Friday, 25 September 2015

007 Daniel Craig: Do I Look Like I Give a Bond?

Daniel Craig is the best James Bond ever. I know, I know. It's sacrilege. How could he be? He's too rough, too brutish, too serious, too blonde. And wasn't I the one who spent a whole article describing how charming Sean Connery was? Didn't I just state in my previous post that Pierce Brosnan was my James Bond?

"I thought you hadn't even watched a Daniel Craig Bond movie", you ask incredulously. Thanks for reminding everyone, fictitious question raiser. It's true. I did say all those things and I had never watched a Daniel Craig Bond movie all the way through until watching them for this article.

And yet it's so abundantly clear that the man is James Bond. I still stand by my assertion that Pierce Brosnan is the definitive Bond but Craig is the best Bond. As soon as I finished watching Casino Royale I searched my feelings and knew it to be true.

"The name's Bond. James Bond." - Yes it is Daniel Craig, yes it is.

And let's talk about Casino Royale for a bit because hot barrier which impounds water or underground streams is that a great movie. Now it may be lacking the gadgets and/or more fantastical elements of previous installments in the Bond franchise but as a movie, it is so well constructed and expertly shot with such an intelligent script and perfect little touches that it might be the best James Bond film.

Again, I know, sacrilege. It has to be Goldfinger or some other Connery film the purists exclaim, with the occasional Brosnan fan giving a shout out to GoldenEye. Surely it has to be one of the films in the franchise with the clear iconography of James Bond, right? Ridiculous moments, disposable women, and a megalomaniac villain who has an evil base in a volcano and a holiday cottage in his underwater lair.

But Casino Royale has all of that, just in the most subtle way possible for a Bond film. You have the unique villain with some distinctive quirk, in this case he weeps blood and has asthma. Asthma? Well that's almost too quirky. You have the ridiculous moments even if they are grounded in some sort of reality and a disposable woman (singular) so it's all there, it's just done in a more subtle way than the excess of the past.

He even wears a tuxedo and gambles. 

However, while this feels very much like a Bond film, right from the get-go the film makes it clear that this is a very different type of Bond movie with a very different type of Bond. The movie starts in black and white with what is essentially a film noir flashback/prequal scene that is near artsy. There are a lot of odd angles and interesting shots going on in that scene.

Also, this introduces Craig's Bond and specifically, the physicality and brutality of this Bond. He isn't a smooth operator who never gets ruffled ending a scuffle with a quip, he moves and feels like a fighter. The first fight in this film is utterly brutal. Bond and his target both grapple with each other exchanging blows and move with the thuggish fluidity of trained killers.

"Easy, I've got some tension in my neck."

Where in previous movies Bond's fights with bad guys might have lacked heft or weight, you feel each and every blow in this fight. And then Bond drowns his target in the sink, holding his head down in the water. Although Bond kills all the time in the other films, it is rather disconcerting in a way because this death really feels like murder since it is so violent and so visceral.

It's great scene and sets up the modern, muscular, thuggish James Bond we'll see in the film. But the scene that follows the title credits is even better. I am of course referring to the parkour chase scene where Bond pursues a bomb maker through a construction site. It is a brilliant piece of action and has so many little moments that just work.

Because they don't make Bond quite as good that guy he's chasing. While that guy is running up metal beams and slipping through narrow spaces with an effortless grace, Bond crashes through the walls and manages to keep pace but with none of the fluidity or ease of the man he's pursuing.

I wasn't joking. He literally crashes through a wall in pursuit.

That there is someone who is better than Bond at something is actually a nice touch since it never really happened in previous films. It's only Bond's stubbornness which won't let him quit, so through sheer resolve and brute physicality he manages to win out in the end.

I haven't even gotten to Eva Green's Vesper Lynd yet. She is amazing. Possibly the best Bond girl ever, or at least the most capable and fleshed out. And while we'll get to Bond in a minute, that is probably the most significant difference about this Bond film: the characters actually feel real rather than one-dimensional. This wasn't often the case on previous Bond films, especially when it came to the Bond girl.

Vesper is an intelligent, seductive, complicated, and intriguing character played to perfection by the utterly gorgeous and grossly talented Green who pulls off a real convincing English accent for a Frenchwoman. Her character is complex and there are several layers to the performance that gives her gravitas.

Furthermore, and here's the lemon twist, she has a real impact on the plot of the film, not to mention shaping this James Bond into the man he will become. She is the woman for whom he lowered his guards and who most drastically impacts his life. And she has such an impact since she is his equal, not a disposable sex lady but a woman he can love.

I mentioned she's played by Eva Green, right?

Green is such a fantastic actress that she embodies Vesper with such a seductive reality she is near irresistible and sells every moment on screen. And Craig matches her step for step. I told you that we were getting to Bond and here we are, getting to Bond.

Craig is the best actor to play Bond. While Connery definitely was an iconic actor, that's the thing, he was an iconic actor. He didn't disappear into his characters, you always knew you were watching Sean Connery. He was of those actors that played a type (in this case, suave, sophisticated yet roguish) but played it so goddamn well that it was incorporated into every role he played.

On the other hand, Brosnan is a fine actor but maybe due the scripts he was handed or the direction he was receiving, most of his Bond films require hurt acting when he would thrust out his lower jaw in pain or when he seemed a little stiff in the role on the odd occasion. (I know I'm doing Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton a disservice by not mentioning them but I haven't watched their films so I can't comment.)

But Craig is an actor with some serious acting chops. Perhaps this is why his Bond is the first that feels less like an archetype but a real character with backstory and depth beyond a tuxedo and witty quips.

"Apparently there's a new app called 'Xposition' that provides an easily downloadable backstory to flesh out your character."
 
There are a lot of little nuances in his performance, most of which are conveyed through his eyes, those beautiful baby blues which somehow can express heartbreak and steel up in a second while his face remains stoic. Seriously, watch his eyes. It's all there. The intensity and determination, the rare glance of wry humour, the condensation, the pride.

And that intensity feeds into the way in which he delivers his lines. Now this obviously relates to the scripts he has to work with but Craig's Bond doesn't quip. A line which would have been delivered tongue-in-cheek or a wink by a previous Bond here is delivered as a line someone would say, which actually makes it more effective.

Think about the exchange where Bond is asked by the corrupt MI6 section chief in the black and white prologue how did his contact die, Bond's response is "Not well". Where this would have been delivered with a slight wink at the audience or even a more silly reply like, "He was a little flushed", Craig delivers the line straight giving it more weight, a full-bodied retort rather than throwaway quip.

And talking about full-bodied...

Craig's Bond is physical. More so than any Bond before him. The only Bond I think who could be considered really physical before Craig would be early Connery. And Craig has a great body. This is not to say that previous Bonds weren't fit (although sometimes they weren't, You Only Live Twice Connery) but Craig has a real good body and is in fantastic shape.

The film even comments on his body during the torture scene when Le Chiffre repeatedly swings a heavy knotted rope into Bond's balls. And it is Le Chiffre who makes the comment, right before he starts the worst case of blue balling ever saying, "Wow, you've taken good care of your body". Which he has, he has indeed.

