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Forrest Fires
Posted by ForrestGump in The DU Lounge
Fri May 22nd 2009, 05:28 AM
Still...

Not that this matters all that much in light of more weighty current events, but I've long noticed (nowhere perhaps more than here on DU), when James Bond is mentioned, a tendency toward rather knee-jerky proclamations that Sean Connery was the only real James Bond. I never really understood it. I'd like to think that, even had I grown up with Sean Connery as Bond, I'd be a little more open to the possibility that other iterations might have brought something of value to the character -- and, of course, in the end we're talking about nothing more earthshattering or less subjective than pure entertainment.

I read the books as an adolescent and I barely remember anything of them now, but I recall enough to know that the book Bond and film Bond have rarely converged much. Daniel Craig is perhaps best positioned to bridge that gap most fully, basically playing Bond as either (or as both) a 'blunt instrument' of State, a highly-trained killing machine, or as a pure sociopath who's capable of extreme violence that doesn't really affect him in any very obvious way. The real (unreal, actually) Bond of Fleming is both, but more as well and is obviously not completely immune to the mayhem he causes or witnesses.

I'm of the Moore generation of Bond viewers. The first Bond film I saw was when The Man With The Golden Gun came to the local (well, 40 miles away) theater. I still have an immense amount of nostalgia for that film. Moonraker almost lost me, with its space battle, but I returned to the theaters for the excellent For Your Eyes Only and again for Octopussy and didn't see another Bond film at the movies until 2006's Casino Royale. Along the way I managed to see part of one of Dalton's films and two of Pierce's, the decent Tomorrow Never Dies and the execrable Die Another Day (I saw the latter on a trans-Pacific flight and was alternately baffled and almost asleep, so I gave it another chance on the second leg of my oceanic wanderings and hated it just as much).

Apart from Never Say Never Again -- man, I WISH he'd said never -- I'd somehow avoided seeing a single Sean Connery Bond film, at least beyond a few minutes' viewing. I like him as an actor, too. To some extent he's limited (that accent doesn't change no matter what the role, though he's far from unique in that) but he's also capable of quite a range, playing at times the most un-Bondlike people imaginable, as much a revelation as the first time I saw Robin Williams pay it serious. The interplay between he and Harrison Ford makes Last Crusade my favorite Indiana Jones film, he's convincing as an ethnobotanist in Medicine Man (I sure could have done without Lorraine Bracco's histrionics, though), he's perfect in The Rock (I've liked him in most of his latter roles, including Entrapment, Finding Forrester, Rising Sun, and Red October), he's dead-on as Urquhart in A Bridge Too Far, and 1976's Robin And Marion is an underappreciated gem. It's been decades since I saw Man Who Would Be King, but I seem to recall that an other films of his I saw as a kid (The Hill, etc) showcasing a very good screen actor. So, yeah, I'm one who thinks that Sean Connery is a good movie actor who brings something extra to the screen.

Still, I don't get the tunnel vision so many seem to have regarding his role as James Bond. He was the first to play the part in the movies, but that doesn't mean he's the best. For what it's worth, the short version of all of this is that I think that all of the Bond actors have merit and that each brought something different to the role (and, of course, much of this was not up to the actor but to the producers, writers, and directors). I'm not even sure I could pick a real favorite. Moore wins for nostalgia value, but those '60s Connery outings were very stylish (influentially so) and Dalton and Brosnan not only delivered some good films but tried to bring the character around to either being closer to the books or to combining the strengths of Moore's and Connery's portrayals. Daniel Craig's new Bond has incredible potential, and just couldn't have happened in the '60s and '70s, or even the '80s. Sure, the most recent one is a bit too Bourne-influenced (I love the Matt Damon Bourne films, that're far more rooted in reality than any Bond, though the third one overdid the handheld work by several orders of magnitude), but this is definitely a Bond for the new age.

Anyway, here's my rundown of the Bond films....

Dr No - some film had to be the first one, and it was this one. Pretty simple and not too exciting. The acting got better (and, of course, also worse). Connery isn't really JAMES BOND yet. Still, Ursula rising from the sea is akin to that Aphrodite/scallop painting in pop culture terms.

