and seductive score by John Barry; good production design by Ken Adam; and this:




That's Jill St. John, who is not a particularly good performer but who ROCKS that bikini.  Good lord does she.  Sadly, her character is also an imbecile, which is a major turnoff for me both irl and ibm (in Bond movies).

#23 -- Casino Royale (1967)
  
  


For your sake, I rather hope you've never heard of this movie.

Its inclusion here is somewhat questionable; like Never Say Never Again, it is not a "real" James Bond movie.  But what does that mean?  The movie was based -- incredibly loosely -- on Ian Fleming's first James Bond novel.  He'd sold the rights to it to American television immediately upon publication, and it was produced as an episode (not covered on this list) of the live anthology series Climax!  The rights -- which were for that novel alone -- then went through various hands' possession before ending up with Charles K. Feldman, who had McClory-esque dreams of launching his own series of Bond films to compete with the mega-successful Connery films.  He apparently looked strongly at Richard Burton to play his Bond.

Obviously, it never happened, and Feldman eventually despaired of being able to actually compete with the Bond the public knew and loved.  So he decided instead to produce it as a swinging-sixties-style farce.

To give you an indication of how things turned out, the main villain is eventually revealed to be James Bond's nephew, Jimmy Bond; he's played by Woody Allen, who is funny but in a way that makes you hang your jaw open in amazement that you've seen the things you are seeing.  Not in the good-amazement way, either; in the "did Miley Cyrus actually just fellate an elephant on the VMAs?" way.  (I figure that's got a 50/50 chance of happening at some point.)

Also on hand: David Niven, playing the "real" James Bond as a stuttering retiree who is immensely competent, but only because the screenplay says so.  Niven is fine; he's David Niven, which counts for a lot.  Peter Sellers also plays James Bond (more precisely, he plays a character -- one of several -- who is given the code-name "James Bond" and sent on a mission), and Orson Welles plays another villain, and at one point a fistfight breaks out in the titular casino and is supplemented by Indians (i.e., Native Americans) who parachute -- !!! -- in to join the fracas, only to be repelled by cowboys on horseback who come riding in.  I think monkeys are involved in this in some way, and there is definitely a flying saucer.  Not piloted by aliens; that would be silly.

The film utilized the talents of five different director, none of whom cracked the code.

And yet...

And YET . . . there are things to enjoy here.  The score by Burt Bacharach is a lot of fun, and he gave Dusty Springfield a phenomenal song ("The Look of Love") to sing during a wonderful scene between Sellers and Ursula Andress.  Some of the jokes manage to land, too, and the roster of beautiful actresses is very strong indeed.

It's a disaster of a movie; but an interesting disaster.


#22 -- The World Is Not Enough (1999)
  



I like Pierce Brosnan as Bond; I really do.  But three of his four Bond films are (for me) among the worst of the Bond films, and of those three, this one is the alpha-worst of the bunch.

Denise Richards plays Dr. Christmas Jones, a nuclear physicist who travels the globe defusing warheads.  I mean, okay, sure, what-fuckin'-ever.  I can sort of buy that, albeit in a mediocre-Saturday-Night-Live-sketch sort of way.  I cannot buy it during the course of the same movie that tries to be so deadly serious in depicting Bond's relationship with Elektra, a traumatized former kidnapping victim.

Brosnan is going for the gold -- Oscar gold -- in those scenes, and that simply does not mix well in a movie also containing scene in which 007 wears an honest-to-God pair of x-ray specs in order to see through women's dresses to their underwear.  I mean, yeah, ostensibly he's actually using them to see what weapons people in the casino are carrying; but we all know what's really up.  And why can't he just see through the underwear, too, I ask you?  This does not make sense to me.

The film has some good stunts, and the acting is mostly fine.  I like the title theme song by Garbage relatively well, too.  But the direction by Michael Apted is a bit weak, and the production somehow ends up looking cheap, which it assuredly was not.

Weird thing is, I distinctly recall being blown away by this movie when I saw it on opening night with a group of friends.  "Best Bond movie since On Her Majesty's Secret Service," I proclaimed.  And I meant it!

Knowing me, I might someday say it (and mean it) again.  I find that my feelings about some of these movies shifts and mutates over time, like Captain Trips resisting any attempts by the body's immune system to combat it.  (How's THAT for a Stephen King reference?)  It fascinates me that this happens, and we'll talk about it several more times before this post concludes.


#21 -- Tomorrow Never Dies  (1997)




Did you ever notice how James Bond always has a gun on his movie posters?  I mean it: ALWAYS.  Go ahead, go see if you can find me an official one where he is gun-free.  I'll wait.

.....

Did you find anything?  If you looked really hard, you might actually have found a few teaser posters (most of them German) on which Bond is either in bed with a lady, has a gun held to his head by a baddie, or is running away (sans firearm) from an explosion.  And there are all sorts of lobby cards (which, you will note, are not posters) on which he has no gun.

99.9% of the time, though, Bond wielding a gun is a big focus of the marketing.  Why do I mention this?  No real reason, other than that it occurred to me and that I'm not all that keen to talk about Tomorrow Never Dies.

Like the moderately-worse The World Is Not Enough, this film has two serious problems: (1) compared to other Bond films, it looks cheap, almost on a made-for-tv level; and (2) it veers with whiplash-inducing between broad comedy and attempts at high drama.  Tone -- and consistency of tone -- is a big deal for me.  Or at least it seems to be in 2015.  It evidently was not in 1997, when I saw this movie for the first time.  Back then, I ate it up.  "Finally!" I thought and said.  "A real James Bond again!"

In my defense, the world mostly seemed to agree with me.

The plot for this one has some interesting elements.  The villain is a domineering super-rich media mogul, who is not at all shy about using his wealth to create news stories which he can then exploits.  He plans to cook up a war between England and China purely so he can win the exclusive rights to deliver a Western cable-news broadcast from China.

The movie doesn't do much of anything with these ideas, but give everyone credit for having them in the first place; they were ahead of their time, and what seemed cartoonish in 1997 seems like a next-door-neighbor to fact in 2015.

Brosnan does his best in this movie, but he's weighed down by a genuinely awful villain (played by Jonathan Pryce), a leading lady who was better in theory than in actuality (Michelle Yeoh, who only gets to use a small fraction of her martial-arts prowess, and who has virtually no chemistry with Brosnan), and a secondary leading lady (Teri Hatcher) who has even less chemistry with Brosnan.

On the other hand, it's got a rollicking good score by David Arnold (this was his first film for the series), and a FANTASTIC theme song, "Surrender," sung by kd lang.

Sadly, that song was rejected and only got to play over the closing credits.  So instead, we are forced to listen to Sheryl Crow test the limits of her vocal range and find them wanting.  It's not a bad song, but it is a bad vocal performance, and one wishes Crow had not put herself in that position, or that the producers had better taste in songs.
 

#20 -- You Only Live Twice (1967)


Movie posters of yesteryear are so far superior to movie posters of today that it depresses me to even mention it.
 