Built like a boxer, this is a man who works out and keeps care of his body through rigorous excercise. I think I might have mentioned on this blog before how there has been a shift in the past 10-15 years to more ripped male bodies on screen, and although Craig isn't ripped, he definitely fits more into this trend than his predecessors.

This isn't to dismiss or body-shame previous Bonds, just to highlight what an impressive body Craig has and shifting ideals of the ideal male form in recent years. Craig is also perhaps the least hairy Bond, at least out of Connery and Brosnan which might be natural or part of this trend, I dunno. Again, this isn't to hair-shame Connery or Brosnan, especially since Brosnan has the most impressively hairy chest.

Dammit, turn down the sex appeal. Jeez.

But I think we should move on to give some measure of relief from the awesome of Casino Royale and shirtless James Bonds, so let's discuss Quantum of Solace, shall we? As a direct sequel to Casino Royale (a rarity for a Bond film), it is often seen as the lesser sibling of Craig's first two outings as Bond.

However, watching them relatively close together, there is a lot to love in Quantum. It's almost like the two films make a great four hour movie if played one after each other, even if the second half isn't as good as the first.

That said, the opening car chase is one of the best car chases put to film. While it is rather chaotic to follow and the editing is frenetic, there is so much well-choreographed exhilaration on screen it's just an impressive action sequence.

I don't think I could adequately caption badassery of this magnitude.

I have to spend a moment here to talk about the theme song by Jack White and Alicia Keys, 'Another Way to Die'. This is generally not regarded as one of the better Bond songs and has actually been quite heavily criticised. And I understand the criticisms mostly because I have no idea what Jack White and Alicia Keys are doing on the same song.

No really, why are they both on the song? The Bond films aren't known for having duets on their theme songs, indeed this is the first Bond theme duet so there is no precedent for two completely unrelated singers with completely different styles singing together on a Bond theme. It doesn't even sound like they were in the same room when they sang their parts. Keys appears to be singing in a different key than White at points and I don't know why it's happening.

It's not even written like a duet where they trade lyrics or parts that have to be sang with two singers. They're just singing together because reasons. It's so obviously a Jack White song I don't know why Keys is even there, not to be mean to her but just out of sheer curiosity.


And all this is a shame because I quite like the song despite it's flaws. I like the horns and White's guitar. I even enjoy the scat-like verses, and appreciate the different set pieces which come in and out like the piano v. guitar bits. Also, it's pretty much in sync with the opening credit's visuals which I always like. For example the first gun shot shoots off perfectly in time with a horn blast following the guitar/drum build up, which is neat.

Now Quantum has its problems, it's lacking in humour for the most part and seems less coherent than Casino Royale, lacking the synergy that movie had. However, it is possibly the artsiest Bond movie, at least of the ones I've seen. There is quite a bit going on here even if it doesn't quite come together.

And now for something completely related, the fight scene at the opera is simply stunning and oh-so-arty. Inter cut with shots from the opera, the sound drops out with some exceptional Foley work that seems dissonant from the action on screen. Guns shoot onscreen and the sound is heard but almost as though it is completely removed from the action even though it happens at the same time. Maybe the sounds are a second delayed? However it was done, it's a great piece of film-making.

Also he looks damn good in a tuxedo he just happened to find in a locker which somehow fits him like a glove.

The plot of Quantum on the other hand less something to be desired. Not because it is terrible but it was really hit by the Writer's Strike back in 2007 and feels oddly disjointed as a result. This is the main contributor to the incoherence I mentioned earlier.

At one point, Bond is in Austria and his funds are frozen because he is suspected of killing the bodyguard of an adviser to the English Prime so he can't pay for a plane ticket to Boliva. Fair enough. Then Bond is in Italy and convincing his ally of sorts Mathis to get him to take Bond to Italy.

Wait, hold up. How did Bond get to Italy? I mean, Austria isn't too far from Italy... if you're travelling by plane or even train but how did Bond makes his way to Mathis' retirement villa? Did he walk there? Did he steal a car?

This is like the cut in The Dark Knight Rises from Bruce Wayne escaping the prison pit somewhere in the Middle East to somehow getting to Gotham city in time. The movie doesn't want you to ask how he got there or how long it took him either. It's just saying he is there now so let's roll with it, okay?

He also had the time to put gasoline on ice and up a massive bridge in the shape of a bat... somehow.

And that segue ways nicely into Skyfall. While making all of the money at the box office on it way to becoming the most successful British film of all time, some people couldn't help but notice that Skyfall seemed to be influenced in part by Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy.

Which is fitting since The Dark Knight Rises stole its plot from The World Is Not Enough and Chrisotpher Nolan a well-known Bond fan, the whole thing coming full circle with Skyfall cribbing from the success of the Dark Knight Trilogy. Bond films have always taken what is currently popular or in vogue and incorporated it in some measure to the latest Bond film.

The bad guy in Skyfall is definitely supposed to be like Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight, 20 steps ahead of everyone else, playing off events like a puppet-master. He even allows himself to be capture like the Joker so he can actually lay a trap which makes no sense when you stop to think about the logistics of having your plan hinge on a thousand things you have no control over.

But with hair like that, why would you ever stop to thing about logistics?

Plot problems aside, Skyfall is a fantastic film and definitely is the most gorgeously shot Bond movie. It is utterly stunning how well shot this film is. Judi Dench gives one of her best performances as M which is saying a lot considering that she's a Dame.

M is a strong and forceful character but there's a scene where Silva is threatening M and she is absolutely terrified but trying not to show it and restraining herself. Her fear is only shown in her eyes which give off such a look of outright terror despite her resolve. It is an impressive feat of acting bar none.

And despite his plan riding all on luck or the fact he's omniscient, Javier Bardem's Silva is a great and truly memorable villain. His idiosyncratic manner of talking, his fey mannerisms, homoerotic relationship with Bond, white suits and bleached blonde hair all culminate in Bardem's amazing perrfomance. And his scenes with Craig and Dench are just fabulous to watch.

Thanks for waiting Mr Bond, we were just getting to you.

But back to Bond. I'll say it again, Daniel Craig is the best Bond. The man is great and brought a new physicality, a new vitality, and a new authenticity to the character that none of the previous actors quite managed to do.

I love Connery and Brosnan's Bonds and have nothing against Moore, Lazenby, or Dalton's, but Craig is James Bond.

Even if he is too blonde.

Announcement: 

Musings From Another Star will be on hiatus for a couple of weeks while I battle sharks with lasers attached to their heads. 

But I'll be back after watching my lover suicide-drown herself before my very eyes in order to motivate my character.



