Our Take Two column offers second opinions and alternative angles on films and TV series reviewed elsewhere on Motion State. Head here for our original review of Casino Royale.
We’ve done a fair bit of writing about James Bond here at Motion State. From the wonky “continuity” to an increasing need to indulge a wider audience to shitty henchmen to the way writers get away with writing the same damn movie all over again, 007’s bases are more or less covered. Heck, we even spun a conspiracy theory about Bond and Star Wars that only broke recently, now that the tables are turned and Star Wars is suddenly the more prolific franchise of the two. Double heck: we even wrote about Never Say Never Again, the “unofficial” Bond adventure featuring a plot primarily involving deep tissue massage and jazzercise. Despite the advice of the title, I’m supremely confident saying never again on that one.
The thing we’ve somehow avoided discussing is the music of the Bond franchise. Excluding franchise themes written by John Williams — Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, etc. — Bond is arguably the film series in which the theme music is most inextricable from the mere notion of the franchise itself. You pick the theme out in an instant and you wouldn’t mistake it for anything else. When I hear the words “James Bond” the first thing I think of is this:
Continue reading Casino Royale (2006): You Know My Name
Neal Purvis and Robert Wade co-wrote the scripts for an important chunk of the James Bond franchise, penning everything from The World Is Not Enough to Skyfall. They’ll receive a credit for the upcoming Spectre, apparently advising primary writer John Logan, but the previous five films are pretty much The Wade/Purvis Era while Skyfall might end up marking an overlap with The Logan Era. There are a few stinkers throughout Wade/Purvis, namely two that are regarded among the worst Bond flicks of all time: the Joel Schumacher-esque Die Another Day and the incorrigibly self-serious Quantum of Solace. Odd that one would be too goofy and one not goofy enough. But the other three efforts comprise the real Wade/Purvis Bonds, allowing those other two to just be buffers interspersed between the flicks that actually matter: The World Is Not Enough, Daniel Craig’s introduction in Casino Royale, and the mega-hit Skyfall.
The theory goes that a Bond scribe — at least this particular duo — takes two or three tries to really get it right. Even Ian Fleming only turned out his best Bond yarns after testing the waters with the likes of Live and Let Die and Moonraker. With Wade/Purvis, the tautness of the story is the best evidence to support this theory.
Continue reading The World Is Not Enough (1999)
After dragging Sean Connery back one last time for Diamonds Are Forever, the hunt was on for a new Bond that would be so kind as to stick around for more than one movie. That meant the first movie starring this new Bond would have to be really good; instead, it was Live and Let Die. No more Connery to be found here, sadly, but also no more world domination plots or supervillain nutjobs — just drug trafficking and regular nutjobs. Live and Let Die is weird, sure, but it’s not good weird. The film is too weak and Roger Moore is too clueless for any of the weirdness to cut through the muck. But the follow-up The Man with the Golden Gun is weird, is good weird, and may in fact be the best weird you’re going to find in the entire Bond franchise.
The film was more or less pronounced Dead On Arrival. As Moore’s second outing, The Man with the Golden Gun continued to fail to live up to any of the Connery Bond films. You name it, the critics decried it: weak plot with low stakes; weak dialogue; weak delivery of that dialogue, particularly from Moore’s Bond; weak Bond girl Mary Goodnight; stupid, unimaginative gadgets like a flying car; stupid, unimaginative inclusion of that fat sheriff from Live and Let Die; and, most damning of all, the simple and nearly indescribable fact that something about this doesn’t feel like a Bond movie. “Maybe enough’s enough,” wrote one critic, which is a funny thing to read with Spectre, the 24th film in the series, being released this year. Nowadays we know that it doesn’t matter how terrible Bond gets, or how many films in a row are stinkers, or how many miscast actors are handed the license to kill. There will always be another Bond flick, another ten, until the time comes to cast an invading alien as 007 (coming to zombie-infested theaters everywhere).
Continue reading The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
Did you know that Albert Finney was young once? Weird, right? He occupies such the Old British Guy post nowadays that his Young British Guy seems like a completely different actor. Time, of course, has a bit to do with that, as Finney’s had a long career full of great roles (Murder on the Orient Express), not-so-great roles (Looker) and, at present, increasingly smaller roles than he deserves (Skyfall). But it’s not just the passage of time that makes a return to Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, a film I first saw in college, a bit of a jarring experience. That’s because the difference isn’t so much Old British Guy vs. Young British Guy at all — it’s Old, Lovely British Guy vs. Young, Dickhead British Guy.
Come on, you say, that’s simplifying it a bit too much. It certainly is. Finney’s Arthur Seaton, the prototypical angry young man at the center of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, in fact has more than a few responses to such “insults” that approach perfection here. His entire social stance is a refutation of the notion that you or I or Doreen (Arthur’s girlfriend) or Brenda (Arthur’s other girlfriend) or anyone else would presume to know the first thing about him. A bit from his famous soliloquy:
Mam called me barmy when I told her I fell off a gasometer for a bet. But I’m not barmy — I’m a fighting pit-prop that wants a pint of beer, that’s me…but if any knowing bastard says that’s me I’ll tell them I’m a dynamite dealer waiting to blow the factory to kingdom come. I’m me and nobody else. Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not. Because they don’t know a bloody thing about me.