Sean Connery is -- and likely will always be -- my favorite James Bond, but if you're paying close attention then you will have noticed that he's got three films in my bottom six.  That's half  of the bottom six, guys.  So how can he be my favorite Bond?
 
Keep reading.  We'll get to those reasons MUCH later.
 
As for You Only Live Twice, it is a movie that ranks much higher with most Bond fans than it does with me.  I find it difficult to tolerate, frankly.  It is far and away Connery's worst Bond performance; the degree to which he is merely going through the motions is palpable.  He was extremely fed up with the Bond experience -- and particularly the experience of dealing with the Bond producers, who refused to make him a partner despite the fact that it was his colossally successful performances that put the films on the map -- and publicly stated on numerous occasions that he wanted out.
 
And after this movie, out he got.  Mostly.
 
You Only Live Twice is the film in which Bond goes to Japan, is surgically turned into a Japanese man in appearance (one of the least convincing makeup effects ever attempted, so much so that I'm honestly not sure the makeup department even MADE an attempt), and fights Dr. Evil Blofeld inside a hollowed-out volcano.
 
There are good things: the cinematography, the Japanese vistas, the Nancy Sinatra theme song, the stupendously great production design, the John Barry score; all wonderful.  But Donald Pleasence is very poor as Blofeld (few Bond fans agree with me on that, but nuts to them; he sucks), and the two Japanese actresses who play Bond's love interests are inadequately talented (though visually quite appealing).  Worst of all, the screenplay is simply ludicrous; this is where the Bond-as-a-cartoon thing happened, and it's regrettable.
 

#19 -- Die Another Day (2002)




Is it a bad movie?  Yes, it is.  Is it AS bad a movie as conventional wisdom claims?
 
I don't think so, no.
 
For me, the key to enjoying Die Another Day lies in remembering that the movie came out only about a year after the 9/11 attacks in America ushered in this brave new era of The War On Terror.  Die Another Day begins with Bond being captured while on a mission in North Korea, and he spends the next fourteen months or so imprisoned there, being tortured by fire, ice, scorpions, and the Madonna theme song (his ordeal is portrayed via montage in the opening credits, which, if you have the sound turned off, are terrific).
 
He is eventually released, and there is a very small moment in which M tells him that the world changed while he was away.  The implication is clear: Bond could not stop 9/11 from happening because he was unavailable.  But if he could have been there, who knows?  I find that to be a rather moving sentiment; others might see it as tacky.
 
In any case, Bond, now a free man (albeit on the outs with MI6), goes about trying to find the people who set him up and caused him to go to North Korean jail.  Metaphorically, this is a mission to roll back the clock, to take those months off his calendar; which means that subtextually, the film becomes a mission to return to the (allegedly) simpler time of the pre-9/11 era.  And so the movie becomes cartoonish almost beyond belief: invisible cars, DNA-replacement surgery, henchmen with diamond-studded faces.  It is silly.  But I think it's silly on purpose, and I think it's because the producers felt like it was too early in the post-9/11 era to be anything but silly.
 
As such, I think it works relatively well.  Pierce Brosnan is terrific, the movie looks great, and there is a lot of fun to be had.  Some of the performances don't work, though, and there are some poor directorial/editorial decisions along the way.  Plus, that Madonna song.  I don't hate it as much as most people do, but it's got to rank near the bottom of the Bond-song list by any objective standard.
 

#18 -- The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)




I don't consider myself to be a contrarian as a Bond fan, but there are certainly a few key films in the series that I feel differently about than 99.007% percent of fans do.  Case in point: The Spy Who Loved Me, which is commonly assessed as the best film of the Roger Moore era, if not one of the best of the series overall.
 
Madness!  This is a fairly awful movie, in my opinion.  It does have several things going for it: Moore is very good; the theme song, Carly Simon's "Nobody Does It Better," is terrific; the locations visited are gorgeous; and the cinematography is top-notch.  I will also admit that Richard Kiel makes for a highly memorable henchman as Jaws, the steel-toothed killer.  Personally, I find Jaws to be utterly ridiculous; but I cannot deny that he is iconic.
 
I also have to give special acknowledgment to the opening scene, in which a stuntman skies off a cliff and parachutes to safety.  It's one of the all-time great stunts in cinema history, no doubt about it.
 
However, the film also has one of the worst leady-lady Bond girls of them all: Barbara Bach, who plays Agent Triple-X, Soviet superspy.  To say Bach gives a wooden performance would be an insult to trees.  She barely even gives a performance.  She is pretty, but beyond that, I find her to be a major liability to the film; I can't get past it, and that's just all there is to it.  And yet, many fans love her!  I don't get it.
 
The main villain, the Blofeld-esque Stromberg, is better, but only marginally.
 

#17 -- Licence to Kill (1989)



 
I don't think this is true any longer, but at one point in time, Timothy Dalton was reviled as Bond; so much so that the bad guys have a conversation about it during one episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
 
I don't get it.  I loved Dalton as Bond when his two movies came out, I've loved him as Bond ever since, and I will always love him as Bond.  He is -- with the possible exception of Daniel Craig -- the actor whose performance gets closest to the Bond of Ian Fleming's novels, and that counts for a lot.
 
It's probably Licence to Kill that did Dalton in with the general public.  Released in the final year of the eighties, the movie is much darker than people expected, wanted, or needed at the time; we were still only four years removed from the goofiness of Roger Moore, and 007 chasing drug dealers just didn't scratch the itch.  Because of that, though, I think the movie has aged gracefully in most respects.  Some of the acting is weak (neither of the main actresses are particularly good, although both are gorgeous), and the music is only so-so.  However, Dalton is just fine, and Robert Davi's drug kingpin Sanchez is -- despite not being the sort of baddie Bond typically faces -- one of the better villains of the entire series.  He's smooth, menacing, and not all that great at hiring underlings.
 
The movie also has some strong action scenes, some terrible editing, and co-stars Wayne Newton as a televangelist.
 

#16 -- The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)





Here, I'm going to quote from a post I wrote about this movie elsewhere:

"For most of my life, if you had chanced to run into me on the street one day and stopped me to ask what my least favorite James Bond movie was, I'd have probably answered The Man With the Golden Gun.  That's changed over the past decade or so, as a quartet of other titles -- two that (the 1967 Casino Royale and Diamonds Are Forever) have been covered here already, and two (Never Say Never Again and Die Another Day) that won't come up for a while yet -- crowded it out at the bottom of the barrel.

I've been simultaneously dreading and anticipating this rewatch of Golden Gun, because I was very curious to see what my rating system determined.  I figured it was entirely possible it could reclaim its cellar-dweller status, or at least get close to it.

What I didn't expect was to discover myself enjoying the movie for perhaps the first time ever.  In retrospect, I'm not sure I ever paid all that much attention to the movie.  When I was a child, the movie confused me, partially because I somehow never managed to see it all in a single sitting, but also partially because the plot during the first act is more complicated than is typically the case with Bond movies.  In later viewings over the course of the next few decades I always mentally checked out when this movie came up in my Bond-viewing rotation, and I recall skipping it more than once; another time, I remember fast-forwarding through whole chunks of it.