References:

Daniel Craig Wikipedia page

Roger Moore on Why Daniel Craig Is the Best James Bond Ever and What 007 Role He’s Dying to Play - Time

Has Daniel Craig eclipsed Sean Connery as James Bond? - The Guardian

Daniel Craig Is Esquire's October Cover Star

My favourite Bond film: Casino Royale


19 Casion Royal (with Matt Gourley) - The Canon

James Bonding #006: Casino Royal with Amanda Lund & Maria Blasucci

James Bonding #004: Quantum of Solace with Emily Gordon

James Bonding #002: Skyfall with Steve Agee

10 Ways Skyfall Borrows From the Dark Knight Playbook

5 Huge Movies That Stole Their Plot from Other Hit Films

6 Huge Movie Plot Twists That Caused Even Bigger Plot Holes

Friday, 18 September 2015

007 Pierce Brosnan: The Bond Is Not Enough

Announcement: This is my 100th Post! Thanks for reading, whether you started with my first ever post about why I never want to see Superman supersweat or with this very post. Hopefully, I'll write 100 more. I hadn't planned anything for my 100th article but this installment of my James Bond series is rather fitting since...


Pierce Brosnan was my James Bond. Other people might have Connery or grown up with Roger Moore, while others still have Timothy Dalton from the late 1980s. I never got into Daniel Craig's Bond since his first Bond film came just as I was entering that age when I thought I was too cool for a film series like Bond.

But Brosnan was my Bond. His Bond movies were the Bond movies that I grew up with and can remember watching in the cinema as a child. When I thought of James Bond, I thought of Brosnan.
However, in recent years, Brosnan's tenure as James Bond has gotten a bad rep with his films often criticised as being some of the lesser Bond films and compared unfavourably to Connery, Moore, or even to his successor, Craig. Not as suave or assertive as Connery, as fun and camp as Moore, nor as dark and serious as Craig, Brosnan's Bond is stuck in the middle, caught adrift in that limbo between gritty drama and silly camp, pleasing neither side.

"I'm just deciding whether I'm supposed to be lighthearted or dramatic in this scene, give me a moment."

But it is precisely because Brosnan's Bond encapsulates both the lighter and darker aspects of the series that makes his Bond the definitive James Bond. Connery might have been first, Moore might have been Bond the longest, and Craig may have redefined the character (which we'll discuss next week), but Brosnan's Bond straddled the strange contradictions of the character like no other.

This doesn't mean that Brosnan was the best Bond or that his Bond was perfect, far from it. His Bond films and his performances in them are flawed in some way or another, his later two films more than his first two but we'll get to that. However, Brosnan's James Bond embodied everything that Bond was and is, from the high action and thrilling adventure to the camp ridiculousness and everything in between.

The only Bond partially shaken and then slightly stirred.

This sentiment is shared by Den of Geek's Max Williams in his retrospective review of Brosnan's first outing as Bond, GoldenEye. The first Bond film after a six year hiatus since Dalton's Licence To Kill in 1989, GoldenEye introduced Brosnan as James Bond and reinvigorated the franchise for the 1990s.

Williams notes that in recent years following the critical appreciation of Craig's performance of Bond, Brosnan's own run as Bond has often been dismissed or heavily critiqued for being too slick or lightweight in comparison. Even Brosnan himself has been rather harsh on his Bond performances, stating that he was "was kind of caught somewhere in between the Roger Moore and the Sean Connery of it all".

"Oh god, if anyone makes a 'Stuck in the Middle with Q' joke, that's it, I'm done."

However, that assessment is negative when it should be celebratory. While the shift in gears between Moore and Connery became increasingly jarring, particularly the glorious disaster that is Die Another Day, Brosnan was a good Bond. As Williams states in a direct address to Brosnan,
No offence, Pierce, but hush. You were quite clearly the best Bond since Connery... You had the look, the wit, the killer touch. At your best you could combine the lightness of Moore with the grit of Dalton; the cold heart of Connery hidden beneath Lazenby’s boyish charm. Just because scowls and muscle are currently in vogue doesn’t mean your legacy - certainly as an actor - should be subsequently trashed. Even by you.
And that's precisely the problem. His Bond was such an amalgamation of the different traits of Bond exhibited by previous iterations and performances of the character that Brosnan's take on the iconic spy never stuck out the way his predecessors and successor have.

"Wait, I thought you were celebrating my run as Bond? Did you mention I have a tank?"

Like that kid in class who was good at everything but not great at anything in particular, Brosnan's Bond suffers from the same problem. There's nothing wholly distinctive about him which noticeably differentiates him from the other actors who have taken on the role, leaving him feeling a little bland in contrast.

But that is also his great strength and why he is the definitive Bond. Some may turn to Connery since he is the classic Bond. Or to Craig since he reinvented the character for the 21st century. Or possibly to Moore simply because of his long tenure and the identifiable stamp on the franchise.

But the truth is that there is only one 007 which encapsulates all that is Bond in one package. One man who you can point to if you want show who James Bond is to someone who's never seen a Bond film before and that man is Brosnan. Pierce Brosnan.

"Well, that's nice of you to say so."

And it all starts with 1995's GoldenEye. Now I must admit that while I grew up with his Bond films, this is the one I probably remember the least. I was only around six years old when it came out and I guess it didn't catch my imagination or memory the way his later ones did since I was older.

But rewatching it now, I'm struck by a number of things. Firstly Brosnan seems to just slip into the role of Bond with only the occasional wooden moment in a couple of scenes. Debonair and cool, equipped with a one-liner for every occasion but still vulnerable, his Bond does seem more emotional than Connery's charisma dripping secret agent, not that that's a bad thing.

This is also the introduction of Judi Dench as M, who was my M. And she is fantastic. Simple as that. I also really like Samantha Bond as Miss MoneyPenny. Her flirtatiously charged exchanges and sexual innuendos with Brosnan are great and have a real bounce since the two actors have real chemistry.

James Bond: What would I ever do without you?
Miss Moneypenny: As far as I can remember, James, you've never had me.
Actual dialogue.

What's interesting about this film is that it was the first Bond film in six years and it does acknowledge the fact that the concept of Bond as a character and type of movie may seem outdated to the modern movie going audience. And by acknowledge it, I mean the movie mentions it but doesn't actually address it in any meaningful way.

In her first ever scene in a Bond film, Judi Dench's M gives this biting critique straight to Bond's face,
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.
Aaaand the movie does nothing to dispute that critique. Brosnan's Bond is a womanising man-whore, whose particular brand of spying does seem to come from another time. But that's part of the appeal since it does have a classic feel to it, updated for the 1990s.

"Wait, aren't you supposed to extinct?"

Another thing is that despite some stunning action sequences, one of the best Bond girl in Natalya Simonova, and a solid script, the film didn't really grab me for some reason. I dunno, but it just didn't do much from me, although I could appreciate it was a good film.

However, I loved Tomorrow Never Dies. I recognise that a lot of that is due to nostalgia. Tomorrow Never Dies is the first Bond film that I can remember watching and I had a lot of fun rewatching it. It did get some criticism for being a bit formulaic, which is a fair critique but I would argue that is one of the film's strengths. It gives you everything you could want in a Bond film.

If Brosnan's Bond is the embodies all the disparate elements in one packaged, then Tomorrow Never Dies is the epitome of Brosnan's run of Bond films for the same reason, having all the elements that other films would have in more or less measure (even the ridiculousness of Die Another Day).

He's driving his car in the back seat with a touch pad on his phone.
I'm just gonna let that sink in.

