Film Review: Goldfinger (1964)

Release Date: September 17th, 1964 (London premiere)
Directed by: Guy Hamilton
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Paul Dehn, Berkely Mather (uncredited)
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Sean Connery, Honor Blackman, Gert Fröbe, Shirley Eaton, Harold Sakata, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn

Eon Productions, United Artists, 110 Minutes

Review:

“Man has climbed Mount Everest, gone to the bottom of the ocean. He’s fired rockets at the Moon, split the atom, achieved miracles in every field of human endeavor… except crime!” – Auric Goldfinger

A lot of lifelong James Bond fans that I talk to, consider Goldfinger to be their all-time favorite film in the franchise. While I love it, it isn’t my favorite or even my favorite of the Connery pictures. I rank it behind From Russia With LoveDr. No and Thunderball but let’s be honest, all the Connery films were solid. Yes, even Diamonds Are Forever.

I think the thing that makes this film stand out, is that it feels different than the other pictures from the Connery era. At least, it feels different to me.

Goldfinger is a bit more confined. Sure, Bond travels the world but a big chunk of this film takes place in the United States, which is far from exotic, at least to a guy from the United States. The nicest place in the film is the Swiss Alps but the movie doesn’t spend a great deal of time there. There is Miami, then the London office of MI-6, then the Switzerland stuff and then back to the United States for Auric Goldfinger’s big raid on Fort Knox.

This isn’t what I would call a smaller film but everything just seems less grand overall. In fact, the Fort Knox heist seems a bit below Bond’s pay grade. While I like Goldfinger tremendously as a villain, this film lacks the extra gravitas you get when SPECTRE is present onscreen. Goldfinger was certainly a decent foil but he is sort of a bumbling man baby that Bond had no problems with outsmarting from the outset of the film. I feel like Bond could have dealt with Goldfinger in the first twenty minutes of the story and been done with it, if he wasn’t just trying to frolic with the fancy ladies. This seemed more like a story where Bond was on vacation, got kind of bored and just stumbled upon a quick and easy caper to occupy his downtime.

I guess Oddjob was a formidable henchman but he could have also been easily dispatched with a gut shot from Bond’s Walther PPK. Sure, he’s a big dude with a razor sharp hat but a nice shot to the tummy would have taken the mute Korean bear down. Bond needs to stash more tiny pistols on his person.

Goldfinger, as much as it probably seems like I am knocking it, just makes me feel like we checked in with James Bond on an off day. The villain had charisma and personality but I feel like the bayou sheriff from the Roger Moore Bond films could have beaten Goldfinger accidentally.

I do like the cinematography and the film’s style and visual tone. I also love the Aston Martin DB5. However, the film seemed generally less gadget-y than a typical Bond picture. Although, the car had some cool features that were completely ripped off for the Spy Hunter video game in the ’80s.

I just don’t agree with the popular opinion on this one. It’s a good Bond movie but it is definitely not in the upper echelon. When watched within the context of all the Connery films, it seems like filler and a forced break away from the larger SPECTRE story arc.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The other Sean Connery James Bond movies, as well as that George Lazenby one.

Film Review: From Russia With Love (1963)

Release Date: October 10th, 1963 (London premiere)
Directed by: Terence Young
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, Berkely Mather
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Sean Connery, Pedro Armendariz, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw, Bernard Lee, Daniela Bianchi, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn

Eon Productions, United Artists, 115 Minutes

Review:

“Siamese fighting fish, fascinating creatures. Brave but of the whole stupid. Yes they’re stupid. Except for the occasional one such as we have here who lets the other two fight. While he waits. Waits until the survivor is so exhausted that he cannot defend himself, and then like SPECTRE… he strikes!” – Blofeld

After the huge success of Dr. No, Eon Productions didn’t waste any time in fast tracking a sequel. While that usually results in shoddy results, what we actually got was one of the best James Bond films of all-time and my personal favorite out of the Connery pictures.

This also serves to establish SPECTRE as a much bigger threat than you might realize that they were when watching Dr. No. Blofeld makes an appearance here and he employs two of his best agents (and two of the best Bond villains ever) Rosa Klebb, SPECTRE’s “Number 3”, and Donald “Red” Grant, an incredibly talented and deadly assassin, who really is the evil counterpart to James Bond and the first time we’ve seen this sort of character.