In other words, I seem to have managed to make it all the way to 2012 without ever giving the movie its proper due.  Here, I think you will find that that mistake has been corrected.

This is not to suggest I have uncovered some sort of hidden masterpiece; that is not the case.  The movie has numerous problems, several of them quite severe; but it also has several extremely strong elements, and while it is still not going to make it onto a list of great 007 films, I can now definitively say that I like the movie.

Funny what reappraisal will do sometimes, isn't it?"
 
The post I am referring to is this one from You Only Blog Twice, my Bond-centric blog.  Somehow I've gotten this far into this post without mentioning it.
 
I had an interesting experience writing on that blog about each of the Bond films.  For one thing, I completely recaptured my love of Roger Moore and his movies.  I'd become somewhat hipsterish about them over the years, feeling that they did not adequately represent the seriousness of Ian Fleming's character.  But the process of paying closer attention to the movies and considering them from a semi-objective standpoint showed me that while they might be lacking in seriousness, they have many other fine qualities which (arguably) makes up for that lack.
 
As for The Man with the Golden Gun, it's got a terrific villain (Christopher Lee), stunning locations, possibly THE worst leading-lady Bond girl (Mary Goodnight, a dreadful character who almost singlehandedly ruins the movie), at least one spectacular stunt (the corkscrew bridge-jump), Herve Villechaize, some great sets, and Maud Adams.
  

#15 -- Octopussy (1983)




Speaking of Maud Adams, she returned for this movie, playing a different character.  Cool!
 
When most people remember Octopussy, I suspect they remember it as the Bond movie in which Roger Moore's 007 dresses up as a clown:
 
 

 
This is always mentioned with great snark, and is used as a piece of evidence for how appallingly silly Moore's Bond was.  Thing is, Moore is great in this scene.  Bond is at a circus trying to stop a nuclear bomb from detonating; I think you will admit that that is an example of a high-stakes scenario.  He's already scrambling to get to the scene, so he's under the gun, and the best way he can think of to infiltrate the circus and get to the bomb is to be disguised.  And let's face it, at a circus, being disguised as a clown is hard to beat.
 
But what's great about Moore's performance is that he plays it deadly serious.  He's in clown makeup, sure; but he's not joking around, not even a little bit.  No quips, no one-liners; this is a serious situation, and he is no-nonsense through and through.
 
I suspect all the snarktopuses who have slagged on Moore will not care about that distinction, but I care, by golly.
 
To be fair, though, Moore was certainly looking a bit too old for the role by this point.  It's a liability to the film, but one that did not matter to me one whit in 1983; I was nine years old, and I doubt I could possibly have enjoyed the movie more than I did.  I still enjoy it today, too.
 

#14 -- A View to a Kill (1985)




I am going to once again quote from my other blog:
 
"When the movie came out on May 24, 1985, I was about two months away from turning eleven years old.  I remember my parents taking me to see the movie when it came out.  School was out for the summer; my cousin and his family went to the movie with us.  We all went back to my house after the movie, and the grownups made homemade ice cream on the patio while us kids ran around in the back yard, pretending we were 007.
  
It's a nice memory.  I come back to it every so often, and it seems to live in my brain in away that things I did literally yesterday do not.  Nothing special about that; that's everybody's life to some degree, or so I imagine.  But it does make me wonder if I would, without that memory, be as kind to A View to a Kill as I'm likely to be during this review.

Here's where I come down on the issue: I think that, yes, I would be.  I've got similarly fond memories for certain other Bond movies I don't like very much, so why -- if my opinions are taintable to that degree -- do I not make similar allowances for, say, You Only Live Twice?  It'd probably take a psychologist with the mental equivalent of a hammer and chisel -- if not a sledgehammer -- to answer that question fully, so if one happens to be reading this and feels like making me (and my tolerance/intolerance for the Bond series) a case study, get in touch and we'll hammer out the details.

Otherwise, I'll boil it down simply: I'm still entertained by A View to a Kill, whereas I am not by You Only Live Twice.  The latter has its merits, but is also hampered somewhat by a bored performance from Sean Connery.  Now, he is still '60s Sean Connery, so it's still an interesting screen presence regardless of his seeming indifference toward the role; but that indifference takes me out of the movie at various key moments.

Roger Moore in A View to a Kill, on the other hand, still seems engaged by what he's doing.  He's having fun here, just as he did in Octopussy two years earlier, and while I don't think he's got as much good material to play, I think he does well with what he has."
 
I stand by all of that.
 
A View to Kill also has Christopher Walken, who gives a great performance laced with barely-restrained insanity as bad guy Max Zorin.  Almost as good: Grace Jones and May Day, Zorin's henchman.  Even better: the Duran Duran theme song and the John Barry score.  Considerably less good: Tanya Roberts as Bond's love interest.
 

#13 -- GoldenEye (1995)




I think there is a case to be made that, with the exception of the very first film in the series, GoldenEye was the most important movie in the history of the franchise.  The previous film -- 1989's Licence to Kill -- had been a poorly-received box-office disappointment, and there had been a significant amount of behind-the-scenes legal wrangling during the interim that threatened to sink the boat to the very bottom of the ocean.  So, in other words, it was crucial that this new movie get it right.  I was there, and I remember it: the world was dubious as to whether there was any need for the Bond series to continue.  GoldenEye needed to prove that there was, and if it had failed, the series might well have ended then and there.
 
It's still going strong twenty years later, so that tells how it turned out.
 
Brosnan is terrific in his first Bond film, and there are numerous other good elements, too, ranging from the Tina Turner theme song to the villainous performance by Sean Bean (who is good, though underutilized) to the tank chase through St. Petersburg.  Izabella Scorupco is a very good Bond girl, and Fammke Janssen is very memorable as a femme fatale.  However, the synth-heavy score by Eric Serra is nauseatingly bad in places, and some of the casting (looking at you, Alan Cumming and Joe Don Baker) is iffy.
 
Overall, though, this film rescued the series, and deserves to be highly honored both for that and for the fact that it -- as well as the Nintendo video-game adaptation -- introduced an whole new generation to the world of 007.
 

#12 -- Live and Let Die (1973)




Quoting from You Only Blog Twice again for this one:
 
"I was born in 1974, about five months before Roger Moore's second 007 film, The Man With the Golden Gun, debuted in theatres worldwide.  My point in mentioning that is to illustrate a simple fact: I grew up during the era when Roger Moore was James Bond.  The first Bond film I saw in a theatre -- Octopussy -- was a Moore Bond.  Furthermore, the first one I ever saw at all was almost certainly a television broadcast of Live and Let Die.  I can't swear to that; the memories are a bit too hazy, and it might have been The Spy Who Loved Me instead.  But I think  it was Live and Let Die, probably around the time Moonraker came out.