And that's what is great about it. The juxtaposition of the dramatic moments with the fantastical, the occasionally goofy dialogue and tense exchanges, the amazingly fun camp performance of Jonathan Pryce (who really goes for it here) contrasted with the serious performances of Brosnan and Dench.

It's got everything, including this bit of dialogue I have always remember because of the 'clever' use of the word pump,
M: Your job is to find out whether Carver or someone in his organization sent that ship off course, and why. Use your relationship with Mrs. Carver, if necessary.
James Bond: I doubt if she'll remember me.
M: Remind her. Then pump her for information.
Moneypenny: You'll just have to decide how much pumping is needed, James.
James Bond: If only that were true of you and I, Moneypenny.
Even as a kid I thought that was a bit on the genitalia...

"Truly, terrible double entendres are the worst evil we have had to face in this series."  

Also, it is worth mentioning that Pryce's villain, Ellott Carver, has an evil plan for 'world domination' of media which is completely doomed, even if Bond did nothing to stop him. All it needs is about five years and the rise of the internet. His big plan is to manipulate world events to create news stories for television, radio, and newspapers...

All media which are struggling in the age of the internet, particularly in regards to news. Aside from the whole trying start World War III, his plan seems almost quaint in retrospect completely unaware of the changes that would occur in a short five years or so.

Despite that, it's a rather neat villain plan all things considered. Diabolical, ambitious, and more than a little bit dumb. It's pretty much all you need from a villain's evil plan in a Bond movie. But just watch Pryce's performance in this scene. It is just glorious how deliciously evil he is.



He is obviously having the time of his life playing this character. Every line is delivered with such relish. It makes a stark contrast to the villains in The World Is Not Enough, Brosnan's next outing as James Bond. But before I get to that, I have to address something. The next two films are rough for a shared reason. And that is both have two of the worst, if not the worst, Bond girls ever, Denise Richards' Christmas Jones and Halle Berry's Jinx.

I'll discuss Berry in a bit but Denise Richards is so bad in this movie that she almost ruins the film. Especially since the rest of the actors are so good, putting in some great performances, that it just highlights how flat she is. Brosnan turns in what is probably his best Bond, Dench is fantastic in the first film to give M more to do than give Bond his mission or berate him. But it is the villains who really steal the show.

This guy steal something? Never.
[Note: The following paragraphs contains major spoilers, which are choking hazard. Ages 3 and up.]

Robert Carlyle's Renard is a great villain but in a far more unstated and subtle way than Pryce's exuberantly evil Carver. There's a nuance to his performance and the character of Renard which you don't often find in Bond movies. He is a man with some hurt who ironically can't feel anything due to the bullet pushing its way to his cerebral cortex destroying his senses.

And this nuance comes from his relationship with Sophie Marceau's Elektra King. The film tries a double blind with Elektra, who starts off as a standard damsel to be protected, then it is hinted she might be a bad guy, then it's suggested that maybe possibly she's not a bad guy after all, until it's revealed that "oh no dude, she was totally a bad guy all along".

Elektra was kidnapped by Renard as a child but her father didn't pay the ransom because MI6 doesn't negotiate with terrorists, so Elektra seduced Renard and mutilated herself in order for her father to pay the ransom and free her. And Renard is in love with her but he can't be intimate with her since he can't feel anything. But she also seemed to play Bond against Renard and visa versa, kinda using them both.

All so she could get Bond in her sex neck death chair. 

I particularly remember the moment when Elektra removed her earring to reveal her self-mutilated ear and bringing two thoughts to mind. It's a great reveal with a memorable image but how did James Bond not notice that when Both Marceau and Carlyle are fantastic. But this is the Brosnan film that suffers the most from the jarring juxtaposition from the gravitas of the more dramatic scenes and the ridiculousness of the camp moments.

This really feels like it needed to be a serious Bond film but has too many scenes of silliness and Christmas Jones for it to ever be taken seriously. Which is a shame since it really is a waste of the great characters and backstory developed for the film.

And so we come to Die Another Day...

"Oh god, another vodka martini. Shaken, stirred, I don't care, just get it in me."

I really don't want to talk too much about this film since it is really bad. But let's start with Madonna's title song. It's not good. But it starts well and gets you interested with the string strokes and scorpion percussion but loses it immediately once Madonna begins singing.

Not that there's anything wrong with Madonna's singing but it has been so heavily autotuned for apparently no reason and just ruins any goodwill towards the song. Plus it's the most passively laconic of Bond songs. He will die another day. Since I guess he couldn't get round to it today but it is on his list of things to do.

But the song is a perfect microcosm of the film as a whole. I rather like the more serious opening (discounting the stealth surfing into North Korea of course because why would they stealth surf? Why?). This torture scene and bitter more cynical Bond seems to be in the grittier territory where Craig would eventually take the character. And by all accounts, it seems that's what Brosnan wanted to do with Bond but was never allowed to.

"Eh, whatever. I was the only Bond to have a Jesus beard and look like George Harrison."

Before I go any further, can I mention that I really like the title sequence for Die Another Day? It is probably my favourite Bond title sequence that I've seen so far. There's something about the dancing fire and ice ladies, the intercuts with the torture scenes and crappy CGI scorpions that just hits all the right notes.

And it all goes downhill. Not immediately but very quickly. And it doesn't even feel like Brosnan's first three Bonds which had a similar visual aesthetic with a focus on mainly practical effects and only the occasional CGI, recurring supporting characters, and a more muted colour palette. They were made with two years between each film where Die Another Day was delayed to coincide with the 40th Anniversary, so maybe that accounts for the difference.

And I'm really torn since I can't decide who is the worst Bond girl, Denise Richard's Christmas Jones or Halle Berry's Jinx. I might have to go with Jinx since she has far more screen time and just is terrible. Jones is terrible in the comparison to the strong characters around her but even in the horribleness of Die Another Day, Berry's Jinx manages to stick out. That's an impressive feat.

Berry's awkwardness in these promotional stills speak volumes for how bad her character is in the film proper.
By the way, I'm so glad I found these. She looks like she's never held a knife before in the left picture.

The only thing I can say about the film is that the few moments where it plays it more serious really work. I love the opening, the torture scene, Bond escaping the hospital, getting the key from MI6 and meeting M in the abandon train station where expired agents go to.

Oh, and I have to mention that Rosamund Pike's Miranda Frost is probably the only other good thing in the film. She is great, the only character who seems to have some dimension and is superbly acted by Pike. But any time the film goes fantastical it gets real stupid real quick.

It really shouldn't have been the send off for Pierce Brosnan. He deserved better. He was a good Bond let down by poor scripts, poor directorial choices, an inconsistent tone, and producers who couldn't decide on a vision for the series at the time.

But he will always remain my Bond. The definite Bond.

Stay tuned for the final installment in my series of James Bond articles as I watch Daniel Craig's take on the character for the first time and see what to make of this blonde Bond.