From Russia With Love - really interesting. Far more a serious (somewhat, anyway...not quite LeCarre) cold-war spy movie than the Bonds that would follow. Leisurely paced, for the most part, so probably not too appealing to a lot of audiences today, but well made with the great Robert Shaw in excellent form. At this point, as in the first movie, they inexplicably used the iconic Bond theme to accompany footage of things like Bond ironing his underwear and painting his toenails...a tad misplaced and overblown, the theme got more clever use later.

Goldfinger - right from the excellent Shirley Bassey theme song, this is classic Bond. So many iconic moments and props, from the 1964 Aston Martin and the grey suit (both more recently included as Bond gear in Catch Me If You Can) to the gold-painted girl and increasing use of gadgetry and the elaborate dispatching-of-Bond schemes. I never saw this 'til recently but I was aware of most of the film's plot points and doodads simply because they've leaked wholesale into pop culture. Hard to escape, really. In truth, much of this movie is anything but action-packed, but it was the first of the really glossy and glamorous Bonds, with a far more obvious sense of humor, and it set the tone for most of what followed. In fact, much of what followed was, to some degree, a remake of this film. Gert Fröbe was such an excellent baddie -- the "I expect you to die" line was just perfect -- and although the film is very dated in some ways it's still aged well. And I love the Kentucky Fried Chicken cameo. And Honor Blackman!!

Thunderball - as with all the 1962-71 Bond films, I saw this one fairly recently for the first time. Perhaps my viewpoint would be different if I'd grown up with this film, or been among its first theater audiences (it's still the highest grossing Bond film, I believe), but I really didn't like this one much. It was just kind of bleh and, although I agree that the 'Bond girls' in this film were beautiful women, I just couldn't keep them straight because they looked and acted so alike. The underwater scenes were groundbreaking, and perhaps the producers were therefore disproportionately impressed with them, but they really hampered the film. I'm a serious diver, a professional, and I know full well how difficult it is to work (including to film) underwater. I'm also fairly obviously totally rapt with anything that involves the underwater world. Even so, I found the underwater scenes too drawn out and self-indulgent to be effective. To add to the events, for the first time Sean Connery's toupee seemed a little awry, too...don't know what it was, but it just didn't look right. And the production values of the grand finale aboard the hydrofoil sucked shamefully even by 1965 standards. Dunderball. Thunderbore. Whatever. Bleh. Well, okay, not really BAD but far from all it could be and a turn for the worse for the franchise, an opinion I suspect is not shared by a lot of people.

You Only Live Twice - continues the more gadget-oriented Bond established by Goldfinger and furthered by Thunderball and includes some moments so genuinely silly that they make the much maligned Roger Moore's take on Bond seem staid. It's all good fun, but some of it is just so over the top and ridiculous that it's toe-tapping time....if you're going to have chunks of the film be pointless, at least do as they've done since the '80s and include explosions and vehicle chases to cover it with. Not bad, but it's not especially good and it's obvious from watching that Connery is barely engaged (and, as I found out after watching it the first time, he WAS having a terrible time with privacy and the Japanese press and things got so bad in that respect that he walked on the franchise). Great fight with The Rock's grandfather, though, and the short rooftop chase sequence was also brilliantly staged -- and it's hard to resist being entertained by a horde of ninja invading a massive volcanic lair (among the bad guys was Clouseau's Kato!). And the typically freaky Donald Pleasance, perhaps not ideally cast despite his brilliance in the role, gave us the prototypical megalomaniacal cat lover with a penchant for Nehru jackets (and, testament to his considerable thespian skills, stayed in character and on cue and mark as the poor pussycat, freaked out by a pyrotechnic charge, clawed the hell out of his arm). Lots of sloppy production in this one, with very obvious continuity and other problems throughout, way more than usual. This one and the one before it, probably more than any other installments (including Goldfinger) are the campy, very '60s properties that inspired Austin Powers and many other tributes and imitations. I liked it better when it was The Spy Who Loved Me , though. I hope the pussycat survived the destruction. Maybe that was him in For Your Eyes Only...