I remember Moonraker being released.  I would have been four, and my parents didn't take me to see it, but somehow, I acquired some bubblegum cards of the film.  And I knew who Bond was already, so my assumption is that prior to that movie's release, I must have seen a few of the other movies.

Those were Moore movies.  That much I am certain of, because I simply accepted him AS James Bond.  Around the same time, but maybe a year or so later, Goldfinger came on television, and we gathered in front of the tube to watch it, and I asked when Jams Bond was going to show up.  My Dad pointed to Sean Connery and said, 'There he is!'  And I said, 'That's not James Bond.  Where's James Bond?'

I think I had it all mentally sorted out by the time the summer of 1983 (and the dueling 007s) hit, but for a while there, I was a Roger Moore man, and exclusively.

And while as an adult I will certainly acknowledge that Connery was the better Bond of the two, I still love me some Roger Moore.  Most of his Bond films are crap, but I don't care; in some ways, every time I watch one of them, I get to be that little kid again, happy to see the real James Bond show up at last.

That's how nostalgia works, folks; it ain't rational, and it don't need to be."
 
Live and Let Die is a tremendous amount of fun.  It's got a weird blaxploitation element to it, it's got a instant-classic title song by Paul McCartney (plus a groovy score by Beatles producer George Martin), it's got Bond escaping from a precarious situation by running across the backs of some crocodiles.  It's got a hilarious -- or, depending on your viewpoint, a cringe-inducing -- redneck sheriff; it's got wonderfully appalling seventies fashions, it's got Yaphet Kotto, it's got Geoffrey Holder (possibly playing an immortal, which is just insane).  Also, it's got this:
 
 


Jane Seymour is so beautiful in this movie it hurts.
 
One wonders if the Bond movies -- which are, currently, rather more realistic and grim than Live and Let Die -- can ever again be goofy and cartoonish in this way.  I suspect that time will come around again, eventually.
 

#11 -- Quantum of Solace (2008)


Not a good poster.


I can't get with the hate for this movie.  I will agree that it is substantially less good than Daniel Craig's first outing (Casino Royale), and that it loses steam after the second act; but otherwise, this is a very good film.  Craig is terrific, the Quantum subplot is very good (even though it's clearly just a S.P.E.C.T.R.E. knockoff), Olga Kurylenko is lovely and plays a fairly badass character.  there's a lot to like.
 
Where the movie loses a lot of people is the choppy filming and (especially) editing of the action scenes.  Modern action movies tend -- even the good ones -- toward a jumbled-confusion style of camerawork during action scenes.  With Casino Royale being a mild exception, the Bond films have mostly stood above that approach.  Not so Quantum of Solace, which highlights both the upsides and the downsides of that style of editing.  Mostly the downsides, alas, and a lot of fans have expressed very negative opinions of the film as a result.
 
They've also thrown out the baby with the bathwater.  Whatever its flaws, Quantum is still a superior Bond film to most of the rest of the series.
 

#10 -- For Your Eyes Only (1981)




It isn't perfect by any means, but I think this is a very good Bond movie that does a good job of blending Fleming-esque grit with Moore-esque levity.  It's one of Moore's weaker performances, but he's not bad, and he's got some good co-stars, including Topol.  The action scenes and stunts are superb, the theme song is a classic, the disco-tinged Bill Conti score works for me (your mileage may vary), and leading lady Carole Bouquet is gorgeous.
 
This was arguably my favorite Bond film when I was a child; it's no longer that, but I do love it.
 
Game of Thrones fans will be amused by a confluence of villainy present in this movie.  The main bad guy is played by Julian Glover, who also plays Master Pycell on Thrones.  One of his henchmen in the movie played by Charles Dance, who plays Tywin Lannister on Thrones.  I love stuff like that!
 

#9 -- Dr. No (1962)




The first Bond film of them all remains one of the best, as far as I am concerned.  It's difficult to bear in mind, but should always be remembered: nobody had ever seen a Bond film before this.  You are likely to recognize that Sean Connery is great in the film, but unless you remember that he (and director Terence Young) were inventing the cinematic Bond on the set of Dr. No, I don't think you're likely to give Connery his due.
 
It's even more incredible to think that the world-famous James Bond theme by Monty Norman (arranged and orchestrated by John Barry) was written and performed for this movie.  (For you hardcore fans who are in-the-know enough to correct me that Norman pulled the melody from one of his musicals, yes, I know that; but it was reworked substantially, so I count it as an original composition.)  One day in 1962 it didn't exist, and then the next day it did.  Can you imagine that?
 
There's also this:
 
 


I'm not sure it's still true, but for most of my life, Ursula Andress in this film has been held up as one of the most alluring sex-symbols in cinema.  Put her together with Sean Connery, and you've got a rather high attractiveness quotient for a single film.
 

#8 -- Moonraker (1979)



 

I suspect there are Bond fans who would think I am utterly insane for putting Moonraker this high up on the list.  I sympathize with them, and if that means they can't take the rest of my opinions seriously, I'm zen with that.
 
But, see, I've got my reasons.  To some degree, the entire Roger Moore era is best viewed as a cartoon-style take on Bond.  That approach actually began in earnest with the final official Connery film, Diamonds Are Forever, a fact many anti-Moore fans are slow to remember; but it is true that it was during Moore's films that that lighter approach found it fullest expressions.
 
The question, then: is that a valid approach to James Bond specifically and spy films in general?  I would have said "no" at one point in time, but as I've gotten older, I find myself saying "yes."  The subtext is that at some point in time, the producers implicitly said to the world, "Look, do you really want to take this stuff seriously?"  The world seemingly said "no," so the producers nodded sagely, and everyone went off arm-in-arm to have martinis by the pool for the next couple of decades.  I get why a Bond fan would look down on this, but I do not believe it is an inherently unworthy approach.  This is Bond on a Marvel Comics level; this is Bond on a Saturday-morning-cartoon level; or, if not quite those things, it's close.
 
If you agree that Bond can encompass that sort of tone and style, then I don't know if you can do much better than Moonraker.  This movie is bonkers.  James Bond literally goes to outer space, and Space Marines from the United States fly into space to have a space-walk laser-battle with the bad guy's army.
 
The balls it must take to do that in a James Bond movie...!
 
But it works!  At least, for my tastes, it does.  The Bond films had always had a science-fictional element to them, going right back to Dr. No; so is it really that big a stretch for them to go one remove further and take Bond into the realm of spaceships and laser rifles?  I don't think so.  (For that same reason, the much-reviled invisible car in the much-reviled Die Another Day also gets a pass.)
 