References:


Pierce Brosnan Wikipedia page

James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) 007 Wikia page

BOND 50: THE COMPLETE 22-FILM COLLECTION Blu-ray Review

Pierce Brosnan as James Bond - Reel Film Reviews

Why Pierce Brosnan Was Never Totally Comfortable Playing James Bond - CinemaBlend

Pierce Brosnan on How It All Began—and How Bond Ended - GQ

The name's Bland, not Bond: why Pierce Brosnan is right about his 007 - The Guardian

James Bonding #012: GoldenEye with Craig Rowin

James Bonding #011: Tomorrow Never Dies with Jordan Morris

James Bonding #010: The World Is Not Enough with Derek Miller and Jeremy Smith

James Bonding #008: Die Another Day with Ben Blacker and Ben Acker

Friday, 11 September 2015

007 Sean Connery Part Two: Never Say Bond Again

Last week, I examined Sean Connery's first four James Bond films and how they were kinda sorta rape-y but his captivatingly suave voice and rugged debonair masculinity is so charming, you sorta kinda not-really excuse it. I also discussed the problem Connery had with misogyny, the problem being that he's all for it.

Not wanting to rehash what I've already said, let's move on. This article is gonna focus on the last three Bond films Connery made, 1967's You Only Live Twice, his return in 1971's Diamonds Are Forever, and yes, the bastard prodigal son, 1983's Never Say Never Again.

"I can't believe you would do that."

I actually enjoyed Never Say Never Again, well, at least parts of it but we'll get to that and its illegitimate family-member-we-never-talk-about status in a bit. Let's first provide some backstory for the theme of this article, which is Sean Connery hated James Bond.

Now, obviously he appreciated the fame and financial security the character brought him, seemed to have some admiration for Ian Flemming, and even seemed to enjoy the early films bringing a real freshness to his performances. And that's the thing, it's the first films he did that he enjoyed, not the later ones.

In 1971, as part of the press for Diamonds Are Forever, a Dutch reporter asked Connery which was his favourite of his Bond films so far and Connery answers without any hesitation, From Russia With Love. And hearing his reasons, it makes it clear why he grew disparaging of the character as the films went on:

It had a credibility in the story and was interesting, and the places, and the characters, and the, uh, whole feel of the film, I think. I haven't seen them. I've only seem them all once, so it's a long time now.

I can see what he means. The fire behind him in You Only Live Twice just doesn't seem credible enough to me.

You should hopefully see where this is going, or else I'm terrible at foreshadowing: Connery liked the earlier Bond films since they were 'credible' and didn't require the higher suspension of belief or cartoonish elements that the later films, especially during Roger Moore's run, would have. It's essentially the old "realism vs escapism" argument you often see in discussions about film.

Connery seems to be putting forth the idea that he preferred the 'grit' of his early films to the more elaborate and increasing ridiculousness of the later films, since any film with a character called Pussy Galore can only be taken with the utmost sincerity and credibility.

"Just as credible as my hairpiece."

However, the real crux of Connery's distaste and growing disinterest in the Bond franchise was, at least partially if not largely, due to an issue with negotiation, namely that he never was able to renegotiate his contract. That means he was still getting paid the same fee for Thunderball as he was for Dr. No, despite the fact Thunderball made all the money when it was released in 1965.

Remember this was for the most profitable franchise at the time, with each movie progressively making more and more money than the last. Yet Connery had signed a six movie contract and wasn't allowed to renegotiate his contract for successive films even though the producers continually updated their own contracts accordingly with the growing financial success of the series.

Just imagine a similar scenario today. What if Marvel didn't renegotiate their contract with Robert Downey Jr. for the Iron Man sequels and Avengers films? He would have left after the first film, right? I mean, why wouldn't he? He is the biggest draw in those movies, the star everyone is coming to see. His personality and popularity are central to the success of those films, films which have made so much money that they had to come with new adjectives to describe how much money they made. A goddamnshitonne is one.

"Awww, that's adorable. They think they'll have a franchise without me."

Connery was in Downey's position back in the 1960s but instead of having any leverage or ability to dictate the terms of his contract as the series went on, Connery was forced to accept the same pay regardless of how well the films did. Conversely, Downey is one of the highest, if not the highest, paid actors in Hollywood right now precisely because he has been able to renegotiate.

So obviously this contract and not making the money owed to him thing seems to have made Connery a bit bitter about his experience with Bond and that bitterness filters through in his performances. With each subsequent film, he displays less and less interest in being there until he's barely hiding his near contempt and disinterest by the time we get to Diamonds Are Forever.

And we'll get there but first let's talk about You Only Live Twice, the last film in Connery's initial five film run before George Lazenby's turn in On Her Majesty's Secret Service and his return in Diamonds. Connery isn't bored yet but he does seem a little complacent, possibly since this is a role he's played so many times before that he can't invest in the character any more.

Maybe it was the yellow-face because we are gonna talk about the yellow-face.

Now before we go any further, we have to talk about the yellow-face in the film since Connery turns Japanese in order to go undercover in a small Japanese island village so he won't be noticed by the locals or somethings and has to get married to a Japanese girl as well, because reasons.

Let's recall that Sean Connery is a 6 foot 2 Scotsman who is so obviously a 6 foot 2 Scotsman that he can only ever be a 6 foot 2 Scotsman. He was even a 6 foot 2 Scotsman when he played a Spaniard in Highlander and a Russian in The Hunt for Red October. He was still a 6 foot 2 Scotsman when he voiced dragon in Dragonheart. The man cannot be anything other than what he is.

Which is a 6 foot 2 Scotsman.

Pictured: Sean Connery. Seen here being 6 foot 2 and Scottish.

Suffice to say that even after his Japanese make-over, which really just consists of some eye make up, a chest waxing, thicker eyebrows, and a new bowl cut hair piece, nobody is ever going to confuse this 6 foot 2 Scotsman for a Japanese villager.

No matter how desperately Connery hunches his back to appear shorter, he's still a good head taller than everyone else and so transparently foreign, it makes this part of the plot seem completely superfluous since there is no way anyone's supension of disbelief would be able to believe that anyone in the village will look at yellow-face Bond and go, "why that stranger is so Japanese he must be from the inland which is why I don't recognise him, so Japanese is he".

And I know that is a film with a villain lair inside a hollow volcano so they are stretching the realms of what is believable but this is about what could conceivably exist or happen in the fictional and there is no way anyone could possibly fall for Bond's yellow-face 'disguise'.

Plus it's yellow-face. I don't want to dwell on race in the film since I think the Bond's first lines in the film accurately highlight how well the movie handles Asian culture. With the utmost respect and sensitivity, of course.


However, what I want to focus on is how Connery just sort of mumbles his lines without much conviction, with little of the zest he initially gave the character in Dr. No or especially From Russia with Love. There no much vitality here, perhaps a severe cause of senioritis.

This doesn't mean it is a terrible performance by any means, Connery is still as charming as ever, how could he not be with a voice so suave it comes served with a martini, but he is on cruise control here. Just rewatch that video up there. Whereas in previous films there would be a twinkle in his eye as he delivered that 'flirtatious' dialogue, here's he's nonchalant as hell.

But that voice though. Even when he's on autopilot, it's such a smooth ride, it almost doesn't matter. With such syrupy chocolate for your ears and rare manbeef for your eyes, it's kinda okay that he's not really trying. Because he's really not. He's been here before, got the t-shirt, wore the t-shirt a few times before the print faded in the wash, and now just kept wearing it even though the fabric's getting worn through.