What I really like about the Connery Bond pictures, especially the earliest ones, is that they had a seriousness about them. Sure, they were also playful, as Bond movies should be, but they also knew how to balance it really well. Bond doesn’t yet feel invincible and with the opening scene in this picture, where we see how astute Grant is at killing, the danger in this film feels much more real. I think the very dark opening, regardless of its narrative swerve did a lot in foreshadowing the tone of the rest of the picture.

This movie has a real grittiness to it. However, that grittiness started to dissipate with each new Bond film after this one. A grittiness that is mostly non-existent in the era of Roger Moore.

Part of that is due to the fight scenes. This has some of the best cinematic face offs that you will see from the 1960s. The confrontation between Bond and Grant on the train is almost strenuous to watch because it has a real sense of authenticity to it. It’s might vs. might, skill vs. skill, as two well trained men with deadly hands try to kill one another.

Also, Bond still has all of the elements that made him cool and tough in the first film but it’s at a whole different level here. Dr. No was the trial run and now, by film two, Connery seems more comfortable and familiar with the territory. And the best part, is that this was before the character started to become watered down and cliche. Connery’s Bond has a certain panache and gravitas and the writers weren’t trying to purposefully maximize it or fine tune it yet. Connery just put it out there, carried the film and it was all natural. Or at least it felt that way.

And while you don’t need a lot of money to make a good picture, this film had double the budget of its predecessor and it shows. All the on location stuff was great and even though I love the beauty of Jamaica, the Turkey scenes in this are majestic and made the scale of this film come across as much more epic.

From Russia With Love isn’t just one of the greatest James Bond films, it is one of the absolute best in the entire spy thriller genre.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: The other Sean Connery James Bond movies, as well as that George Lazenby one.

Film Review: Licence to Kill (1989)

Release Date: June 13th, 1989 (London premiere)
Directed by: John Glen
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Michael G. Wilson
Based on: characters by Ian Fleming
Music by: Michael Kamen
Cast: Timothy Dalton, Robert Davi, Carey Lowell, Talisa Soto, Anthony Zerbe, Frank McRae, Everett McGill, Wayne Newton, Benicio del Toro, Anthony Starke, Priscilla Barnes, Robert Brown, Desmond Llewelyn, Caroline Bliss

Eon Productions, United International Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 131 Minutes

Review:

“Señor Bond, you got big cojones. You come here, to my place, without references, carrying a piece, throwing around a lot of money… but you should know something: nobody saw you come in, so nobody has to see you go out.” – Franz Sanchez

Timothy Dalton was my favorite James Bond. I know that makes me strange and weird but he was the first Bond on the big screen for me and his movies had a bit more gravitas than those cheesy Roger Moore outings. They also had more gravitas than those later Brosnan films because those went back towards the route of cheese and eventually killed the franchise until Daniel Craig came along and stopped smiling.

Licence to Kill is a very divisive Bond film but then Dalton is a very divisive Bond. The film takes a turn for realism nearly two decades before the Daniel Craig starring Casino Royale. In 1989, that rubbed most people the wrong way. This was the first Bond film to get a PG-13 rating due to that realness and its use of violence. Some people also felt that the more violent bits were too much but I felt that it reflected a Bond franchise that was about to enter the ’90s.

The film boasts some solid action sequences. All the Key West stuff was fantastically shot and looks great by modern standards. The Mexico material also looks incredible, especially the Olympatec Meditation Institute scenes, which were filmed at the Centro Cultural Otomi. The cinematography was pretty standard but the locations didn’t need much razzle dazzle. They really only needed explosions, which there were plenty of.

Robert Davi plays the villain and I can’t think of another actor that could have played the role as well as he did. He had the right look, the right level of intensity and had a predatory presence like a reptile. His top henchman was played by Benicio del Toro in only his second film role.

We also get to see Wayne Newton in a role greater than just a cameo and honestly, I love Newton in this. The film also boasts a collection of other talented actors in supporting roles: Frank McRae, Everett McGill, Anthony Zerbe, Anthony Starke and Priscilla Barnes.

I thought that the Bond Girls were a mixed bag in this film. Carey Lowell was pretty badass and held her own. I liked her a lot and think that she doesn’t get enough credit as one of the great Bond Girls. She certainly had more to offer than the standard “damsels in distress” of the classic Bond pictures. Talisa Soto, however, was more like a useless damsel but to the nth degree. I thought Soto was fine with the material she was given but she didn’t serve much purpose other than being a pretty gold digger that probably deserved to be in a drug kingpin’s web. I don’t think that she was a character that anyone could relate to and really, wouldn’t care about because she’s a greedy woman that lays around all day.