Other elements this movie has going for it:

  • Roger Moore is very good.
  • Michael Lonsdale makes for a good villain, and plays the role straight, which helps keep the outlandishness at least somewhat grounded.
  • Richard Kiel returns as Jaws, but the movie is silly enough that Jaws actually seems less silly (and therefore more effective, at least to me) than he did in The Spy Who Loved Me.
  • FanTAStic stunts, including an aerial freefall sequence at the beginning which is just stupendous (and which ends with Jaws falling from an airplane into a circus tent and yet somehow surviving unscathed).
  • Roger Moore dressed as a gaucho.
  • Roger Moore dressed as a gondolier.
  • Stunning locations, including Iguazau Falls and Sugarloaf Mountain.
  • Lovely cinematography.
  • A terrific John Barry score.
  • Some of Ken Adam's best art direction (which is saying something).
  • Solid special effects.
  • A bountiful bevy of Bond babes (including Lois Chiles as the lead role).

There are demerits, as well, such as the fact that Chiles is not really all that great a performer.  But overall, yeah, I have to say: I think this one has pretty much everything you would want from a Bond movie . . . provided you aren't insistent that it make sense and that it be realistic.
  


#7 -- The Living Daylights (1987)




We turn again to You Only Blog Twice:
 
"He's been the subject of occasional ribbing over the years from people who feel his era was a sort of 007 Dark Ages, but Timothy Dalton remains one of my favorite James Bonds.  But then, all the James Bonds are on my list of favorites; there isn't a one of them who I don't love.
 
Dalton, however, was the first person to become James Bond during my lifetime, and because of that, he holds a place that none of the others hold.  His casting also coincided with the time in my life when I was finally discovering Ian Fleming's work.  I was thirteen when The Living Daylights came out, and it was in the media blitz surrounding the franchise's 25th anniversary that I began to feel the roots of fandom truly take hold.  I distinctly recall reading a full-page newspaper article that ranked all of the Bond films; I was fascinated by it, and I cut it out and saved it for further contemplation.  The idea of comparing the Bonds had never occurred to me, at least not in that way.  It seems strange to think now, but the thought that such a thing could be done had never entered my mind.  This was, in some ways, my introduction to the idea of quantifying what one liked about movies.

I would occasionally produce the article and quiz my father on certain aspects of it.  I believe Goldfinger was the #1 movie on the list, so I'd ask Dad if he thought Goldfinger was really the best.  He'd consider it for a moment, and say, "Well, it might be...but From Russia With Love is maybe even better."  At which point I'd sit and try to figure out which I thought was the better.

"But, you know," said Dad, fatefully, "some of the books are even better."

"Better than what?"

"Better than the movies."

I was flabbergasted by this.  I'm not sure I even knew there were books.  The one I remember Dad talking about specifically was On Her Majesty's Secret Service; he told me about how Ian Fleming had gone into detail about how Bond made his escape from Blofeld's fortress.  'It was pretty good in the movie,' he allowed; 'but it's awesome in the book.'

From that point, I began pestering my mother to buy me the Bond books any time we were in a store that was selling one.  And since this was the 25th anniversary of the movie series, there were a lot of the books in grocery stores, drugstores, and similar places we visited frequently.  So my mom bought me a bunch of the Ian Fleming books, and a lot of the John Gardner ones, too.  And I devoured those suckers.

I'm sure that at some point during this process, I must have seen -- or read -- an interview with Timothy Dalton in which he said that it was his intent to play Bond the way Ian Fleming wrote the character.  That was certainly one of the major talking points for the movie, and I must have heard him say it, because it quickly became one of my favorite things about Dalton.  At some point, several years into the future, a schoolmate was talking about how much he hated Dalton's Bond movies.  'Well, actually,' I said, almost certainly sounding like a complete snob, 'Timothy Dalton's Bond is more like the Ian Fleming books than either Sean Connery or Roger Moore's.'
 
That's the kind of stuff I was worried about in my adolescence.  Other guys were just trying to figure out how to put their middle fingers to their best use.  Amongst other things.  Me?  Worried about making sure other people Timothy Dalton was a purer version of Ian Fleming's Bond.  Ah, misspent youth.

Misspent adulthood, too, 'cause here I am doing it again.  But it's too late to turn back now, so full steam ahead!"
 
As for The Living Daylights, I think it's a very good Bond film indeed.  Dalton is terrific, he's got a good leading lady in Maryam D'Abo, and he also has the benefit of John Barry's final Bond score.  the movie's major downside is that the villains are mostly very weak; if they had been better, this might be a top-five Bond film for me.
  

#6 -- Goldfinger (1964)




It is, in some ways, just as ridiculous as Moonraker.  A guy kills people by throwing his hat at them, for goodness' sake.  But if you don't find yourself entertained by Goldfinger, you and I may have trouble communicating across the divide that exists between us.  It is deep and wide and unlikely to be bridged.
 
Sean Connery is terrific, the John Barry music (and the Shirley Bassey title song) is terrific, Honor Blackman is terrific, Gert Frobe is terrific, Harold Sakata is terrific, Desmond Llewelyn is terrific, the Aston-Martin is terrific, the set design is terrific.  There is very little not to love, apart from some mild objectification of women and some mild racial insensitivity.  But good lord, folks, it was 1964!  Cut 'em some slack.
 
This was the film that kicked the Bond series into the stratosphere, box-office-popularity-wise.  It might also be Connery's best Bond performance; he is a force of nature in this film.  That despite the fact that Bond spends a large portion of the runtime as a captive of the bad guy, unable to do much of anything to affect the direction of events.  Connery somehow turns that into a virtue.  Remember earlier, when I talked about Connery being still my favorite Bond despite his appearing in three of the six worst Bond films?  I mentioned that we'd see why later on.
 
We're there.
 

#5 -- From Russia With Love (1963)





If you like realism in your Bond movies, this is certainly one the series' highlights.  It's got everything going for it, including the presence of Sean Connery, who was a note-perfect Bond during this era.  but it's also got Robert Shaw as one of Bond's most formidable adversaries; John Barry's first Bond score; the debut of Blofeld; a fistfight inside a train cabin that still ranks as one of the great cinematic fight scenes; Pedro Armendariz playing one of 007's most memorable allies; and Daniela Bianchi, about whom I cannot say enough good things:
 
 


This is also one of the films that is closest to Fleming, and while I don't need that element to enjoy Bond, it certainly helps.  The movie is exciting, romantic, sexy, tense, and fun; it's still one of the best of them all.
 

#4 -- Thunderball (1965)




Because I try, in these lists, to be at least somewhat objective, I do not have Thunderball ranked #1.  But in many ways, it is my favorite of the films; it views perpetually with On Her Majesty's Secret Service for that designation, and I would have a difficult time choosing between them.
 
Either way, for me Thunderball is basically the perfect James Bond movie.  Some people find it to be a colossal bore; I pity them, and if I were a judge I would fine them for being in contempt of court.  My sentence?  I'd make them watch Thunderball again.
 