"I do die in this one only to come back so maybe it's fitting my performance feels like a disengaged zombie."

But it's in Diamonds Are Forever where Connery's autopilot turns into complete disinterest. He couldn't be less there if he tried. He is so disengaged from what is going on around him that he barely emotes anything besides what I assume is apathy for having to wear such a terrible toupee. On Connery's performance, The Guardian's Xan Brooks notes,
Connery clearly does not want to be there. He shuffles through the motions like some ageing heavyweight showboater, flirting with disaster, his toupee slipping.
Perhaps I and Brooks are being a little harsh (and are somewhat fixated on his awful toupee), but Connery does sorta kinda totally sleepwalk through most of his performance in the film. That is, aside from the moments of violence, that he seems all for, particularly in the opening scene when he strangles a woman for information - with her own bikini top...

No, I'm serious. He literally says the words, "there's something I want you to get off your chest", rips off her bikini top and proceeds to strangle her with it, all the while interrogating her for the whereabouts of the big bad, Ernst Starvo Blofeld.

On a separate note, this is the only time we see him smile in the whole film.

This probably why the scene in which Connery has the most energy and actually seems to give a shit, is the elevator fight scene, one of the classic claustrophobic choreographed fight sequences in Bond films, following in the tradition set by the amazing train compartment fight in From Russia with Love.

At the end of the fight, Bond puts his wallet in the dead man's jacket so he will be mistaken for James Bond, which is actually an inspired piece of screenwriting as it seems like a real clever decision made in a split second that a spy like James Bond would do.

However, pay attention to how Connery responds after Tiffany Case declares he killed James Bond. With less conviction than a skunk trying to deny he dealt it, Connery responds, "Is that who he is?" as convincingly as that kid who did theatre but was always cast as a tree in the school play, even when there were no trees in the script.

In unrelated news, we get to see Connery's ripped spy bod.

Can we spare a moment here to discuss how Diamonds Are Forever is bonkers? Like really. The movie is all over the place, at times the score just drops out, there are so many great camp moments with utterly puzzling lines, mostly from Tiffany Case (notably, "Blow it up your pants"), and the plot is mindless in the best possible way.

However, it has two of the greatest henchmen characters in Bond history, Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint. Played by Putter Smith and Bruce "father of Crispin" Glover respectively, they are the ambiguously gay duo set out to assassinate people who are part of a diamond smuggling ring to cut any loose ends or something. It doesn't matter.

What does matter is they are amazing. Glover wildly overacts with delicious glee while Smith, not a professional actor by trade, struggles not to break character at points and underacts, creating a perfect yin yang of acting extremes that underscores their characters otherness. They're great.

"Being ambiguously gay while committing murder is tiring work, wouldn't you say, Mr. Kidd?"

And that brings us to Never Say Never Again, the unofficial Bond film Connery made in 1983, directed by Irvin Kersher, fresh off Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. Now the story of Never Say Never Again is one of copyright, intellectual property, and lawsuits. To make a long story fit in a martini glass, back in the 1950s, Ian Flemming had worked with a man called Kevin McClory on the screenplay for what would eventually become Thunderball, which Flemming then turned into the novel.

Later when they wanted to turn into a movie they struck a deal with McClory, who had some intellectual property rights on various aspects of the story such as the secret terrorist organisation S.P.E.C.T.R.E, to be an executive producer on the film on the condition he wouldn't make his own film version of Thunderball for 10 years.

10 years passed and he wanted to make his own adaptation of the script. Legal battles ensued until a judged ruled that he could indeed make his own film version which became Never Say Never Again, which is one of the non-canonical entries of Bond on film. End of backstory.

It's so non-canonical Mr. Bean is in this one.

Despite the early eighties touches and illegitimate status, it's actually a rather fun movie and quite entertaining. In his fifties, Connery plays an aging Bond who has to prove he still is capable of being a spy in his advancing years. And honestly, he gives off a pretty good performance, showing why he is often consider the best Bond.

While he is overly comfortable in the role, he doesn't sleepwalk here like he did in Diamonds Are Forever and actually seems to be in better shape than he was back in You Only Live Twice, 16 years prior. He actually seems to have some twinkle in his eye when sprouting cringeworthy pun-laden one liners.

Also, the fact so much of the movie revolves around his age and whether he should still be a spy, adds to the performance I think since there's an element of the character mirroring the actor or visa versa. Although somehow his toupee is even worse in this film. I don't know why hair piece technology seemed to regressed in the 12 years since he last played Bond before this film, but it had.

It just had.

Stay tuned next week when we take on Pierce Brosnan's dashingly bland series of Bond films where I think he was a good James Bond tragically stuck in terrible Bond movies.


References:

Sean Connery Wikipedia page


Sean Connery on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, 1983 - The 007 Dossier



My favourite Bond film: Diamonds Are Forever - The Guardian

Sean Connery interview 1971 on James Bond & behind the scenes Diamonds Are Forever

Friday, 4 September 2015

007 Sean Connery Part One: International Man of Misogyny

Bond. James Bond. That's all you have to say really. The most simple and yet most enigmatic of introductions. Surname. First name, surname.

But those three words carry so much weight due to the innumerable connotations they bring to mind when uttered in that order, usually in a ridiculously suave manner. Espionage and action, brassy spy music, beautiful women, British stuff, gadgets, tuxedos, explosions, tuxedos surrounded by explosions, explosions in tuxedos...

"Sorry, what was that? I couldn't hear you over the sound of my tuxedo exploding."

James Bond is such an iconic character with such a clear set of who he is and what he represents, that he is more than merely a character, he is an archetype. As an archetype, he presents as a certain idealization of the male action hero, one which instantly recognisable and endlessly imitated or referenced.

Everyone knows who Bond is, right? How could you not? His influence on the popular consciousness is inescapable. Every women wants him and every man wants to be him. And perhaps the most iconic depiction of the Bond archetype is by the man who played him first (sorta).

Connery. Sean Connery.

Ah, Sean Connery. For many people, Connery IS James Bond. As the man who originated the role for the vast majority of people and the actor who is probably most closely associated with the character, it's rather understandable. Often the person who did it first or popularised it is the person people attach to the thing, rightly or wrongly. When people do Bond impressions, more often than not, they're actually doing Sean Connery impressions.

Connery made six official Bond films and one non-canon Bond film over the course of 21 years from 1962 to 1983. Since that's quite a bit to get to, I'm going to split my take on Connery's Bond over the course of two posts. The first, this one, will focus on the first four Bond films he made, Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, and Thunderball. The second post coming next week will focus on the remaining three films, You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever, and Never Say Never Again.

Connery is one of the most famous actors in film history, with a screen presence rarely matched conveyed through his sheer physicality and all encompassing charisma. Often voted the Sexiest Man Alive well into his GILF years, he is the embodiment of charm. When discussing Connery's immense appeal, I love to quote Cracked's esteemed John Cheese, "he's so fucking suave... his accent wears a tuxedo"

He didn't actually put on that tuxedo. It just materialised when he opened his mouth. 