Continue reading Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)
It’s been almost fifty years since The Quiller Memorandum, and spy movies have changed quite a bit in the ensuing half-century. It’s unfair to say they’re better or worse nowadays, especially considering the qualification of “spy movie” can mean anything from Skyfall to Syriana to Agent Cody Banks (though, if we’re talking about the latter, then yes: they’re worse). Even the superhero genre is dabbling in spy-ish flicks, with the espionage thriller Captain America: The Winter Soldier drawing favorable comparisons to Three Days of the Condor; Condor, of course, is a spy movie with a main character who is not in fact a spy, nor is he a suave step-ahead killer fighting for what’s right, nor does he even know what’s going on — this all by way of saying that a great “spy” movie doesn’t even need a spy.
But Peter Quiller is a spy, and a damn good one to boot. He’s good by today’s standards, he’s good by the standards of 1966, and he’s good by the standards of his fellow spies in Memorandum. The film opens with a stark, memorable sequence of a man plodding cautiously down a dark, quiet street. He looks around constantly, fearing that the hidden blade might finally come from the shadows. Cautious, quiet. He enters a phone booth and reaches for the receiver when bam! — he’s shot in the back. Dead.
Continue reading The Quiller Memorandum (1966)
Grantland’s Chris Ryan makes a great point here about the way in which the James Bond franchise has changed, for better or worse, to not only gel with modern viewers but to fit the current model of blockbuster franchising. It was always the case that each 007 flick was a standalone film, made even more explicit with those little “James Bond will return” tags at the end. These are installments, and if this particular one stinks then we still have the next one to look forward to or the previous one to rewatch. If you want to jump in on a random one (like, say, Never Say Never Again — wait, bad example), that’s no problem. You won’t miss a step.
Ryan’s point is that all of that has changed now, as the Spectre trailer makes fairly heavy reference to Skyfall and even to Quantum of Solace and Casino Royale. This is continuity as Bond has never known, and Ryan further posits that the filmmaker might be the one who mainly benefits from such a thing — Spectre now seems “more important” than Skyfall (whatever that might mean) just by virtue of being a continuation of the story. Who wouldn’t rather direct “the Bond movie that the last few have been leading up to” over “the next Bond film in a string of other Bond films”?
Continue reading Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
For such a successful franchise of movies, there is no denying that of the 23 James Bond installments, a handful of the movies are nothing special on their own. That is to say, strip away the Bond allure and you’re left with a lot of movies that probably resemble a 2014 Kevin Costner film (3 Days to Kill, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit… you get the picture). But the most recent entry Skyfall certainly does not fit into this category of Bond movies. In many ways, Sam Mendes’ first Bond movie is not a typical Bond film; making it not just a great James Bond movie, but a great movie in general.
Mendes gives the viewer this sense early when Q says to Bond — but really to the audience as a sort of aside — “what did you expect, an exploding pen?” It’s Mendes way of saying, “what did you expect, a typical Bond movie?” In the case of Q, what he gives Bond — a fingerprint encoded gun — is even better. And in the case of Mendes, what he gives the viewer is also far better.
Continue reading Skyfall (2012)
The next Bond movie will be Spectre, which will mark the fourth outing for Daniel Craig’s modernized James Blonde and the second for director Sam Mendes following 2012’s Skyfall. Mendes won’t be the first to return for another helping of 007, and in fact the trend since Dr. No has hewed closer to “we’ll ask you back if your movie doesn’t suck” than anything else. The math, for those of you struggling here: Skyfall doesn’t suck = Mendes returns.
But Spectre will also mark the return of…well, SPECTRE. The evil organization (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) has been absent from the Bond franchise for the past eleven films, at least according to Bond purists. According to everyone else, the last time SPECTRE plotted against MI6 was in 1983’s Never Say Never Again, the only Bond film not produced (or sanctioned) by Eon Productions, a film that saw the valiant (ahem) return of Sean Connery to the James Bond role. Never Say Never Again pits this 53-year-old version of the spy against SPECTRE as the organization counter-intelligences, terrorizes, revenges and extorts all over everybody’s ass. Math: SPECTRE = evil.
Continue reading Never Say Never Again (1983)
Our Director Series on Robert Altman is partially responsible for a look at The Big Sleep, as the overlapping rapid-fire back-and-forth dialogue characteristic of Altman’s films was first characteristic of the films of Howard Hawks. Toss in the fact that the source material is by Raymond Chandler and the fact that William Faulkner himself helped write the screenplay, and The Big Sleep is still one of the finest American film scripts ever committed to celluloid.
Private eye Philip Marlowe has appeared in a few films – notably portrayed by Elliott Gould in 1973’s The Long Goodbye (also Altman) and then by Robert Mitchum in both 1975 and 1978 – but Humphrey Bogart’s time in the role is the most valuable. He’s Marlowe in the way that Sean Connery is Bond: it’s not the only portrayal of the character…but yeah, it’s the only portrayal of the character. Marlowe’s investigation into a whole host of strange occurrences rolled out one after another, starting with the disappearance of one Sean Regan, provides the drive for the film. But one solution inevitably leads to two more problems in The Big Sleep, and there’s little hope of piecing everything together into a neat little answer to “so what actually happened?”
Continue reading The Big Sleep (1946)