Sean Connery is at or near his very best, which is quite great, and this movie has an epic scope that few other films in the series have matched.  One element the "it's boring" detractors cite is how dull the numerous underwater sequences are.  Nuts to that!  They are great!  The underwater cinematography is perhaps STILL unsurpassed (and is so much better than similar scenes in the remake, Never Say Never Again, that they may as well not even be examples of the same artistic medium), and the stuntwork in them is superb.  At least two of the best -- and most beautiful (not always the same thing) -- Bond girls are in this movie; THE best Blofeld scene is in this movie; the John Barry music is great; Tom Jones sings the hell out of the title song; the cinematography above-water is great, as are the Bahamian locations; the stakes are high but the humor keeps things from being grim; there is a terrific explosion toward the end.
 
For me, it doesn't get much better than this.
 

#3 -- Casino Royale (2006)




Daniel Craig's first Bond film found the series in a moment of serious transition.  The Pierce Brosnan era had been popular with fans, and mostly with critics, too; but the excesses of Die Another Day had made them feel as if Bond needed to return to his roots.  So, despite the fact that Die Another Day had been a tremendous financial success, Brosnan was let go in favor of a new actor.  And to give that actor a proper introduction, the producers turned to Casino Royale, Ian fleming's first novel, to which they had recently -- finally! -- obtained the rights to film.
 
Many fans and critics alike would almost certainly say this is the best film in the entire series, and I can't argue with them with any conviction.  It isn't my personal favorite, but it's very close.
 
Craig gives the single best performance as Bond that any actor has ever given.  I will say that with conviction.  I'll also say with conviction that if Eva Green isn't the best Bond girl, she's top-two; she is just wonderful, and stunningly beautiful.
 
 


Mads Mikkelsen -- who is now perhaps best-known as tv's Hannibal Lecter -- is one of the best of all Bond villains.  The stunts and action scenes are great, the movie looks great, the David Arnold score is great.  I love the Chris Cornell theme song, "You Know My Name," although some Bond fans do not.
 
Perhaps best of all, Bond became serious again.  As you know if you've been reading along, I love the lighter eras of Bond; especially the Roger Moore years, but also, to a lesser extent, the Brosnan years.  If I could only have one mode of Bond, though, I'd want my Bond to be relatively realistic and gritty; that's how Fleming wrote him (albeit garnished with occasional flights of fancy and outlandishness), that's how Connery at his best played him, that's how Dalton played him, and that's how I best like him.
 

#2 -- On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)




Ask the average casual Bond fan -- the proverbial man on the street -- who the worst James Bond is, and statistically-speaking, you are likely to be told "George Lazenby."  If, that is, most casual Bond fans even remember his name, or his very existence; these are not givens.
 
Ask me, and I'll tell you Barry Nelson (who played Bond in the television adaptation of Casino Royale that aired in the 1950s) and hope you accept that slight evasion as a proper answer.  If you don't, and press me, I'll tell you Pierce Brosnan, and I'll feel very bad about it, because I love Brosnan.
 
I will never tell you George Lazenby.  I love Lazenby in this movie.  He's got weak moments (most of them due less to his on-set performance than to shoddy post-production dialogue replacement), but his best moments are numerous and very good indeed.  If I could visit a parallel universe, I would almost certainly try to make it the one in which Lazenby played Bond more than once; in that universe, I suspect he became even better at it with his second film, and then went on to be a popular and effective 007 for the next twenty years.  Oh, to own those Blu-rays and be able to bring them back here!  I'd only show them to my best friends (and to those who agreed with me that [a] Moonraker is great and [b] the underwater scenes in Thunderball are outstanding).
 
Who am I kidding?  I'd show them to the world, because I'd love for the rest of the world to be as big a fan of Lazenby's Bond as I am.
 
I love this film, and it's because of him, not despite it.  Connery is my favorite Bond, but Lazenby is my #2.
 
Other things about this movie that I love:

  • Diana Rigg, who is either the best Bond girl or second only to Eva Green.
  • Telly Savalas, who makes for a great Blofeld.
  • The score -- his best -- by John Barry.
  • The heartbreaking Louis Armstrong song, "We Have All the Time in the World" (a sentiment the film's ending both echoes and refutes).
  • The action scenes, which are some of the best in the series, particularly the ski chase.
  • Everything else.

Honestly, there's very little here that I don't love.  The movie's fanbase has increased over the years, too; if you aren't a member, it's never too late to join.
  


#1 -- Skyfall (2012)
  

 
 
Arguably the biggest hit in the history of the series, even taking the biggest Connery-era hits into account and adjusting their grosses for inflation, Skyfall was a stupendously popular Bond film that nevertheless turned a lot of Bond fans off.
 
Not this one.
 
Craig is close to perfection, and in Javier Bardem the series found one of its all-time best villains.  There isn't a proper Bond girl this time out; filling somewhat the same screen space is Judi Dench, who as M finally gets a good role to play for the series, and does not disappoint.  She plays Bond's boss as being tenacious and full of regret, and is wonderful.
 
Even better: the direction by Sam Mendes and (particularly) the cinematography by Roger Deakins.  A Bond film has never looked this good visually, nor has it had the depth of meaning Mendes gives it.  The screenplay is quite good, too, although there are legitimate problems with the villain's plot.  I can forgive those flaws, though; this is gripping stuff, through and through.
 
I'm also a big fan of Adele's Oscar-winning theme song, which is going to be hard for the next gal or guy (or group) to top.
 
Mild Stephen King connection: Javier Bardem was thiiiiiiiiis close to playing Roland for Ron Howard in a film version of The Dark Tower.  Co-star Naomie Harris was rumored to be a strong contender to play Susannah, which makes Skyfall of moaderate interest to King fan, I suppose.
 
*****
  
The next film in the series, Spectre, opens later this fall.  I can't wait.
 
Apologies for this mostly-Kingless entry in my King blog, but hey, it had to be done.  If you enjoyed it and want to read more of my thoughts about the individual films, you can do so here.

26 comments:

  1. Some of those posters are excellent: I kind of love the way the 007 turns into LOOK in the one for "On Her Majesty's Secret Service."

    I'm quite fond of the Craig Bond films, and agree that Quantum of Solace gets an unfairly bad rap--it's not as great as Casino Royale or Skyfall, but it's far from being actually bad. But Casino Royale and Skyfall are pretty much uniformly excellent down the line. (And they look flat-out gorgeous, especially Skyfall.) The choreography in the action sequences is also amazing: most action in action films is terribly shot, full of quick-cuts that mean you can't actually follow what's going on, but Mendes always makes it clear where Bond is and what he's doing, which certainly works to the films' benefit. Plus great casts doing great work.

    But noting my favorites carries less weight when I haven't seen any of the others--this list gives me some great ideas of which ones to seek out. So thanks!

    Also, affectionate and hilarious James Bond theme song parody video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSjkDZ2Vj24

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    1. That song made me grumpy for about twenty seconds, but then it won me over. Very funny! Although I feel obliged to point out that Bond does not, in fact, ask a recently-decased milkman "Got milk?"

      If you watch any of the older ones, keep us updated!

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    2. Watched From Russia with Love last night and really, really liked it. [For anyone reading this who hasn't seen it, occasional SPOILERS will follow.]

