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.

Film Review: Die Another Day (2002)

Release Date: November 20th, 2002 (UK)
Directed by: Lee Tamahori
Written by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: David Arnold
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike, John Cleese, Judi Dench, Samantha Bond

Eon Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 133 Minutes

Review:

“I have been known to keep my tip up.” – James Bond

Die Another Day is the film I consider to be the worst James Bond picture of all-time. While I felt like it played better than I remembered, having revisited it for the first time since its release a decade and a half ago, it still takes the cake, as far as bad Bond movies go.

While Pierce Brosnan was a damn good Bond, his movies are borderline abysmal, minus Goldeneye, his debut.

The Brosnan films came out in a time when motion pictures were getting more serious and less campy. Unfortunately, these play almost like parodies of the very playful and sometimes hokey films of the Roger Moore era. It also didn’t help that the Austin Powers franchise came along and sort of dumped these movies on their head. All of this is why the character of Bond went away for four years after this film and came back revamped and more serious with the start of the Daniel Craig era.

Like every other movie from the Brosnan era, this was a marketing machine, made to sell a bunch of shit that was featured in the picture. Unfortunately, regardless of how much money you have in your bank account, you can’t buy an invisible Aston Martin. And the fact that that is a thing in this movie, should tell you how ridiculous this flick is, even for James Bond standards. This is the movie that really jumped the shark with its use of gadgetry.

The film is also mired by the inclusion of Halle Berry as the character Jinx, which was done in an effort to create a spin-off franchise for her. That franchise never saw the light of day because she truly sucked in this film and despite trying to sell her as a female bad ass, for the most part, she was just another Bond damsel in distress. Ultimately, she was unconvincing regardless of how cool and tough they tried to make her seem. I don’t necessarily blame Berry for this though, as the character was poorly written and the director seemed to be dialing it in.

The stunts were a mixed bad of good and god awful. The CGI effects were friggin’ atrocious, even for the time. Just look at the scene where Bond is kite surfing a giant wave and try not to cringe.

Also, the film’s plot is just a bit of a rehash of Goldeneye. It’s story doesn’t justify its existence and the pens behind this tale really should have given us something better than another killer satellite story.

There are a few small positives, however.

The first is the opening sequence in North Korea. It was really well done and felt like a classic Bond sequence. Of course, everything goes completely downhill after the credits.

Also, I really liked Rosamund Pike as Miranda Frost. I thought she was a better than decent Bond girl and much more interesting than Berry’s Jinx.

Lastly, the film features Pierce Brosnan, the man who is usually the biggest highlight of any film that he is in.

The last big gripe however is in regards to the villain. He’s a North Korean general’s bratty kid who gets plastic surgery to look like a smarmy elitist white dude. The whole thing is just stupid. Although, the henchman with the diamond face was cool and had a classic Bond villain vibe to him.

Die Another Day is a film that shelved the franchise and caused it to be rebooted and reinvented. It is awful in just about every way. There are literally two dozen Bond movies that are better than this pile of crap.

So does it deserved to be ran through the Cinespiria Shitometer? Of course it does! And the results speak for themselves! What we have here is a “Type 7 Stool: Watery, no solid pieces. Entirely Liquid.”

Film Review: Dr. No (1962)

Release Date: October 5th, 1962 (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: Monty Norman
Cast: Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman, Jack Lord

Eon Productions, United Artists, 109 Minutes

Review:

“The successful criminal brain is always superior. It has to be.” – Dr. Julius No

James Bond had to start somewhere and Dr. No is just that, his cinematic debut.

Granted, he appeared in Ian Fleming’s novels and they were the inspiration for pretty much all the Bond films, even to this day. However, the world didn’t have the love for the character until he hit the big screen.

When I did my ranking of the movies in the James Bond film franchise (see here), I ranked this third. Only On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and From Russia With Love are ranked higher.

What makes Dr. No so great, is that it exists in a world without any other Bond film before it. It wasn’t as refined and as playful as the pictures that would come after it. It had a genuine grittiness to it, even if it showcased decadence and opulence within the sets and the world it was set in. Dr. No was less gadgety and more balls to the wall. It also featured less location jumping and just told a great story. Plus, the Jamaican scenery was beautiful and added to this picture’s mystique and allure.

Additionally, the film introduced the world to Sean Connery, who is still most people’s favorite James Bond. He was mesmerizing and bad ass in the role and he made it his own. In fact, the character was so uniquely Connery’s that every actor after him, had to put their own spin on the character and not try to replicate Connery’s interpretation.

The picture also introduces us to the evil organization SPECTRE. While many great Bond films have come and gone, there is just something about the weight that a picture featuring SPECTRE has compared to all the other chapters in the franchise.

While Joseph Wiseman’s Dr. No is not as much of a threat as later SPECTRE members would be for Bond, he was a great introduction to that organization and what it was all about. I love the Dr. No character but for a film titled after him, he needed some extra meat. Regardless, as a character, he still accomplishes what he was set out to do and opens up the James Bond mythos for the Connery (and Lazenby) run of films.

Dr. No is a hell of a lot of fun and a great start to a mostly great film franchise. The masses must have agreed, as it has spawned two dozen sequels, more sequels to come and now there’s talk of an expanded cinematic universe for this franchise.

Top 24 James Bond Villains

*originally written in 2015.

The new James Bond film Spectre comes out tonight. The title, for those who don’t know, is a reference to the evil organization that Sean Connery’s James Bond fought against in the 1960s. It is the most vile and sinister group in Bond history. In fact, they were a consistent presence in the James Bond novels going back to before the films.

