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.

Film Review: The Living Daylights (1987)

Release Date: June 29th, 1987 (London premiere)
Directed by: John Glen
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Michael G. Wilson
Based on: characters by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Timothy Dalton, Maryam d’Abo, Joe Don Baker, Art Malik, Jeroen Krabbé, John Rhys-Davies, Robert Brown, Desmond Llewelyn, Caroline Bliss

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

Review:

“Believe me, my interest in her is purely professional.” – James Bond

I tend to go against the grain. I usually say things about movies or other pop culture stuff that leaves people baffled. For instance, Timothy Dalton is my favorite James Bond. Yes, he is. And yes, I loved every other actor that played the character and especially have a soft spot for the Connery and Moore chapters in the franchise but Dalton was and always will be my James Bond.

Maybe my love for Dalton is because he was the current Bond when I really got into James Bond movies. The Living Daylights was the first Bond film that I saw in the theater and as a kid, a year later, I was on the set of Licence to Kill in the Florida Keys. I didn’t get to meet Dalton but I got to see him standing around, as James Bond in the flesh.

Unfortunately, due to lawsuits in the early 1990s, Timothy Dalton only got to play James Bond twice: in 1987’s The Living Daylights and in 1989’s superb Licence to Kill. This film is my least favorite of the two but I still thoroughly enjoy it.

The thing that brings this chapter in the Bond franchise down a notch or two, is that it still carries over some of the cheesiness from the Roger Moore era. While that stuff worked for Moore, it really wasn’t a beneficial approach to Dalton’s style as the character. And frankly, it feels as if the movie was written with Roger Moore in mind, before Dalton was cast as the British super spy.

However, some of the hokey bits are still amusing, like the cello case sled scene, for instance.

Another weak point with this film though, is the villains. While I like Joe Don Baker and always have, he just doesn’t feel like a Bond villain. He plays more like a one-off baddie from a show like Magnum P.I. and doesn’t truly feel like someone worthy of Bond’s attention like members of SPECTRE, Francisco Scaramanga, Franz Sanchez, Raoul Silva, Alec Trevelyan, Hugo Draz or hell, even Max Zorin. At least Baker would get a second go in the series when he appeared in two of the Pierce Brosnan films a decade later: Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies.

I did enjoy Maryam d’Abo as the Bond girl in this film. She was a departure from the overly glamorous women of previous movies. Not to say that she wasn’t beautiful and classy but she played a musician, a real artist type. She was cute and sexy but not a supermodel out trying to marry a rock star. She was also sweet and innocent, even though the first time you encounter her, she’s wielding a sniper rifle.

We also get the great John Rhys-Davies in this and I kind of wish that his character would have returned to the series later on. I feel as if he would have been an ally to Bond again, had Timothy Dalton’s run as the character lasted longer than two films. But the man got to team up with James Bond and Indiana Jones in his career, not to mention being a pivotal member of the Fellowship in the The Lord of the Rings movies.

The Living Daylights is a better than average James Bond outing, enhanced by the charm and gravitas that is Timothy Dalton. Plus, the followup to this film would be one of the best in the entire series. The Living Daylights was a good introduction to a really good Bond that we unfortunately didn’t get to see much more of.

Film Review: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

Release Date: December 18th, 1969 (London premiere)
Directed by: Peter R. Hunt
Written by: Richard Maibaum
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, Ilse Steppat, Gabriele Ferzetti, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn

Eon Productions, United Artists, 140 Minutes

Review:

“Merry Christmas, 007.” – Ernst Stavro Blofeld

Is it weird that my favorite James Bond film of all-time stars my least favorite James Bond actor? Granted, he only did this one picture so there isn’t much to judge George Lazenby on but this was the finest picture in the franchise. But the reasons for that are many and Lazenby’s version of Bond was just sort of there for the ride.

To put it bluntly, this is the perfect James Bond movie. Now it isn’t a perfect film but it is as close as a 007 adventure has gotten. It has everything you want in a Bond film or at least, everything I want. It is less gadgety than other films in the franchise but I quite enjoyed that about this one. It was also the most serious film of its era. The stuff before it was getting a bit hokey and after it was Diamonds Are Forever, which is cheesy, albeit not in a bad way. Following that, we got the Roger Moore era, which was awesome but was also the most lighthearted and goofy string of films in the long franchise’s history. We actually wouldn’t get another serious feeling Bond film until twenty years later with the Timothy Dalton flick Licence to Kill, another one of my all-time favorites.

The thing that makes On Her Majesty’s Secret Service so unique is the fact that it does have some hokey moments but the serious tone of the picture balances things out. It is a best of both worlds scenario in regards to marrying the serious Bond and the lighthearted Bond.

Lazenby did a good job with the material but I think Sean Connery would have brought this script to a whole different level with added gravitas. I also feel that Lazenby was often times carried in scenes by the veteran Telly Savalas and Ilse Steppat. Also, Diana Rigg was the one that shined in her scenes together with Lazenby. Although, Lazenby could have probably been a fine Bond had he stuck around. Timothy Dalton didn’t nail the role in his first film but he became a really good Bond in his second.