      The opening scene was a great, clever surprise--Bond seemingly prowls around outside a country house, is pursued, and is murdered... only it's a man in a Bond-mask, and it's all just practice for the main event.

      Connery was immensely charming as Bond--loved his banter with Moneypenny--and capable, and I got a kick out of the implication that he tended to conserve his energy in fights for when he really needed it (in the fight scene at the gypsy camp, he goes around slightly dislodging things and people, encouraging them to fall over, which struck me as both a neat metaphor for espionage and a cool look at how a man of action might also know how to selectively save his strength--it makes his fight on the train, which is all in and no holds-barred, all the more awesome, because he's an operator, not a brawler, and we trust that everything is the product of expertise).

      He has, of course, terrific chemistry with Tatiana (and Bianchi as Tatiana is as gorgeous and playful as Connery is charming, and they're a good match--loved her moving her hair over her lip like a mustache when she's alone and just fooling around--although it was disorienting to find out someone else was doing her dialogue), and I like that the movie keeps moving back and forth between whether they're actually connecting or just using each other.

      Ali Kerim Bey was terrific, and he created the feeling I like best in supporting characters: that sense that you could follow him around and there'd be a separate movie about him, keeping the Cold War quiet in Istanbul, hiring all his sons, etc. The bad guys, likewise, were compelling, although if I have a complaint, it's that Kronsteen--so coldly confident and amused--doesn't get more to do, because he was great.

      I checked out your You Only Blog Twice appraisal (awesome!) and really liked your commentary on the credits sequence, which really enriched it for me: the idea of the woman as distraction and the viewer projecting meaning on her was really cool.

      I'm definitely going to check out some more classic-era Bond.

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    3. This is terrific -- thanks for updating me! I'm always glad when I hear some of those older Bonds have connected with someone who's never seen them before. "From Russia With Love" is definitely one of the best of them.

      "in the fight scene at the gypsy camp, he goes around slightly dislodging things and people, encouraging them to fall over, which struck me as both a neat metaphor for espionage and a cool look at how a man of action might also know how to selectively save his strength--it makes his fight on the train, which is all in and no holds-barred, all the more awesome, because he's an operator, not a brawler, and we trust that everything is the product of expertise" -- That's great analysis, and makes the movie seem even better than I already thought it was.

      "Ali Kerim Bey was terrific, and he created the feeling I like best in supporting characters: that sense that you could follow him around and there'd be a separate movie about him, keeping the Cold War quiet in Istanbul, hiring all his sons, etc." -- Absolutely! Here's a depressing story: the actor, Pedro Armendariz, learned that he had cancer during filming. It was very far long and more or less untreatable, and he only barely finished filming. But finishing the movie was very important to him, so he did, and not long afterward he killed himself in the hospital so as to not prolong his misery. Very sad. However, as final movies go, you could do a LOT worse than FRWL; and even today, over fifty years later, people are still loving what he did as Kerim.

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  2. These were great! The fruit of your Herculean labors over at You Only Blog Twice.

    I couldn't agree more on your write-up for Moonraker. I think it and Octopussy will always be my favorite Bonds even though I fully acknowledge the films you've listed above them are objectively better movies / better Bonds.

    You know, you can probably fashion several blogs out of your Y-O-B-T run: you could rank the films by the individual sections you assigned, for example. The data-gathering's all done for you, just plug it into a spreadsheet and sort-a-to-z and wham: 6 or 7 new blogs. Us guys who think a day with a new Bond blog to read is a Best Day Ever scenario would love it.

    That is hilarious about your teenage quest to enlighten the world on Dalton's Bond being like the Bond of the books. I'm finding that to be somewhat true, too, going through the Fleming books as I have.

    Agree with your Lazenby remarks too, particularly on the pity of not seeing him in a few more of the movies. Ah for the Ur-Kindle...

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    1. "You know, you can probably fashion several blogs out of your Y-O-B-T run: you could rank the films by the individual sections you assigned, for example. The data-gathering's all done for you, just plug it into a spreadsheet and sort-a-to-z and wham: 6 or 7 new blogs. Us guys who think a day with a new Bond blog to read is a Best Day Ever scenario would love it."

      You will not be surprised to discover that I've already done all of those rankings. And I do plan to write them all up, although I'm leaning toward waiting until after I've written my inevitable -- and sadly screencap-free! -- review of "Spectre" in a couple of months.

      "Ah for the Ur-Kindle..."

      I mean, it would be SO useful! I don't know what I'd do first: hunt down the entire Lazenby era of Bond films, or check out the inevitable Beatles reunion album(s).

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  3. I agree that a lot of those posters are fantastic. Especially the ones from the 60's and 70's . Maybe Bryant should rank those someday. I haven't seen most of the older Bond films but I would definitley like too check some of them out now. Good list.

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    1. Thanks!

      I like the idea of ranking the posters. I'll almost certainly do that over at You Only Blog Twice, though. But over HERE, I think it might be a great Halloween project to do a ranking of King-movie posters. I'm not sure why that hadn't already occurred to me.

      Appreciate the suggestion!

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    2. That sounds like a great idea!

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  4. Although I think you've rated it too highly, I agree with everything you've said about Skyfall. Good list, not close to mine at all but respectful enough - You're entitled to your own opinion after all :P

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  5. I won't even try to be objective, Live And Let Die is number one for me. It's just so seventies. Even if he's not the best if someone mentions Bond, Roger Moore is who I imagine first for similar reasons as you. I'm also a huge Mccartney fan (in April I flew from Australia to see him three times in Japan) so that adds to my enjoyment as well. oh, and the speed boat chase is excellent too.
    Reading through this I also realised that I've never seen Thunderball or Never Say Never Again. So seeing that it's saturday night (in Aus) and the missus is at her sisters house, I am going to try and watch them tonight starting with the latter judging from your ranking.
    I agree completely with you on Timothy Dalton. I feel he's a bit underrated, though to be fair I haven't seen the films in a long time. Anyway, well done on yet another entertaining and awesome post (how long does it take you to do these things? they seem like a great undertaking to me) and keep embracing the "misspent adulthood"! haha

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    1. This particular post took me about three two-hour sessions, but it was also an outgrowth of a project I spent about four years working on. So it depends on how you look at it.

      A better answer would be "too long; it took too long." I am a very slow writer, sadly!

      I've got at least two friends -- and I think it's three -- whose favorite Bond movie is "Live and Let Die." It isn't mine, but I love it to pieces; there's really not much point in me choosing a favorite among my top fifteen or so, because I adore all of them. And there are elements that I love in all the rest.

      I'd love to hear more about that trip to see McCartney. I'm definitely a Beatles fan (and to a much lesser degree, a fan of the various solo Beatles ventures), so it makes me envious of you -- but VERY happy for you, too! -- that you got to see Paul live. I had a chance to see Ringo not too long ago -- right here in my hometown! -- but couldn't get off of work to go and do it. I'm going to regret that for quite some time to come, I bet.