The thing is, I love Timothy Dalton’s Bond. This is the better of his two pictures but sadly, we wouldn’t get anymore with him. Not because no one else liked him but because the James Bond franchise went into a state of limbo for six years, as the rights to the material were being battled over in court. By the time things were settled and GoldenEye was slated for a 1995 release date, Dalton decided to step away.

Licence to Kill is rarely on people’s lips when naming favorite Bond movies. But when someone else mentions it, it usually comes with a fist bump and a stoic, confident nod of admiration because I know that I just met someone with real taste.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: The only other Timothy Dalton James Bond movie, The Living Daylights.

Film Review: GoldenEye (1995)

Release Date: November 13th, 1995 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Martin Campbell
Written by: Jeffrey Caine, Bruce Feirstein, Michael France (uncredited), Kevin Wade (uncredited)
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: Eric Serra, John Altman (uncredited)
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco, Famke Janssen, Joe Don Baker, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Cumming, Judi Dench, Desmond Llewelyn, Samantha Bond, Minnie Driver

Eon Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 130 Minutes

Review:

“You don’t like me, Bond. You don’t like my methods. You think I’m an accountant, a bean counter more interested in my numbers than your instincts.” – M, “The thought had occurred to me.” – James Bond, “Good, because I think you’re a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War, whose boyish charms, though wasted on me, obviously appealed to that young woman I sent out to evaluate you.” – M, “Point taken.” – James Bond

I had always considered GoldenEye to be the best James Bond movie that starred Pierce Brosnan. It still is but revisiting it now, I realize that it isn’t the best by a wide margin. It’s a film that feels incredibly dated, boasts an atrocious score and is so goofy and over the top that the old Nintendo 64 game felt more realistic.

I like Pierce Brosnan as James Bond… A. LOT. It’s just that the vehicles they gave him weren’t up to the standard that his performances were. And to be honest, I think that the high opinion that people have about this chapter in the massive Bond franchise is really just caused by nostalgia for its video game adaptation.

Granted, that game, as fun as it was in 1997, is also extremely dated and sort of a relic from a bygone era of primitive polygonal first-person shooters. Some people still love that game but I picked it up recently and thought it was unplayable. And like that game, this movie is a product of its era and really only speaks to that era. It could have been the coolest thing at the time but we moved past that era pretty damn quickly and never looked back except through rose colored nostalgia glasses.

The score is the biggest problem for me. It pulls me right out of the film and is in conflict with the classical James Bond scores the franchise has become synonymous with. That early scene where Bond is racing his car through the mountains against Famke Janssen’s Xenia Onatopp is a prime example of how the score ruins everything on the screen. It takes what should have been a cool and classic Bond moment and turns it into a corny cat and mouse game accented by a generic synth heavy tune that sounds like it should be in an early Tekken game or a Bulgarian porno movie.

We get one good moment with the score when the tank chase happens. However, John Altman stepped in to score that scene, where Eric Serra was the one who composed all that other bizarre stuff that wrecked the film’s vibe.

This film does have some strong positives and its those positives that keep this chapter above the other Brosnan Bond outings.

The biggest positive is that most of the cast was really good.

I loved Sean Bean and Famke Janssen as the villains and they made a great pair. I also liked Joe Don Baker returning to the franchise as an ally and not a villain. Also, Robbie Coltrane’s character is one of my favorites from the Brosnan era. The real highlight though, was the addition of Judi Dench as M. Her scenes with Brosnan were spectacular and she immediately walked in, stepped into the role and had a bigger impact than all the previous Ms.

On the flip side, Alan Cumming’s Boris was one of the most annoying characters I have ever seen on film. I guess he was supposed to be but over twenty year later, I still want to punch him in the face: ten times for each scene he’s in, multiplied by the amount of times I’ve seen this film. At least he was a good Nightcrawler in X-Men 2.

GoldenEye is decent but it is not great and certainly not as amazing as some people seem to remember it being. Sure, maybe it worked for 1995 but isn’t that the same year that the “Macarena” blew up?

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Any other Pierce Brosnan Bond movie. But ignore Die Another Day at all costs.