On Her Majesty's Secret Service - Lazenby may be a bit of a git, but he acquitted himself well in this film even if he wasn't really an actor (trained or otherwise). He's better than Connery at the fisticuffs, in making it seem real, and he filled the role quite well. And, of course, this film introduced the classic Bond ski chase (if memory serves, it was in For Your Eyes Only that we finally got the magic combination in one film of ski chase, underwater action, a clever car chase, and the bald dude with the white pussycat!). Better than anything since Goldfinger, in my opinion, and different even from that -- more like the literary Bond or perhaps the Bond from From Russia With Love. If Lazenby had been an actual actor, with the discipline to do it right, this could have been even better and he would have made a good Bond for a few more.

Diamonds Are Forever - What the hell? What a piece of crap. It's cool to see Vegas as it was back then, and the gay sociopaths are kind of wryly amusing in a cynical way (and perhaps a little ahead of their time in the story, although they were hardly POSITIVE gay archetypes and it'd be easy enough to see them as homophobic plot devices, whatever the creators' actual intent). The fact that the two who played the roles were cast after winning lookalike contests for David Crosby and Crispin Glover is, of course, incidental. They should've gone with Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly. And let's not get started on the crossdressing Blofeld because, as cool a character actor as Charles Gray was, that quirk tended to undermine things a bit. His Blofeld was pretty tame, anyway, with zero real menace, and Bond seems to have forgotten that this is the dude who killed his wife (this is at odds, rather a lot, with the pretitle sequence); in fact, the two seem more like they're about to blow the froth off a couple of pints than they are anything resembling mortal enemies. By the time the seemingly random Bambi and Thumper start beating up on Connery I wanted to knock his hairpiece off myself for so obviously sleepwalking through a film that might always have been doomed by the second-rate efforts of its creative and production personnel but was taken even lower by a star who really didn't want to be there and shouldn't have been there. Yuck. The Bambi-Thumper fight was exceedingly stupid, too, ending with a decided fizzle, the only interesting part being that Bambi, of obvious African heritage, turns Caucasian for her series of handsprings...haven't these people heard of makeup? The elevator fight was decent, but that's about it. It was while viewing this I confirmed the feeling -- initiated by Thunderball and furthered by You Only Live Twice -- that I'd been a bit harsh in my youth for deciding that James Bond films couldn't get worse than Moonraker. This film also suffers from a lot of bad jokes, not including the godawful production values and 1931-style special effects -- were they trying to make a comedy Bond? if so, why wouldn't they make it actually funny? -- that were worse than those we got from Roger Moore at his least serious. And the lovely Jill St John's character arc is plain weird, going from intelligent and interestingly capable to annoying and helpless damsel in distress. "Such nice cheeks, too. If only they were brains." Lana Wood proves that Natalie Wood's family tree is heavy in the extreme-beauty gene, though she unfortunately didn't get the acting gene that big sister Natalie benefited from, at least not if this film is any evidence (but, then again, most of the acting in this film is bad, Sean's included, and the confusing and pointless plot doesn't compensate for that). On the other hand, for some reason her voice was dubbed (as were so many characters in the earlier films) and it may well be that the vocal actress sucked, not Lana. Could be worse -- the American producers, always conscious of making the film series primarily accessible to Yanks, almost cast an American actor as Bond. It's already a very Americanized film, with a distinctly American flavor of humor dominating. Actually, Bond's American counterpart, Felix Leiter, is one of the few actors aboard who actually does the job right ('M' and 'Q' also do fine, of course, as does Moneypenny)...I knew him from The Gumball Rally, childhood favorite, and he's arguably the highlight here. Jimmy Dean pronouncing "Baja" (and, for that matter, just about everything else he says) is pretty painful, managing to turn the word into about five syllables. The dude counting down at the end -- by this point I'd pretty much forgotten what the point of it all was and what he was counting down to -- was either on some heavy downers or was recently lobotomized, or maybe it was just that he'd had the misfortune of seeing the daily rushes and had not yet recovered from the horror. I kind of picture him still counting after the oil rig blows up, oblivious to it all. Connery really looks old here, too. Not that looking old is inherently bad, but he was only 40 and looked way, way older and terribly out of shape. Roger Moore was 45 when he did his first Bond film, two years later (he was the oldest to start the role), and he looked far more vital and remained so into his 50s. Heck, in his mid-30s Sean Connery looked a good decade older than he really was, even with a toupee on; besides, I've always thought he was one of those people who grew far better-looking the older he got. Oddly, Connery looked immensely better and more fit and young in Never Say Never Again, 12 years later, than in this piece of junk. Maybe he really needed that break. It certainly would be easy enough to say he looked 60, rather than 40 in this film, but he actually looked WAY better when he actually was 60. And if he was largely phoning in his part in You Only Live Twice he couldn't even be bothered to pick up the phone for his beyond-lackadaisical semi-participation in this work. He was sleepwalking, and it was impossible to miss -- even his Scottish brogue was far more pronounced than in his other Bond films, probably because he was too lazy to try to sound a little more English as he had before. I'd say that the film might have benefited from Roger Moore being cast for it but, really, as it was written it was a loser of a piece from the start and nobody could have salvaged it without first scrapping it and starting from scratch. It's one of those films you can watch attentively and then wonder what exactly happened in the film. I'd also suggest that the precredit sequence from The Naked Gun would've suited the film better than what we got, except that this later film was actually witty and entertaining. Nice Shirley Bassey title song, though. Otherwise, this film warrants the two-word review accorded the legendary Spinal Tap's Shark Sandwich album...