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  6. "too long" Well it's worth it for us reading it! Have you ever written any books? I would definitely be interested in buying one, you have a good style.

    Seeing Ringo would have been cool, you should have faked an injury. I didn't end up watching any Bond last night as I got carried away reading Dark Tower 3 then fell asleep. I've decided to re-watch them all from the beginning as there's a few I haven't seen in years. Should be fun.

    As for Mccartney, It was unreal.My dad got me a Wings cassette for christmas in 1989 and I never looked back. I went with my brother, our wives and my folks so a bit of a family event. I actually got tickets to see him in Japan last year. I flew there and was queuing up outside the stadium when he cancelled because of illness. Devastating! My wife and I have postponed our first trip to America to go (and again this year as well) so this time I couldn't fully relax until he was onstage playing.
    But it was great, we saw him in Osaka and twice in Tokyo. He played about forty songs each night! half Beatles, half Wings tunes and a couple newer ones thrown in. I was hoping for a few more obscuring songs but what are you going to do? he's written that much stuff that just playing Beatles music alone would take a few nights. I'd definitely recommend it if you get a chance.

    I'd also recommend Japan if you haven't been there. Beautiful country and people were really nice.Some nice old temples and shrines, excellent food and in Tokyo we saw a Japanese Beatles cover band called the Parrots who nailed it.

    Whoops, that turned into a bit of a tirade. Anyway, it's a beautiful sunny sunday morning so I'm going to shut myself in darkness and watch some 007!

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    1. "I went with my brother, our wives and my folks so a bit of a family event." -- That sounds terrific!

      "I flew there and was queuing up outside the stadium when he cancelled because of illness. Devastating!" -- Oh, that sucks. But at least you did get to see him on other occasions, and it sounds like it was a blast. Everything I've ever heard about him is that if you have a chance to see him live, TAKE IT. Your account definitely matches up.

      "I'd also recommend Japan if you haven't been there. Beautiful country and people were really nice.Some nice old temples and shrines, excellent food and in Tokyo we saw a Japanese Beatles cover band called the Parrots who nailed it." -- I am not much of a traveler, but I hope to change that eventually, and Tokyo is probably tops on my list of international destinations I'd like to visit.

      "Have you ever written any books? I would definitely be interested in buying one, you have a good style." -- What a wonderful compliment! Thank you! I have not written any books, although (like traveling) it's something I hope to do eventually. My blogs are a sort of rough-draft first pass at writing about the subjects I want to say something about, and I'm somewhat less focused on publishing than I am on just finding something good to say, saying it well, and then putting it out in the world.

      I'm getting there! Slowly, but surely.

      Now, before I sign off, I'll pose a question: what's your favorite McCartney song (solo or with a band)?

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  7. Now for me that's an impossible question! I guess it would depend on the day. Instead I'll rattle off a few ones off my head
    Paul's Beatles songs:
    Fixing a Hole, Helter Skelter, Blackbird, Lovely Rita, the last few tracks off abbey road, I've got a feeling,
    Solo:
    Let me roll it, Too many people, Love in song, Pipes of peace, Get on the right thing
    Ah, I don’t know man. I feel like this doesn't even scratch the surface but oh well. I should mention his bass lines on some of lennon’s tunes are pretty bloody good as well!
    How about you, favourite beatles song?
    Incidently, I just started Wizard and Glass and am really enjoying it. Now frantically trying to track down a couple books I don’t have

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    1. Favorite Beatles song altogether is probably "Don't Let Me Down," although "Yellow Submarine" would immediately vault to #1 if I began drinking. Favorite one sung by McCartney is almost certainly "Let It Be."

      Favorite solo post-Beatles McCartney song? This is a ridiculous choice, but I've got to be honest: "Wonderful Christmastime." I absolutely ADORED that song when I was a little kid, and heard it on the radio pretty frequently every year. But then, for whatever reason, I kind of forgot about it; I mean literally forgot it even existed. But I heard it again years later, and that was about as close as I've ever gotten to stepping foot in a TARDIS. So now, once again, I listen to it frequently during that time of year, and it always makes me smile. So for sentimental reasons, that's the post-Beatles song I'd name.

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    2. "Don't let me down" is an excellent song! Them playing it on the rooftop is one of my favourite things ever.good harmonies in the chorus. I can't believe they shelved the whole "Let it be" album after recording it and then made "abbey road".
      and a few drinks definitely shakes things up a bit.

      Don't worry, I like "wonderful christmastime" too, I like the keys in it . though I do agree it's a ridiculous choice for number one. haha. I'll be singing that all day now. That's the kind of song I was hoping he would break out live. I had a similar experience with "we all stand together", the song with the cartoon filmclip and singing frogs. Loved it as a kid and rediscovered it in my mid twenties.

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    3. I'm very weak on my post-Beatles McCartney knowledge; I know I've heard a few of the songs you've named, but "Too Many People" is the only one I can actually bring to mind. I need to make this a priority!

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    4. If I may humbly insert a post-Beatles McCartney link, this is one I love grooving out to:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vgmXiTG21yM

      You can't go wrong with Venus and Mars the album. (Ditto for Ram. Or McCartney, even Wild Life. And The Firemen. And Band on the Run. And the Hope and Deliverance cd-single. "Big Boys Bickering," especially. And Tripping the Live Fantastic! haha - sorry, got carried away. Great tunes, tho.)

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    5. Goddam, "Letting Go" is fanTAStic! Not sure why that surprises me.

      Seriously, somebody please give me an annually-recurring grant so I can spend my time just sitting around exploring all these nooks and crannies of culture I haven't gotten to yet.

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  8. God..i love lists like this!

    Here are a few Bond related clips you might like….

    1. One of my favorite Britpop era bands Pulp almost did the theme song for Tomorrow Never Dies…but were rejected at the last minute…with a subtle change to the title and lyric the track became Tomorrow Never Lies and was used as a B- side…here is a video with their track over the opening credits…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHpH-iziTho

    2. One of my favorite comedy creations Alan Partridge plans a Bond marathon - from the episode "Never Say Alan Again" - Stop Getting Bond Wrong!!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=czWLEbNwjCI

    3. And now Alan's narration of the intro to The Spy Who Loved Me - over the opening credits…Ohh a bit of nipple!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lrp0wJsXNEA

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    1. I'd heard that Pulp song before. It's a good song, but I have a hard time hearing it as a Bond song; clearly, the producers agreed with me!

      One slight correction, though (and I didn't know this until relatively recently myself): the movie was actually titled "Tomorrow Never Lies" for a while. I'd always assumed Pulp changed the title of the song to avoid Bond comparisons, but no, that was the movie's title when they recorded their song. Fascinating!

      I have not seen the video with their song over the credits, so I look forward to checking that out. Ditto for the Partridge clips; I'd heard that show used Bond fandom for material, so I'll happily give those a look. Thanks for the links!

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  9. LMFAO off at the pitch for "Diamonds are Forever". When you describe it like that, it is indeed NUTS :)

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