Film Review: Moonraker (1979)

Release Date: June 26th, 1979 (UK)
Directed by: Lewis Gilbert
Written by: Christopher Wood
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: Marvin Hamlisch
Cast: Roger Moore, Lois Chiles, Michael Lonsdale, Richard Kiel, Corinne Clery, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell

Eon Productions, United Artists, 126 Minutes

Review:

“Mr. Bond, you defy all my attempts to plan an amusing death for you.” – Hugo Drax

Moonraker was a direct sequel to The Spy Who Loved Me. However, it didn’t carry on that story, it just sort of picked up where it left off with James Bond leaving behind his mission involving the Russians and immediately crossing paths with the previous film’s evil henchman, Jaws.

I was always a fan of Jaws and Richard Kiel, in general. So seeing him return was really cool and also, by the end of the film, he falls in love and redeems himself, helping Bond and Dr. Holly Goodhead escape potential death.

Now this film is met with a lot of disdain from many in the fan community. It seems that a lot of people hated the heavy science fiction element and thought that it was a cheap attempt at trying to capitalize off of the success of Star Wars. It certainly was but I still liked it and it made the film standout in a sea of Bond pictures that can be easily confused for one another. Plus, who doesn’t like clunky, loud lasers and awkward zero gravity sequences? Also, when the shuttle doors open and a squad of battle ready astronauts swarm towards the Moonraker space station and its battle ready astronauts, I can’t help but smile. The action plays out like something you’d see in the original Battlestar Galactica or Buck Rogers In the 25th Century.

Roger Moore is his typical cheesy self but he still brings the right amount of gravitas to his version of the Bond role. While the Moore films might be the hokiest of the franchise and Moonraker may be the hokiest of them all, it just works for me and I have always appreciated Moore’s contributions to the series. His films are certainly his and he brought a lightheartedness that worked for his time, even if it would be scoffed at in the modern era.

Michael Lonsdale’s Hugo Drax is one of the most memorable villains in the Bond mythos. He is certainly one of the top dogs not to be associated with SPECTRE. Plus, his plot is incredibly ambitious and impressive, in a way that others before him and many after, could never feasibly pull off. If it wasn’t for Drax and his scheming, Bond would have never needed to go to outer space. Some of you may think that’s great but I liked this space adventure.

Lois Chiles was a decent female lead but she had large shoes to fill after Barbara Bach’s appearance in the previous film. While she isn’t as good as Bach, she was believable in her role, was damn pretty and got to crack some skulls, here and there.

I like Moonraker a lot more than most people. I’m a sucker for cheese if it is the right kind. This is well-aged, perfectly sliced and served on a silver platter: cheese of the highest quality.

Film Review: Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

Release Date: December 9th, 1997 (London premiere)
Directed by: Roger Spottiswoode
Written by: Bruce Feirstein
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: David Arnold
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh, Teri Hatcher, Joe Don Baker, Judi Dench, Desmond Llewelyn, Samantha Bond, Götz Otto, Ricky Jay, Vincent Schiavelli

Eon Productions, United Artists, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 119 Minutes

Review:

“The distance between insanity and genius is measured only by success.” – Elliot Carver

I’ve been working my way through the Pierce Brosnan James Bond films, as they are my least favorite stretch in the franchise and I haven’t revisited them in quite some time. Brosnan was a great Bond but other than GoldenEye, his films were weak and not worthy of his talents. Rewatching these now, I have found them to be a bit better than I remembered but they still aren’t great Bond outings.

While this chapter in the saga isn’t anywhere near as bad as Die Another Day, the worst Bond film of all-time, this one certainly isn’t as good as GoldenEye and I’d also have to rank it lower than The World Is Not Enough. Still, I enjoyed it more now than I did in 1997.

I remember that when this came out, I was really excited to see that Michelle Yeoh was in it. She is one of the greatest actresses to ever come out of Hong Kong and she spent the majority of her career kicking ass with style. This film also adds in Teri Hatcher to the long list of Bond Girls but unfortunately, she’s snuffed out before this film even gets to the halfway point. It felt like a waste for Hatcher and honestly, I was kind of hoping she’d be a femme fatale and throw a wrench into Bond’s plans. Hatcher was the perfect choice for that type of Bond Girl but the filmmakers really missed the mark for her.