Live And Let Die - speaking of cool title songs! Roger Moore's debut was impressive and he's far more businesslike in this than in much of what followed. The script is fairly straightforward -- perhaps even makeshift, to an extent -- and the action is definitely not over-the-top (indeed, at times it flags). I don't think Roger or the people who wrote and produced the film had quite figured his place in the series yet, but the man was undeniably charismatic in the role and as smooth and debonair as could be, far more so than Connery ever was. Not the definitive Bond, or even definitive Moore, but a great improvement over the last couple of Connery vehicles. I did kind of enjoy the very awkward fish-out-of-water scenes with Moore in his blazer, with his public-school manner, in early '70s Harlem. And, yeah, those cars from that time, and some of the clothing, were way groovy, man.

The Man With The Golden Gun - well, here I get to the point at which nostalgia kicks in and renders me anything but objective. I'll try, though: it's definitely less reality-based and more overtly gag-laden and tongue-in-cheek than Live And Let Die, with some parts a little painfully set up to support a one-liner, but it's still the classic kind of not-quite-real Bond established in Goldfinger, just not as stylishly rendered. I once found Britt Eckland kind of compelling -- hey, young male hormones -- but she's more of a detriment and Maud Adams, who'd show up again later as Octopussy, holds the screen so much more effortlessly. I didn't have a problem with Hervé Villechaize's role as a mini-Oddjob or with JW Pepper returning (that spiral car jump was a real groundbreaker as far as stunts go, too...still very impressive), though many seem to hate old JW. One thing I know for sure: Christopher Lee is such a good villain. Like Chris Walken in A View To A Kill, he was undoubtedly a better villain than the film deserved. Still, I'll always have a soft spot for this film, I guess.

The Spy Who Loved Me - perhaps one of the very few perfect or near-perfect James Bond films (at least of Goldfinger's progeny) that includes most of the major components. I love this film. Roger Moore is perfect, still far more cuddly and gentlemanly than Connery but not averse to helping a bad guy fall to his death from a rooftop even though said bad guy was begging mercy. This one and For Your Eyes Only were long my favorite Bond films and still probably rate as my favorite of Moore's, and they both have in common an attempt to include the iconic Bond hallmarks while paring down the campiness and taking it a little more back to basics. If nothing else, that opening stunt by Rick Sylvester, skiing off that Baffin Island mountaintop and unfurling the Union Jack, would have redeemed the entire film and still stands as one of the most amazing practical stunts ever filmed (remarkable, too, that they were lucky to capture it on film because of technical problems and that it all almost went horribly awry when one of the skis went loose and almost interfered with the opening). Curt Jurgens was another very cool villain, and the bad-guy-lair set was classic Bond, all the way. Excellent stuff. This was, by the way, also the last film Elvis Presley saw, the day before he died, at least at the movies (as usual, he rented the entire theater) -- he tried to track down a print of Star Wars for Lisa Marie but wasn't able to.