What is it about his voice that is so captivating? It's deep and soothing which helps, with a slight lisp and that roguish yet utterly charming Scottish accent, which is somehow uniquely his. But it's more than that. It's the weight behind that voice. There is real gravitas there, something in his manner of speaking, the timbre and tone, the cadence of his voice that conveys supreme confidence and subsequently demands your attention.

Perhaps demands is the wrong word. It compels your attention. There is something undeniably attractive about that voice which draws you in. While Connery was undoubtedly an handsome man with his rugged yet somehow debonair looks, I honestly think he wouldn't have been thought as attractive he was without that voice.

This is from 1989 when he was voted The Sexiest Man Alive by People magaine at age 59.
To put it in context, that was the same year he played Indiana Jones' father and the year I was born.

Now, I'm not trying to engage in age-shaming or anything like that. He obvious was still a good-looking man well into his 60s but honestly, it's not often a bald grandfather with an admittedly great moustache is considered the sexiest man alive.

Out of all the men then currently alive that year he was considered the sexiest. This is despite the fact he was no longer in the peak physical condition he was in his youth since his only physical activity at that stage was to wave his arm in frustration when kids went on his lawn.

Fun Fact: Connery wore a toupee throughout his tenure as James Bond. Connery's hair started thinning in his early-twenties, so in each and every Bond film he starred in, he wore a toupee to cover up his increasingly thinning hair. As a man currently suffering the same fate, I appreciate the fact that the sexiest man of the last century wore a toupee for his most famous role.

Again, still the sexiest man of the last century.. 

So it must be the voice then. It has to be. That voice. So suave you don't even realise it not only charmed your sock offs but also put them away in your drawer until you look at your bare feet. It is also immensely fun to imitate and do an impression of.

Which is why it is such a tragedy to know that he said the following words in his I'm-sorry-I-didn't-hear-what-you-were-saying-over-all-the-suave voice,
I don't think there is anything particularly wrong about hitting a woman--although I don't recommend doing it in the same way that you'd hit a man. An openhanded slap is justified--if all other alternatives fail and there has been plenty of warning. If a woman is a bitch, or hysterical, or bloody-minded continually, then I'd do it. I think a man has to be slightly advanced, ahead of the woman. I really do--by virtue of the way a man is built, if nothing else.
Goddamn-fucking-it. I heard that in his voice as I read it and it's still charming.

Goddammit Sean. Just stop it with the charm already you sexy devil.

That quote comes from a 1965 Playboy interview with Sean Connery as part of the promotion for that year's Thunderball. Now, I'll talk about Thunderball since it's probably the rapiest movie of all time but we'll get there.

Connery's problematic ideas about women have been well documented elsewhere online and I'll try not rehash what has already been said. Essentially in a gun-shell, the man has no problem with hitting a woman if, you know, she deserves it.

Usually because she's arguing a point you no longer want to argue and you just want her to shut up. But only after you've given fair warning, of course.

"But of course."

Yeeeaaah, that seems completely legit.

Of course there are arguments, which if they aren't necessarily defending Connery, do serve to at least contextualise his comments as a product of the time in which they were made, since it would seem that he was indeed a man of his time.

Just like when your grandfather makes that sorta kinda totally racist comment at Christmas dinner and everyone laughs it off awkwardly rather than call him out on it. Oh, he's just old and back then people had antiquated ideas about how you treat anyone who wasn't white, male, and/or straight.

And that's kinda how I want to frame the first four Connery Bond films. As architects from a different time. A time where it apparently was totally normal to dismiss a girl by slapping her on the ass and saying "man-talk" when you wanted to bro down with another man as Connery does in Goldfinger.

"She seems happy to see you, almost as though she'll be allowed to talk. Don't worry, I'll spank her and send her on her way.
It is a Tuesday after all"

But I'm getting ahead of misogyny, sorry, I mean of myself. The first proper James Bond film is Dr. No from 1962. What's interesting watching it from the lofty position of retrospect and progress in 2015 is just how most of the things we associate with Bond are there and how so many aren't.

For example, the character of James Bond is there right from the start. Although he will change somewhat over the years as he portrayed by different actors in different decades with different sensibilities, it's kinda striking how much Connery's Bond is recognisable as James Bond.

He's gruff but sophisticated, a killer with a mean streak but suave and oh so charming. A bit of a scoundrel and a booze-hound with a romantic feel who is nevertheless at times dismissive of, or at worst callous towards, his romantic partners.

"You're still here? It's time-for-my-next-conquest-followed-by-routine-afternoon-STD-test o'clock."

There are exotic locations (Jamaica) and extravagant action sequences, although nothing on the scale of later movies. Bond is all spy-y and does espionage things, occasionally in a tuxedo, sometimes not. The bad guy is a little over-the-top but again, nothing like later films in the franchise, although he does have a decent gimmick with the robot(?) hands which struggle to grasp metal poles [spoiler, I guess].

But there is also so much to indicate how drastically things have changed in the 50 odd years since the film's release. For example, as they discuss in the first James Bonding podcast, although it is neat to watch Bond set up the traps to tick him off if someone has broken into his room, like putting the hair across to the door, they show everything in real time. Whereas today this would be shown in a short montage, if shown at all, there is a whole scene dedicated to James Bond just putting powder on his suitcase for prints and so on.

However, let's stick to Bond's (mis)treatment of women since if we get into how pacing and editing have changed over the past 50 years of filmmaking, we'll never finish. Now, why I had brought up Connery's own problematic opinion of women earlier since it's rather interesting in light of Bond's undeniably sexist attitudes towards women, far beyond the cavalier manner in which the films treat women as disposable eye candy.

"Oh no, my dear. I'm sure you'll survive for the next film. You seem overly dressed though.
Say, what was your name, again?"


Again, I know that I'm not saying anything particularly new since the misogynous aspect of the Bond franchise is well documented but I still think it bears repeating. These movies have become classics of cinema in many cases, feeding a certain vision of ideal masculinity, and also of femininity.

For example, there is a girl-on-girl catfight in the middle of From Russia with Love just because. And not any girl-on-girl catfight but a gypsy catfight since might as well make it a bit racist in addition to being sexist. No sense in half-arsing it when you're being offensive.

Once again, this was not too unusual for the attitudes towards women at the time, however it does seem to predate the trope of saucy girl fighting which would become vogue in the 1970s, particularly with the rise of exploitation films and the short-lived women-in-prison genre.

Naturally, they end up doting on James Bond the next morning as his personalised sex slaves because patriarchy or something.

The entire plot of From Russia with Love is centred around a woman pretending to be in love with James Bond to set a trap for him with the promise of some decoder machine, only to actually fall in love with him after they meet because the power of boners is strong in this one. He's not even nice or romantic to her, constantly humping her for information rather than whispering sweet nothings in her ear.

MI6 and Bond are well aware that it is a trap right from the get-go, just like SPECTRE knows they will know but will be unable to resist the trap, so he never once falls for Tatiana's flirtations. Which is why he never treats with anything more that the impatient indignation a parent bestows a petulant child.