Telly Savalas was the real star of the film though and for good reason. He took the character of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, a guy who we had already seen in a half dozen different incarnations up to this point, and made him an exceptional villain.

While I love the work that Donald Pleasence did in the previous film, You Only Live Twice, it was this Blofeld that became the real foil in Bond’s life. Savalas played the roll more seriously and wasn’t just a villainous caricature. Also, he is the first villain to severely hurt 007, adding a level of hatred towards the character that had never been there previously. Unfortunately, he and Lazenby never returned and we never got to see justice served in a satisfying manner following this film’s ending.

The Bond Girls have always been an important part of this franchise and this film features the most ladies, by far. Granted, James Bond still only sleeps with two of them but he had a huge group of women to explore in this chapter in the series. Also, he does end up in bed with the evil Irma Bunt but it’s a trap.

The Swiss location was another element of this film that made it great. While Bond seems to do less traveling in this picture and spends the majority of his time in the Swiss Alps, it actually keeps the picture really grounded. The geography is amazing and the tone of the film is enhanced by the cold surroundings. I feel that revisiting this area in Daniel Craig’s most recent Bond outing, Spectre, was an homage to this picture and tried to tap into the magic it bestowed on the franchise.

The icy stock car race is also one of the best action sequences in the entire Bond franchise. It was well shot, the action well handled and it made a Bond Girl come off as bad ass and not just some damsel in distress like most of them are. There is a reason why Bond wants to marry this particular girl and it is because she saves his ass and can hold her own alongside him.

The fight choreography was a bit different in this chapter. In fact, it was heavily edited with quick cuts and fast movement. It made these scenes feel more gritty and realistic. I liked the director’s approach to these moments but the series would revert back to a more traditional style of shooting these sequences, after this picture.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the finest film in the James Bond oeuvre. While many will probably disagree with me, I think it is because a lot of people just aren’t as interested in a film with a James Bond actor that isn’t as established as Sean Connery or Roger Moore. It is a weird film wedged between two Connery chapters and then the Moore era starts just after that. I think that a lot of fans just sort of forget about this movie. It certainly doesn’t get the play on cable television whenever networks do their big week long Bond marathons. At least when compared to the amount of play of those Connery and Moore films get.

This is an odd installment for the film series that kind of exists on its own and unfortunately, never got a proper followup. It was the one film that needed a proper followup, though. Get to that ending and you’ll see why. I’m still kind of pissed at Telly Savalas and Ilse Steppat.

Film Review: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

Release Date: July 7th, 1977 (London premiere)
Directed by: Lewis Gilbert
Written by: Christopher Wood, Richard Maibaum
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: Marvin Hamlisch
Cast: Roger Moore, Barbara Bach, Curd Jürgens, Richard Kiel, Caroline Munro, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell

Eon Productions, United Artists, 125 Minutes

Review:

“Mmm, maybe I misjudged Stromberg. Any man who drinks Dom Perignon ’52 can’t be all bad.” – James Bond

It has been a really long time since I’ve seen this particular James Bond movie, which is why I wanted to pop it into the DVD player. My memories of it weren’t spectacular but I really enjoyed it this time around and I now rank it really high in the Roger Moore era.

But what’s not to like?

You have Roger Moore, who is Roger friggin’ Moore. Then you have Barbara Bach as the female Soviet equivalent to Bond. This film also introduces Jaws, played by my favorite giant (after Peter Mayhew), Richard Kiel. Plus Curd Jürgens’ Karl Stromberg is one of the best non-SPECTRE villains in the entire Bond franchise. And I certainly can’t forget the apple of my eye, Caroline Munro.

One thing that also makes this entry into the massive Bond franchise so great is the locations. I loved all the stuff that was filmed in Egypt. The scene with Bond and Amasova tracking Jaws through the giant pillars is one of the best sequences in the entire film series. Also, the scene during the pyramid light show has some of the coolest shots and cinematography in the franchise.

Additionally, the set of Stromberg’s underwater fortress was well built and designed. The place looked sinister as hell and had a very brooding vibe, as it sprouted from the ocean surface.

This film, looking at it now, features the best tandem of Bond girls, in my opinion. Bach is perfect in her role as Major Anya Amasova a.k.a. Agent XXX. She owned the part and was much more than just a pretty face needing to be rescued. Of course, she did need to be rescued in the end. Caroline Munro, who is incredibly stunning, looked like she was having a blast as the helicopter pilot trying to kill Bond and Amasova. She had the right mix of sexual allure and sadism. I just wish she had more time to shine in the picture.

The fights between Bond and Jaws were well executed and the fisticuffs played out well. I was glad that they created Jaws as this unstoppable character that survives the craziest situations only to stand and fight, again and again. I was really glad to see him return for this film’s direct sequel Moonraker.

My memories of this movie weren’t great but this is one of the Bond films I have seen the least. I’m glad that my memory was wrong and that I got to see this in a different light. Or maybe I’ve been watching so much crap lately, that anything with a semblance of quality would’ve made me happy.