Moonraker - when I was catching up with the Connery and other films I'd never seen, I also re-watched all the films I HAD seen. I just watched this one again the other day, too, and it turns out that my original reaction to it when I saw it in theaters as a teen -- not favorable -- was not really on target. I think the space scenes did it for me but, really, they're only a part of the film and most of the rest of it was surprisingly decent, sort of along the lines of Octopussy. Michael Lonsdale, though I never did figure out how a French dude got such a name, is a great actor and he's a nicely chilled and sardonic villain here. Even if Rog had sucked in this film, which he didn't, Lonsdale would have saved the day. And, yeah, Lois Chiles may have been beautiful and also refreshingly capable as her own secret agent, but I still got the feeling that she was a few acting classes short of really nailing her role (not always a necessity for 'Bond girls,' admittedly, but she was -- like Barbara Bach before her -- to some small degree a new kind of Bond woman). I'd say that, having now seen all the evidence, it was not this film but A View To A Kill that was the low point in the Roger Moore years.

For Your Eyes Only - oh, yeah, baby. Ever since my first viewing of it on its release, this has been my favorite Moore film (and, until I saw all the others and the new ones started coming out, my favorite Bond film of all). It was a welcome return to a slightly grittier story and characterization (very relatively, of course...even in its grittiest to this point, under Connery, Bond films were never too based in reality) and I believe it's Roger Moore's favorite of his outings. Lynn-Holly Johnson detracted a little from it -- her character and her acting (though I like the honest appraisal of Roger's age, in light of him being cast to woo women increasingly younger than he, when he offered to buy her an ice cream) -- but otherwise this film has it all and it works very well. It's hardly the more serious and real universe of Daniel Craig's films, or even of the Dalton and Brosnan ones, but it's among the best of the franchise's first 20 years. And Topol's in it! Love it.

Octopussy - watched this one again recently and thoroughly enjoyed it. Roger Moore even has a more age-appropriate love interest and, as in a few other cases, he's not entirely invincible or superhuman. It's less realistic and focused than the previous film but not by much (okay...a few arbitrary seconds of odd stuff like the Tarzan yell and the double-take pigeon upped the queso content a bit) and it has an unusual but very effective villain in Louis Jourdan, a great actor. Steven Berkoff seems to have taken his cue from the Gary Oldman school of bad-guy portrayal (this is to say, as in Air Force One, I absolutely love Oldman's over-the-top turns as a bad guy), with postgraduate work on derangement from other sources, but it works well enough. As with most of the Moore films, the location cinematography is just sublime. I like this one more each time I see it.

A View To A Kill - Rog had for a while now been concerned about his age, especially relative to the age of his female costars, and this is the film (he pointed out that he was older than his female lead's mother) that finally ended it for him. He wasn't a fan of the film for other reasons, either. Neither am I. It's not a terrible movie, but it's not a very good one nor a very good Bond film (Bond films, as everyone knows, exist in a universe quite apart from other motion pictures). I'd watch it any day over a couple of the others, but that's not saying much other than hinting that there're parts of it that are okay or even quite good. Very small parts, that is. Foremost among the latter is Christopher Walken. Yeah, baby. The man is a god. And he's such a deliciously complex villain in movies where we get to see him play the part -- he's a classic nemesis for Bond and it's just a pity that we didn't get to see him shine in a better Bond property. Unfortunately, not a lot else about the film is especially worthwhile. Some very nice stunts, yeah, but some of the more climactic stuff is almost anticlimax. Tanya Roberts was absolutely gorgeous, of course (and not simply in the typical manufactured-starlet way) but I never bought her as a geologist or, for that matter, much of an actress. Like Lois Chiles, she might have developed her acting skill since or even had it at the time of filming, but it just didn't really show up. Most of the time she seems to be running around yelling "James!" or sighing "Oh, Jaaaaames" (not that she was the only one given such blistering dialog during the franchise's life), and none of that is really her fault. The Duran Duran song, compared even with much older themes, sounds terribly dated and I think it foreshadows the trend of (after the prevalence of such great sings as "Nobody Does It Better," "For Your Eyes Only," and "All Time High") the James Bond themes that suck, a trend that reached critical mass with Madonna's Die Another Day...then again, I hated the '80s sound even back in the '80s (not that I harbor particular animosity toward Duran Duran or their music). I kind of liked the scenes with Patrick McNee, even when not a whole lot was happening. The films boasts a nice chase in Paris and a nice ski chase before the credits, but a change was due.