But that voice though. And he's just so masculine and dominant, how could any woman resist? Tatiana, the Russian operative unknowingly made turncoat by a SPECTRE wasn't even on board with the whole seduce Bond to trap him thing. She is forced to under threat of death.

Thank goodness for the magic of Sean Connery's penis then, right? Otherwise she might *gasp* not enjoyed the seduction and then it might be forced sexual coercion or rape.

"Remember when I said I think my mouth is too big and you said you think it's just the right size for you?
What did you mean by that excatly?"

And so we come to Goldfinger. I won't spend too much time on Goldfinger since I do really want to get to Thunderball but there are a number of things worth noting about Goldfinger. Firstly, this is the Bond film often cited by most people and critics as the best film in the franchise.

While I haven't seen every movie in the Bond series, I don't really agree with that opinion, preferring the film's predecessor, From Russia with Love. The former just has a more solid script where Goldfinger feels like a bunch of awesome scenes in search of a narrative.

From Russia with Love also includes the sheer awesomeness of Robert Shaw's performance as Red Grant and the fantastically terse, tight claustrophobic fight scene between Bond and Red Grant in the train compartment, which is, to quote John Kenneth Muir,
one of the cinema’s greatest fight scenes: the claustrophobic brawl between Bond and Grant inside a cramped train compartment. Today the fight scene remains incredibly impressive in terms of stunt choreography and editing. It still plays as absolutely brutal.
But I can see why Goldfinger is considered the best Bond film. It was the first in the series to really solidify the formula and iconography which is instantaneously identifiable as being James Bond. While From Russia has an exotic location in Turkey with some gadgetry like the spy case and spy stuff, Goldfinger took those elements to their natural conclusion, perfecting them in a sense.

Like the now standard golf scene.

Goldfinger sends Bond to Miami, Switzerland, and Fort Knox in Kentucky, he finally gets a full arsenal of gadgets in a briefing scene with Q, the henchman has an unique gimmick which makes him memorable, while the villain's plan is elaborate compared to the relatively pedestrian schemes of the previous two films.

Later films would take these elements to gross extremes, falling very quickly into highly camp extravagances, but in Goldfinger the ridiculous nature of the film is just kept in check, although it verges on the cartoony at points.

However, another Bond trope that the film introduced was that the first girl Bond sleeps with in the film will die in first act. For quite a long time, the first girl we're introduced as having a romantic relationship with Bond will die quite quickly so he can move on to the main girl. The film also hints at the later trope of three girls per Bond film, the doomed quickie, the main Bond girl, and the femme fatale.

The marketing really wanted people to know there would, despite rumours to the contrary, be girls in the movie.

The first girl we see with Bond in the film is Dink, who is immediately chased off by James when Felix Leiter comes round to brief him. Just to remind everyone, I already mentioned how Bond dismisses her by spanking her on the bum and telling her he and Felix are having man-talk. No further comment.

I would like to state that this is a film with a lesbian pilot captain called Pussy Galore who is turned straight by the power of James Bond's boner. Which really sucks since Pussy is a real kick ass character who initially takes no nonsense from Bond, telling him to turn off the charm since she is immune. I mean that is like telling the sun to turn off nuclear fusion, but still.

It's obvious that Ian Flemming had some issues with lesbianism since he really believed a good man would be able to set a lady who also like ladies straight with a forced kiss and wrestling in the hay. While that is terrible in its own right, it also diminishes Pussy as a character, even more that you could after naming your character Pussy.

Since her early stance that she is immune to Bond's charms isn't because she's a strong female character who won't succumb to the suave seduction that is Sean Connery saying hello, but because she has a different preference for genitalia and doesn't care for his manbits. They discuss this in some depth on the James Bonding episode on Goldfinger but the point bears repeating.

This is the look she gives him when he turns on the charm, which is the closet I've seen to a yeah-nah-just-stop-you're-embarrassing-yourself look, I've ever seen on screen.

And this leads us finally to Thunderball. There are some things about Thunderball that just make no sense, like the plot. Or why he uses a goddamn jetpack to only fly about 10 feet. Or why is so much of the film shot underwater. Or why does everyone keeps saying the word 'underwater' as an adjective. Or why the underwater love scene is a thing that exists.

But the part I really want to touch on here is the early scenes in the resort clinic where Bond is recuperating following a back injury after using the jetpack, again to fly 10 feet. While at the clinic, Bond flirts with his nurse, who really can't be bothered with his bullshit and tells him to behave.

At some point James is in a spinal traction machine which is supposed to sooth his back but is turned up to the highest setting by a bad guy and starts sex stretching Bond to death. He passes out but is saved by the nurse who came back in time to turn off the machine. She apologises profusely and hopes the doctor won't find out.

And immediately James extorts her into having sex with him in exchange for his silence...

"Uh no. Bad James, bad."

That is literally rape. He is coercing her to have sex with him against her will by blackmailing her. Of course immediately after they have sex it's all good since she now wants him because of that magic Bond genitalia but seriously, how was this okay?

However I must give the movie due credit. Later in the film, after femme fatale Fiona Volpe and Bond have had sex and then the villains goons trap him, they essentially have an one-off match of who cared less about having sex with the other. Bond gets in some dig of not enjoying it and doing it for King and country but Fiona gets in the most damning and critical jab,
But of course, I forgot your ego, Mister Bond. James Bond, who only has to make love to a woman and she starts to hear heavenly choirs singing. She repents, then immediately returns to the side of right and virtue. But not this one. What a blow it must have been - you having a failure.
That is some brutal analysis right there, and rather self aware for such an early Bond film.

"What's the matter, Mister Bond? Can't take biting critique of your attitudes towards women and sexual prowess?"

Fiona Volpe accomplishes what Pussy Galore doesn't in the previous film, she actually rejects James Bond. She isn't turned from being on the wrong side (of the law or sexuality) but rather uses Bond as much as he uses her. Also, her analysis is so frank and point on, it's actually seems like a feminist critique years before such films were examined in that way.

But here's the thing. I like these films, I really do. I enjoy the early Bond films despite their filmmaking flaws and sexism. They're really enjoyable spy flicks with a great sense of adventure and sophistication. I even really like Connery as Bond, despite his rapiness.

That's right, despite his rapiness, I can see why Connery is often seen as the best Bond. He's captivating and has a presence on screen bar none. He's not a fabulous actor in the sense that he really gets to the emotional core of the character and lays it bare but he projects such an effortless sense of cool and debonair confidence that he really is James Bond.

Despite all the rape.


Stay tuned next week, for the second chapter in this two-parter on Sean Connery's James Bond where we will examine that last three films in which he played the character and why he really hated being James Bond.




5 Bizarre Outbursts By Celebrities You Thought Were Sane - Cracked

About Me

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This introduction is supposed to let you know that you have found the correct Caleb. 

I am here to tell that your search is over. I am indeed the correct Caleb for any given situation. Parties, hunter-gatherings, long walks on the beach, shindigs, guest appearances, and so much more. I am an multi-purpose Caleb guaranteed to impress friends and influence your uncle.

I also write stuff online.