Since the SPECTRE organization is being brought back into the James Bond film mythos, I thought I would honor their awesomeness with a list of the best cinematic Bond villains in history. And yes, many of these characters were members of SPECTRE.

1. Ernst Stavro Blofeld
2. Francisco Scaramanga
3. Emilio Largo
4. Rosa Klebb
5. Dr. Julius No
6. Jaws
7. Irma Bunt
8. Agent 008 (Alec Trevelyan)
9. Baron Samedi
10. Hugo Drax
11. Raoul Silva
12. Xenia Onatopp
13. Auric Goldfinger
14. Max Zorin
15. Dr. Kananga
16. Le Chiffre
17. Oddjob
18. Red Grant
19. Franz Sanchez
20. Mayday
21. Mr. White
22. Karl Stromberg
23. Mr. Wint & Mr. Kidd
24. Nick Nack

Film Review: Spectre (2015)

Release Date: October 26th, 2015 (UK)
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Written by: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: Thomas Newman
Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, Columbia Pictures, 148 Minutes

spectreReview:

*written in 2015

Well, I finally got to see Spectre. Yes, I saw it on opening night, here in the U.S., but this was one of my most anticipated films.

I really liked the previous Bond chapter Skyfall and with the same cast and director returning, I was excited. I was even more stoked for this film with the inclusion of the criminal organization SPECTRE, their first appearance since 1971s Diamonds Are Forever and a brief appearance by Ernst Stavro Blofeld in 1981s For Your Eyes Only.

Even though there were great James Bond movies after SPECTRE disappeared from film canon, none of the other great villains ever felt as dangerous without being aligned with the organization.

The reason for SPECTRE not appearing for so long was due to a battle over the rights to the copyright. That battle waged on for years. So when it was announced that “Spectre” was the name of this film, it was clear that the rights finally belonged to the studio and that the antagonist side of this franchise’s coin was getting a much needed boost of adrenaline.

Spectre picks up after the events of Skyfall. It isn’t clear how much time has passed but you can assume it isn’t much, as James Bond goes off on a rogue mission given to him by the deceased M, the Judy Dench version, on a video he received after her death.

Entering into Skyfall territory, the film fleshes out more of James Bond’s past. It takes more of the mystery away from who he was in the past. While this is something we never knew in any of the previous twenty-two films before Skyfall, I like how it helps you understand Bond better as a character. He isn’t a caricature, as he became in the older films, he is much more human since Sam Mendes started directing the series.

The backstory, as with the previous film, comes back to haunt him. Someone knows about Bond’s childhood life and is doing their damnedest to hurt him. You come to find out that everything bad that has happened to the Daniel Craig incarnation of Bond has been orchestrated by one man and his sinister organization: SPECTRE. All the films have been tied together but until now, the dots weren’t fully connected.

While the villain has the name of Oberhauser, if you know your Bond lore and understand that he is the leader of SPECTRE, it isn’t hard to figure out who he really is. Hell, his jacket when he is giving Bond a tour of his facility is a dead giveaway. And if you haven’t figured it out by that point, the furry white cat that jumps in Bond’s lap is too blatant for it not to be obvious. But I think most of the fans knew who Oberhauser was going to be before even seeing the film. And Christopher Waltz is perfect in this role.

The supporting cast of Bond’s MI-6 crew has never been better. Ralph Fiennes is perfect as M, Naomie Harris takes Moneypenny out from behind the desk and Ben Whishaw’s Q is a refreshing take on the character. I like how they are more active characters than before and how they, like Bond, had to defy orders and go off the grid, in order to save the world.

Andrew Scott, known for playing the evil Moriarty in Sherlock, does a great job as M’s foil by playing his new boss with ties to SPECTRE. Léa Seydoux was lovely as the new Bond girl, Dr. Swann. Monica Bellucci is also in the film but it is nothing more than a two scene cameo. Former WWE wrestler and Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy, Dave Bautista shows up as this film’s evil henchman, Mr. Hinx. I’m hoping he isn’t dead. He probably isn’t. He’s the first henchman in a long time that was really cool.

The thing I like most about this film, is that it is really left open ended. Bond saves the day but evil isn’t vanquished. While that is the trend in these movies, you don’t really understand why until this film’s plot unfolds. With the villain living, you know that it will come back to haunt James and his allies.

I like this film the same way I like Skyfall. It has its flaws but it is still a fun and intense Bond flick. I don’t necessarily expect Bond movies to be masterpieces, I expect them to be fun, beautiful, action-packed and sexy. This film was all that and more. While most critics seem to like this less than Skyfall, I think it is a perfect companion to it. Both films are my favorite of the Daniel Craig era.

I hope that Daniel Craig does come back for at least one more picture, even though he seems to be exhausted with playing Bond. I also hope that Mendes directs again and that Waltz returns for payback. SPECTRE can’t just reveal itself in this film and disappear. SPECTRE needs to be a constant antagonist, at least for a little while.

My only complaint, is that SPECTRE should have felt massive. In the Connery era films, they felt immense. While they had a grip on the world in Spectre, they were more hidden and too reserved. I like in the old films how they had massive bases with their logo plastered all over the place. Maybe that would seem corny in today’s world but SPECTRE are proud of who they are and believe in what they do. They are kind of like Cobra in G.I. Joe or Hydra in Marvel Comics.