The Living Daylights - Timothy Dalton was a great choice for Bond (like Brosnan after him, he was also selected as a candidate for the role years earlier but considered himself too young) and was arguably the best actor to this point to play 007. He definitely gave us a darker, more human Bond, with a little less of the swinging chauvinist/sexist/misogynist that had been associated with the character since Fleming's typewriter keys first inkily slashed through the heavy Jamaican air (all right, so I was hamming that description up on purpose...maybe I should write for EON Productions). Anyway, he was great in the role. Not too ready with the quip, though, but still very effective. This one was written for Roger Moore and it's only with the next one that we'd see how dark Dalton (and, it must always be remembered, the production people) were prepared to go with Bond. Started nicely, too, with scenes in Gibraltar. The airplane stunts and many other scenes are jawdropping, too. This is far more a spy thriller -- somewhat like a hybrid of From Russia With Love with modern action films and a few mid-era Bond gadgets thrown in for good measure -- than what James Bond had become since 1964. The bad guys are a little diffuse, though Jeroen Krabbé is always good -- he was great in The Fugitive -- and Joe Don Baker is always cool even if I find him not an especially good fit for this role (maybe it's just the role I don't like much) and far more effective in Goldeneye. John Rhys-Davies is, as always, an excellent screen presence. Great James Bond film; great film, actually.

Licence to Kill - oooo, topical (though some have complained it was more Miami Vice than Bond) and nasty, and very well done. Robert Davi is insanely good as an evil drug lord and, well, Wayne Newton is in it as a televangelist. Benicio Del Toro is a total psychopath of a minion and Felix Leiter disagrees with something that ate him, but only after one of the Three's Company cast gets blown away. Some excellent stunts hereabouts, starting with yet another of those always-spectacular Bond aerial gags, the franchise long priding itself on doing most of the dangerous-looking stuff for real (just another reason why Die Another Day sucks). Carey Lowell is great as a Bond girl who needs Bond like a fish need a bicycle and the overall production is very different than any before or since -- Quantum of Solace is its closest kin, overall, and Daniel Craig's go at the character in general has much in common with this Bond -- and marked by a lot of violent action and, unfortunately, not a whole lot of commercial success.

Goldeneye - it took them six years to put out another one, during which time I'm sure many suspected Bond was gone for good, but the wait was worth it. That is, I imagine that the wait was worth it, 'cos I didn't see the film until a couple of years ago (besides, I was in the midst of my PhD at the time and actually going to films was something I barely did for a decade and have barely done since). Martin Campbell can be a brilliant director, especially of pieces characterized by a lot of action, and he really shines with this film. It's perhaps no big surprise that he's also behind the similarly spectacular Casino Royale. Pierce Brosnan is perfect as Bond. If you were to design a Bond from scratch, at least one that blends up all the cinematic incarnations, he'd be Pierce Brosnan. His Bond, though he never felt he really nailed the character and there're a few times when it seems there's a duality in play, to some extent combines Connery's more ruthless streak with Moore's charm. And, I mean, the man is gorgeous. Excellent actor, too. In perhaps trying to please everyone he was destined to not please a good number of people, but I think it'd be hard for anyone not to see this film as a very effective renewal of the Bond brand. That opening stunt off the dam, and the one that followed with the plane? Wo. The film is filled with such gems and, of course, Sean Bean is fantastic in his role (as he tends to be). He'd have made a great Bond, for that matter (another I think would have been perfect is Jason Isaacs, of The Patriot and Peter Pan, though he has no interest in the role because he likes his relative anonymity...if we're lucky, maybe he'll show up as a villain), but he's perfect in this role. Famke Janssen is...um...beautifully over the toppa and it's always good to see Robbie Coltrane and (though in a small role) the excellent Tcheky Karyo. Judi Dench was inspired casting...well done. I think this film, like The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only and in the spirit of Goldfinger, handily brings together all of the Bond plot essentials and mixes them perfectly and to great effect. I'd like to see Martin Campbell direct more Bond films, as long as he doesn't grow bored with the job.

