Saturday, November 10, 2012

Bond, James Bond: Nobody Does It Better

With SKYFALL, the most highly anticipated James Bond film in years, exploding across movie screens all around the world, it's only natural that I totally geek out like the aging fanboy I am and always be about the one and only 007.

Here's the list no one has asked for but I'm going to give it to you anyway, my personal favorites Bond films from first to worst.

YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE-007th Heaven. Everything I loved about this film when I was 12 years old, I still love 45 years later. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways: Japan, ninjas, fight on a rooftop,Little Nellie, best finale ever, volcanoes, outer space, Roald Dahl, Ernst Starvo Blofeld. Here's a previous blog featuring an excerpt from IN THE DARK (a movie memoir written by yours truly)  to explain it for you right here

GOLDFINGER-The Mack Daddy of all Bond films. This is the one that kicked the series into the stratosphere and transformed into a legend. So many positives, so little space, but a special shout-out to Shirley Bassey and John Barry, a match made in movie music heaven.

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE-The best written of the early Bond films, this was also the first of the series I saw at a wee lad. (Believe it or don't, it was the bottom half of a double bill) So many highlights: Robert Shaw and the night train fight, the attache case (the first gadget of the series), the boat chase and Lotte Lenya (!) as Rosa Klebb who, as we learned, "had her kicks".

THUNDERBALL-Terrence Young's last outing on the series gave him the best batting average of any Bond director. The theme song, sung by inimitable Tom Jones, had some of the most indecipherable lyrics ever.
He strikes like Thunderball? Huh?

GOLDENEYE-The collective debut of both Pierece Brosnan and director Martin Campbell put the one over the top for me. I love the story of Bond pitted against his absolute equal played by the great Sean Bean. Their fight scene alone guaranteed this a position in the Top Ten. Then again, so does Famke Jannsen as the best-and hottest-villainess in 007 land, Xenia Onatopp. Yes, she is

DR. NO-Still maintaining a healthy spot on this list is the very first film, a bit clunky in spots, but still maintains the magic it produce fifty years hence. DR. NO gave the world not only 007, but Sean Connery as 007 . Oh, and Ursula Andress rising from the surf. That in itself has made the world a better place.

CASINO ROYALE and CASINO ROYALE-This is my damn list and I will rank them as I see fit. I equate Daniel Craig's first time out with the outrageous 1967 spoof with David Niven, Peter Sellers and Woody Allen. Why? I enjoy them equally for totally separate reasons, neither one more than the other. The 2006 reboot started from scratch and really does live up to its excellent reputation. But I find the entire enterprise so damn dour that it loses points for me. And Texas Hold 'Em instead of Baccarat? No wonder Le Chiffre cried tears of blood. On the other hand, I fully acknowledge that the 1967 version is a piece of crap, but it is an extraordinary piece of crap. This is a guilty pleasure for the ages. And it's a bit telling that I own this version and not the other, isn't it?

ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE-Peter Hunt was the film editor of the first three Bond films, second unit director of the next two. then graduated to the director's chair with this oddity, George Lazenby's one and only. I have trouble galore with this pic-the length, Bond's undercover guise of Sir Hillary Bray, the lack of continuity between films with Blofeld not recognizing Bond (they just met in that fricking volcano!) But this one touches the heart for the first time with James Bond marrying Emma Peel, culminating in tragedy. Not a dry fanboy eye in the house.

FOR YOUR EYES ONLY-Despite the wretched pre-title sequence that basically craps on the previous entry, this is Roger Moore's best outing, the one where he finally earned the right to claim the throne, at least in my eyes only. Best of all, it allowed Moore's Bond to be an actual badass in a scene that has been dubbed one of Bond's Coldest Kills, as shown in the second sequence of this compilation:

THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH-Michael Apted was about as curious choice of a Bond film director as Sam Mendes is for SKYFALL. The guy who helmed COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER? WORLD has the longest pre-title of any in the series, almost a mini-movie all its own. Sophie Marceau and Robert Carlyle are a superb duo, but the ending is weak and Denise Richards as Dr.(????) Christmas Jones. Yeesh. And the title song is by Garbage. Never fails to get a chuckle out of me.

LIVE AND LET DIE-Another candidate for the guilty pleasure department is Roger Moore's first, more of an extended episode of THE SAINT than a Bond picture . But the motor boat chase in the swamp (if you discount Clifton James' overbearing redneck sheriff) kicks some Bayou bootie and George Martin's score is fan-damn-tastic.

QUANTUM OF SOLACE-Bourne, James Bourne. Much maligned for a lack of story (thanks to a writer's strike), this, the shortest Bond film ever, has more highs than lows. The pace actually helps more than hinders, even though it short-changes everything by the end. The desert finale rocks but, mama mia, this is still the worst title ever.

OCTOPUSSY-Going head to head that year with NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN, this one is the better of the two thanks to an able assist from swashbuckler novelist turned co-scenarist George Macdonald Fraser and the sensational train chase. Maud Adams in the title role three films from her last appearance ...problematic.

THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS-I had picked Timothy Dalton to replace Roger Moore way back when I saw him in FLASH GORDON. He played 007 with the same intensity as Daniel Craig, but the series wasn't ready for that yet. Therefore, he comes off as a joyless prig much of the time for some, but to me, he filled the shoes of the iconic agent admirably. I like this entry, especially in retrospect with the Afghan/Russia conflict.

THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN-Another guilty pleasure. Why I like it in two words: Christopher Lee. Why it's bad in four: Britt Ekland, Clifton James (yes, him again).

NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN-Connery returning in this long gestating project, a remake of THUNDERBALL, should have worked after so many incarnations (WARHEAD, JAMES BOND OF THE SECRET SERVICE). It didn't, even with Irvin Kerschner directing. Still, I have to give credit to a great cast: Klaus Maria Brandauer as Largo gave one of the better performances for a Bond villain, Kim Basinger as Domino, Bernie Casey as one of my favorite Felix Leiters and Barbara Carrera's Fatima Blush. It's a shame it's such an overall dud.

THE SPY WHO LOVED ME-Never a big fan of this quasi-remake of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE,substituting submarines for space capsules. It's so damn lethargic. Second tier villainess Caroline Munro would have been a better choice for the top spot instead of the boringly beautiful Barbara Bach. But, Jaws aside, a good effort, heightened by the theme song, "Nobody Does It Better", a perfect anthem for James Bond.

TOMORROW NEVER DIES-The only film I didn't see on the big screen and I still haven't been able to warm up to this one. Michelle Yeoh and Brosnan have zero chemistry, but, surprise, surprise, he and Teri Hatcher do. A decent effort, but not very noteworthy.

DIE ANOTHER DAY- A fantastic opening sequence in North Korea begins Brosnan’s fourth and final feature.  Immediately, it takes a nasty turn southward as Bond is tortured, beaten and interrogated over the opening credits. I have a feeling this isn’t a big hit on Gitmo. Regaining its footing with villain Robert Stephens’s entrance in a SPY WHO LOVED ME Union Jack parachute to the tune of “London Calling” But soon, Halle Berry appears, spectacularly enough out of the surf, Honey Ryder-style, but she’s in an entirely different movie and not a very good one either. You know there’s something wrong when Madonna’s not the worst actress in the cast. Actually, Rosamund Pike steals the show. The ice palacw section is horrendous, turning the whole enterprise into a videogame, especially the pitiful wind surfing scene. By the end, I just felt sorry for Pierce.

LICENSE TO KILL-Dalton's second turn as Bond veers into MIAMI VICE territory with mixed results. The producers didn't want to fully commit, so it's pretty much stumbles and bumbles along. Highlights are the tanker truck chase, a sequence worthy of the best of the series and the theme song, the best John Barry song John Barry never wrote, a tune sung by Gladys Knight (MOP:Mit Out Pips) that is reminiscent of one by Shriley Bassey tune.

A VIEW TO A KILL-Disappointing misuse of San Francisco, other than the Golden Gate Bridge, is among the many botches in Moore's not-so-grand finale. VIEW does have that classic Duran Duran theme as well as one of John Barry's very scores and a terrific villain turn for Christopher Walken, worth the admission price alone. Otherwise, meh.

DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER-Yikes. Connery’s first attempt to come back as Bond failed miserably. The fact that he donated his salary to a Scottish charity is admirable even though the movie is not. Crass, stupid, sloppily constructed, this one hurts. Charles Gray, a sensational actor and villain in other pictures, is God-awfully miscast as Blofeld. Jill St John is a bottom feeding Bond girl. I wanted Lana Wood as Plenty O'Toole ("Named for your father perhaps.") to stick around, but she had a pool date. DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER was almost a blueprint of how the series was going to play out in the next decade and the outlook was pretty grim. It has worsened with age too. One camera shot saves this from rock bottom: Connery stands on top of an outside elevator on a Las Vegas hotel, heading for the penthouse. For one brief moment, he crosses his leg and assumes the classic James Bond pose. It’s not enough to save the movie, but at the very least, it’s something.

MOONRAKER-The worst of the worst, the nadir of the whole franchise. Absolutely nothing works in this turd. The return of Jaws was the return of an abscessed tooth as far as I was concerned. It became a bad Road Runner cartoon, one of the later ones not directed by Chuck Jones, with Richard Kiel as Wile E. Coyote. Damn, I hate this picture. The Broccoli crime family showed time and time again that they were insecure with their own hero, trying to plug him into whatever craze was popular at the time. In this case, it was STAR WARS and the results are disastrous. I'm surprised they didn't try to send him to Middle Earth for some LORD OF THE RINGS caper.Adhering to current trends just cheapens the character and comprises the integrity of the whole series. MOONRAKER was the first Ian Fleming book I read as a kid, so I had been looking forward to it for over twelve years. Imagine my disappointment when this appeared. It was like getting E-coli for Christmas. PU.    

This list is bookended by the same directors. Lewis Gilbert and Guy Hamilton directed my most and least favorites. Imagine that.

So where is SKYFALL going to land on this list? I'll have to get back to you on that. Since what ever delayed its production, the furture looks bright for Bond. I, 007 aficionado with a license to geek, am relieved that, as the end credit so often reads that "James Bond will return". And when he does, so will I.

As far as I'm concerned, nobody does it better.

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