Michelle Yeoh did at least kick some ass in this but I still felt that her skills were underutilized. Maybe they couldn’t have her upstaging Bond but frankly, that would have added a good element to the film and I’d rather see her as the top female badass of the franchise with the potential for a spin off, rather than how they tried to do that with Halle Berry, two films later in the disastrous Die Another Day.

Typically, I like Jonathan Pryce. I mean, he killed it in Brazil and I loved him popping up in those earlier Pirates of the Caribbean movies but I’m not a fan of his character here. He plays Elliot Carver, a media mogul that looks like an evil Steve Jobs, assuming Jobs wasn’t evil – I think he was evil. Carver has a world domination plot that seemed like something from an old throwaway episode of G.I. Joe. He might as well have just been Cobra Commander and bumbled his way through a dumb scheme only to have Roadblock shoot his way into the evil command center and dump gumbo on his head. Funny, since Pryce was also in those live action G.I. Joe movies.

Pryce’s main henchman was also one of the worst in Bond history. He wasn’t gimmicky or cool, he was just some buff, blonde European. Is this a Bond movie or Die Hard 9? Plus, no buff, blonde European is going to top Red Grant of From Russia With Love. Sorry, but the Soviet uniform and his menacing presence makes it hard for most evil henchmen to top him and he was featured in this series over thirty years before Pryce’s right hand stooge.

Tomorrow Never Dies is mostly unworthy of boasting the James Bond name. While it had a few good and amusing moments, it’s definitely a film that is way down towards the bottom of the list, if one were ranking these movies.

Film Review: The World Is Not Enough (1999)

Release Date: November 8th, 1999 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Michael Apted
Written by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Bruce Feirstein
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: David Arnold
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Sophie Marceau, Robert Carlyle, Denise Richards, Robbie Coltrane, John Cleese, Judi Dench, Desmond Llewelyn, Samantha Bond, Goldie

Eon Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 128 Minutes

Review:

“Oh, grow up 007!” – Q

For some reason, this left a pretty bad taste in my mouth back in 1999 when I originally saw it. Maybe it felt incredibly redundant with all the James Bond films that had come out by 1999 or maybe the Austin Powers movies did such a good job poking fun at the super spy genre that I couldn’t take it seriously and all the tropes of the style had really been ruined. Whatever the case, I’m glad that I revisited it because I have more appreciation for it than I did back in the day.

Look, Pierce Brosnan was a damn good Bond. Unfortunately, other than GoldenEye, he didn’t have the best material to work with. And honestly, the Bond movies had all been made in a specific style for so long that it was probably pretty hard coming up with new ideas and not just retreading the same territory again and again.

Now this doesn’t have a memorable villain, although I have always liked Robert Carlyle, and this also doesn’t really have a memorable plot. At least, I really didn’t remember much about this other than Denise Richards was supposed to convince us that she was a legit rocket scientist. So since I hadn’t watched this one in so long, seeing it now was like going into it mostly blind. Again, this is better than I remembered.

In this, James Bond must race against time to stop some big international disaster. I mean, that’s really the plot of every Bond movie but the details always differ. Here, we have a beautiful daughter of an oil tycoon that Bond must protect, a villain who doesn’t feel any pain due to a bullet being lodged into his brain and another woman because Bond always needs two. There are nuclear warheads, a nuclear submarine and several locations: Spain, France, Azerbaijan, Turkey and of course the United Kingdom. Robbie Coltrane also returns in this one as his character from GoldenEye.

It is also worth mentioning that this was the last film to feature Desmond Llewelyn as Q. Llewelyn had the role as far back as 1963’s From Russia With Love. With 17 Bond movies under his belt and having served five different James Bond incarnations, Llewelyn was in more of these pictures than anyone else. Sadly, he died just after this film’s release but not without passing the torch to John Cleese, who unfortunately, only got to be in one more Bond film after this.

The World Is Not Enough holds up pretty well when compared to the other films within the long history of the classic pre-Daniel Craig era of James Bond. I thought that Sophie Marceau was really good and not to be that guy but man, Denise Richards was absolutely friggin’ gorgeous. When we first see her, she is dressed like Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider video game series. Frankly, I would’ve rather had her over Angelina Jolie in the Tomb Raider movies. Denise Richards looked more the part.

Where I once had a hole in my heart after disliking this movie, that hole has now been filled, 18 years later. It’s nowhere near as bad as its sequel Die Another Day and although it’s not as good as GoldenEye, it still satisfies and Brosnan just works as the ’90s version of James Bond.