Tomorrow Never Dies - haven't seen this one in ages, but I recall liking it a lot. Michelle Yeoh is great, as always (I knew about her from an interest in martial arts so I was happy to see her as an eminently capable Bond 'girl') and I always love seeing Jonathan Pryce on screen even if a lot of people seem to think his villain in this film wasn't too scary. The usual great locations and stunts....although perhaps not up to the previous film, I remember this one being more than decent as an addition to the series. Samantha Bond is nice as Moneypenny, too. Need to see this one again soon...

The World Is Not Enough - probably a little more focused and real than the previous one, from memory. Sophie Marceau is brilliant as the female lead and Robert Carlyle manages to be both chilling and sympathetic in his bad-guy role. 'M' even gets more directly involved in the action. Denise Richards is 'sexy' enough but her part in the film leads me to have serious doubt about her ability to act her way out of a wet paper bag, though she does just fine with the wet T-shirt. Along with a few others (Tanya Roberts, Halle Berry, etc) she detracts from the film at least a bit. Robbie Coltrane returns -- yay! -- and there's a cool boat chase, a cool ski chase, and a cool pipeline chase. They cut a BMW in half! Very nice entry in the series. I really don't understand why so many seem to dismiss Brosnan's Bond films as worthless (well, except for the last one...then again, the last attempts of both Connery and Moore were pretty poor, too). Take out Denise Richards and this film would be a solid contender for one of the two or three best in the series.

Die Another Day - oh, boy. Blecch. As I said above, I saw this twice in a row as a very captive audience, high above the Pacific, and it didn't get better with a second viewing. I watched it a third time a week or so ago and, surprisingly, it DID get a little better. There're some nice set-pieces in this film (the extended swordfight is classic), but they're overwhelmed by some really atrocious CGI (the magic airplane, reminiscent of something from Flash Gordon, the kitesurfing a glacial wave, and so on...especially out of place in a film series famed for practical stuntwork) and just a massive overdose of ultra-farfetched plot devices like gene-therapy race-changing, electric suits, diamonds in the face, an invisible car, and so on and so forth. A little of that stuff goes a long way and they way overdid it with this one. The film starts well but quickly fizzles and then gets plain silly and, often, mean-spirited. It was a cool idea to mark the 20th film and 40th anniversary by including nods to all the preceding films, but much of that wasn't done well. Halle Berry's rising from the sea sure caught my attention but, though I think she's not just a remarkably beautiful woman but can be very good in film, her character and her characterization were not convincing and she ultimately was a liability to the film. Like Jill St John, Lana Wood, and Tanya Roberts before her, Halle was among the most beautiful of all the Bond women, in my view, but just not right for her role. Pity, because she could have made a great Bond female, I think, given the right part. Pierce Brosnan has the distinction of being both the slimmest (Goldeneye, 1995; 164 lbs) and heaviest (this film, 2002; 211 lbs) James Bond and, yeah, he's chunkier than before in this film but still looks great and I, for one, don't think he looked or seemed too old for the part even though he was up there in years for that role. He's excellent in the role, too, and it's kind of nice to see him all unkempt when he wanders into the hotel in Hong Kong looking like Charles Manson's better-nutritionized twin. He was not the problem at all; it was the direction and the writing. Lee Tamahori, a New Zealander like Martin Campbell, directed but he or someone else didn't do their job too well. Terrible theme song, too, and too much jerky and swoopy camera work, probably Matrix-inspired. I knew this film was going to be different when the always-special opening credits ran over footage of Bond being tortured, but in this case the film turned out to be one of those ones that is not better because it's different. Thank goodness for Casino Royale, because this film could easily have been the last Bond movie and would have made a disappointing end to the series. It's not as bad, throughout, as I recall but it's really, really bad when it is bad, which includes most of the second half of this bloated, overlong, insulting piece of crap.

