Bond-ed for Life ~ The World is Not Enough

The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and with the release of Skyfall I wanted to take a look back at the 22 (23 if you count the rogue Never Say Never Again, 24 if you count the 1967 spoof of Casino Royale) films that have come before it. So sit back, grab your shaken-not-stirred martini and follow me on a trip down Bond memory lane.

The Facts:

Synopsis: James Bond uncovers a nuclear plot when he protects an oil heiress from her former kidnapper, an international terrorist who can’t feel pain.

Stars: Pierce Brosnan, Judi Dench, Sophie Marceau, Denise Richards, Robert Carlyle

Director: Michael Apted

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 128 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Like Sean Connery and Roger Moore before him, it would take Brosnan three attempts to get into the true groove of James Bond.  Moving easily through two entertaining films (GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies), Brosnan would be given his best material in The World is Not Enough and even with the presence of the worst actress in the history of the series, it’s a film that is a nice return to form for our top British agent.

Director Apted makes a wise choice to open the film with not one but two of the most thrilling chase sequences that Bond has been presented with as he escapes from an assassin’s bullet in Spain and then pursues another assassin through the waterways of London.  It’s twenty minutes of spectacular action capped by another strong opening credits courtesy of designer Danny Kleinman and rock group Garbage.

Bond is sent by M to protect the daughter of a recently deceased oil tycoon that M has a complicated history with.  Elektra (Marceau) is a headstrong heiress that escaped a kidnapping plot by a terrorist (Carlyle) that may have returned to collect the money he lost out on.  It’s not long before Bond has taken extra good care of Elektra all through the night and deeper secrets are revealed that will put Bond, M, Elektra, and the world in whole lot of danger.

Sounds pretty good, right?  And it is good up until the point when Bond makes a detour and meets up with Dr. Christmas Jones, a nuclear scientist played by Richards in one of the most ridiculous examples of bad casting you’re likely to see in a Bond movie or any other film.  Everything about the actress is wrong from her costuming to her delivery of basic dialogue.  The feeling comes across that Richards had never seen a Bond film so isn’t in on any of the jokes happening around her.

Though she threatens to sink the whole movie, even she can’t crash land this ship that stays admirably on course thanks to Apted’s skilled direction and another strong performance by Brosnan.  He’s a no fuss no muss kind of actor and that works well when playing the dapper and cooly confident 007.  What’s nice about this entry is a beefed up role for Dench that allows the actress to get in on the action and out of her stuffy office.  She also gets to deliver a swell face slap to a deserving party.

Marceau does well in the surprisingly complex role of Elektra…a character that comes more mysterious as the film progresses to entertaining results.  Though Carlyle’s murderous thug is oblivious to pain courtesy of a lingering bullet in his brain, I wish the script allowed for more ways to exploit this condition when he goes head to head with Bond.  I think the film could have dialed back on a few extraneous characters that seem to be there only for bad guys to use them as target practice.

This was the final film of Desmond Llewelyn, the actor who played gadget man Q for nearly four decades.  Killed in an auto-accident shortly after the film was released, he nevertheless gets an eerily perfect sendoff as he passes the reins to Q 2.0 Cleese.

The nineteenth Bond film could have easily tipped the scales into gimmicky territory but it wisely comes forth with a well developed story featuring characters that don’t feel like familiar retreads of other films.  It’s more than enough to entertain Bond purists and new fans alike.

Bond-ed for Life ~ Tomorrow Never Dies

The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and with the release of Skyfall I wanted to take a look back at the 22 (23 if you count the rogue Never Say Never Again, 24 if you count the 1967 spoof of Casino Royale) films that have come before it. So sit back, grab your shaken-not-stirred martini and follow me on a trip down Bond memory lane.

The Facts:

Synopsis: James Bond heads to stop a media mogul’s plan to induce war between China and the UK in order to obtain exclusive global media coverage.

Stars: Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh, Götz Otto, Teri Hatcher, Judi Dench

Director: Roger Spottiswoode

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 119 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  Pierce Brosnan’s debut as James Bond in GoldenEye made a strong case that the James Bond series still had life left in its bones so was anyone really shocked when MGM fast tracked another entry in the franchise?  After taking a six year break before GoldenEye, the studio was eager to get their cash cow back up and running so Tomorrow Never Dies was moved into production on a fast clip.

Surprisingly, the film that resulted was a competent entry that didn’t have the look or feel of a movie that had little thought put into it.  In fact, when I revisited it again recently I was surprised that I liked it more now than I did when it was released in 1997.  Maybe coming off of GoldenEye I had too high expectations for the 18th (!) Bond film but I wasn’t a fan of the picture when I first saw it.