Casino Royale (2006) - excellent. Watch it, if you haven't. Bond is totally different -- blond, for one (the shortest Bond, too, so far), very rough and unrefined (to great degree) and sociopathic, for another -- and still finding his way in this 'reboot.' He's a brute, really, and has very little in the way of charm, but perhaps that ingredient of the classic Bond will assume more importance as his character matures with additional films. The film's great as-is, though, and still very much Bond even if it's obviously influenced by more recent film types and stuff like the Bourne movies (this latter fact very obvious in the most recent film, that features a good proportion of the production staff involved in the Bourne films). He really is the proverbial blunt instrument. Brilliant stuff. From the opening chase -- simply incredible to behold, and none of that bad CGI in sight -- to the end when he's finally become JAMES BOND (complete with a navy version of the Goldfinger suit and the "Dr No" classic Bond theme we thought they'd forgotten to include), this is pure gold. If I could pick a favorite from among the top few I really like, this may be it, but -- again -- the flavors of each actor's take on Bond are different enough that, although it's nominally the same character, there's an element of the apple-orange dilemma. On the bright side, we don't have to pick just one.

Quantum of Solace - this one proves that the previous film was really part one of a two-parter, so it's not as satisfying because it doesn't as well stand alone. As in Licence to Kill, Bond is renegade and off the reservation and predictable mayhem ensues. Good to watch hard on the heels with the first Craig film, although at times a tad confusing, I think this is a worthy entry and I look forward to the next one.

As for Never Say Never Again and the 1967 Casino Royale, well, the first is one I haven't seen in many years but that I recall as dragging on forever for no particular reason (I vaguely recall Connery being effective enough in it but that it's production side sucked and some editing might have improved it) and most of the second was pretty much a bad '60s joke that wasn't too effective either as parody or straight-out comedy (the most excellent James Coburn's Flint movies were WAY better). As far as spy films go, there're a number of productions from throughout the years that offer a more realistic look at the topic and of the more action-oriented kind it's hard to beat the recent Bourne films.

In retrospect, although I can't really pick a favorite Bond film -- too many variables, too many worthy entries even within this very specialized and limited subgenre of film -- if I could it'd likely be drawn from among Casino Royale, For Your Eyes Only, and Goldeneye. I started this exercise because I wondered how much of the Connery-is-the-one-true-Bond was a result of conditioning or nostalgia or the got-there-first or defined-the-role effect and how much was more careful and at least somewhat objective evaluation. Again, I have nothing against Connery as Bond and think he is a very appealing actor (whatever the truth behind his apparently more than once stating that smacking a woman was an acceptable means of social control) but I think at the very least it could be argued than non-Connery films provided some damned solid entertainment. After all, Sean may have defined the role (at least by his third outing) but it was always different than the true original, in Fleming's writings.

By my reckoning, there was arguably only one real classic Sean Connery Bond film and that would be Goldfinger (I hasten to add that From Russia With Love was probably the superior film and more true to the source, but that version of Bond was never really repeated and it wasn't until Goldfinger that Bond became a cinematic cult figure). Even Roger Moore, the actor with whom most Connery-boosters seem to take issue the most, can at least equal that tally. So can Daniel Craig, with only two films (and, unusually, two that follow chronologically in story elements) under his belt so far, or Tim Dalton with his two. I don't think any of these gentlemen made a Bond film as dire as Diamonds Are Forever -- even A View To A Kill is elevated by some nice sequences and the great Walken whereas that garbage from 1971 has nothing good going for it.

I just don't see that Sean Connery has the monopoly on the role or that he 'owns' the most classic installments of the series: Dr No was okay for starters, From Russia With Love was good but entirely different than what followed and pretty un-Bondlike (the film Bond, I mean), Goldfinger was great for what it was, the next two were less than they could have been, and his final official installment was really pretty awful by any measure. Yep, having now seen all of the films more than once, I think I'd have to say that -- even with some competition from the likes of A View To A Kill and Die Another Day, Diamonds Are Forever gets my vote as the worst Bond film. What a monumental piece of crap; what a terrible waste of celluloid. It's all kind of moot, though, because I'm of the opinion that all of the Bond actors have delivered some excellent films, mostly fairly escapist (just what I've needed since grad school filled up my brain and left no room for anything else), and that it's not especially surprising that some will appeal more than others to an particular viewer. The franchise is most definitely alive, though, and potentially better than ever -- it didn't die in 1971 with Connery's abysmal swan song nor even in 1983 with his bootleg return, thank goodness.
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Putting the 'mod' in 'module'
This is what a custom module looks like.

Fascinating.
Oh, look....it shows pictures, too:
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