Time has been kind to Tomorrow Never Dies, especially considering that so much of it depends on media and technology that has been left in the dust by newer forms of communication and culture.  This adventure finds Bond squaring off against a mad media tycoon that happens to be married to an old flame of our spy.  Teaming up with a Chinese mercenary (Yeoh), Bond must avert war between the US and China as time hangs in the balance.

Though produced with the same breakneck speed of GoldenEye, it can’t quite match the previous entry with its plot that feels a little also-ran.  The same kind of evil genius is present, the same Bond babe works her magic on trying to soften him, the same second henchman lives long enough to battle 007 in a well-staged final battle…so it’s easy to feel like we’ve seen it all before and know where it’s heading.

That’s not to say the film isn’t an enjoyable ride with its top of the line production values and strong direction by Spoittswoode.  Spoittswoode stages some of the most impressively delirious action sequences seen so far in the series with Brosnan and Yeoh’s motorcycle chase through the city streets an unforgettable blast.

Yeoh’s martial arts strengths are also capitalized on without making it obvious that the stunts were designed with her in mind.  As the first ally to hold her own against Bond since Agent XXX in The Spy Who Loves Me, it’s no surprise that for a while a spin off series with Yeoh was considered.  As Bond’s previous lover, Hatcher is adequately sultry but I find it hard to believe she’d ever marry someone like the character Pryce plays.  I’ve always found Pryce to be overrated as a go-to actor and as a last minute replacement for Anthony Hopkins, he can’t help but be overshadowed by everything going on around him.

Returning credits designer Daniel Kleinman has produced another impressive opening sequence…though I think k.d. lang’s closing song should have swapped places with Sheryl Crow’s bland title track.  David Arnold comes on board as composer and works in some nice music cues that look to the future while making several nice references to the past.

Though it may feel a bit familiar, Tomorrow Never Dies functions well as a sophomore effort for Brosnan and company…producing an exciting film that provides the kind of entertainment audiences have come to expect from Mr. Bond.

Bond-ed for Life ~ GoldenEye

The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and with the release of Skyfall I wanted to take a look back at the 22 (23 if you count the rogue Never Say Never Again, 24 if you count the 1967 spoof of Casino Royale) films that have come before it. So sit back, grab your shaken-not-stirred martini and follow me on a trip down Bond memory lane.

The Facts:

Synopsis: James Bond teams up with the lone survivor of a destroyed Russian research center to stop the hijacking of a nuclear space weapon by a fellow agent believed to be dead.

Stars: Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco, Famke Janssen, Judi Dench, Alan Cumming, Samantha Bond

Director: Martin Campbell

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 130 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review:  In 1995, James Bond returned to the screen after a six year hibernation.  It was during this time that legal battles kept more 007 adventures from being brought to the big screen and the elapsed time meant that sadly Timothy Dalton would not be returning.  It’s too bad because with Licence to Kill I felt that Dalton was just hitting his stride in bringing us a version of 007 that was much closer to the spy that Ian Fleming created in his novels.

Still, it’s hard to deny that Brosnan wasn’t a more than suitable replacement.  Long sought after for the role, the time was finally right for him to join the gallery of men that preferred their martinis shaken, not stirred.  In fact, the franchise was overhauled nearly from top to bottom and it all works together to provide the series with a new lease on life.

Opening with one of the best pre-credit sequences of the series that finds Bond and 006 (Bean) on a mission to destroy a chemical weapons plant with deadly consequences, the film takes off like a nuclear rocket from there and never stops until the credits roll.  As Bond works with a Russian technician to stop a catastrophic disaster, we are taken to several notable locales around the globe.  From start to finish it’s fantastic entertainment that operates on a high class level harkening back to the Sean Connery era of films.

Finally, we have a cast of players assembled that work wonders with the material.  Though her role would get beefed up in subsequent entries, Dench sinks her teeth into her role as M making the most of her limited screen time.  Her early scene with Brosnan is nearly worth the price of admission as she gives him a memorable dressing down…almost as a voice for Bond’s critics over the years.

Bean knows his way around a bad guy and if his performance feels familiar when compared to his role in Patriot Games you can’t deny that he’s darn good in the role.  Cumming makes for a dorky goon as a lascivious computer hacker and Scorupco is a nicely strong-willed Bond girl for the next generation.  She challenges Bond and his motives enough that a more fully developed female character emerges over the course of the film.

Best of the bunch is undoubtedly Janssen in her breakout role as one of the best second villains, female or male, the series had ever seen.  The suggestion that she’s turned on sexually by violence is sorta fun and Janssen’s euphoric expressions when firing a gun or crushing men with her thighs is pretty exceptional.

Australian director Campbell (who would return to direct another first time Bond in Casino Royale) never lets this train stop moving once its left the station – he clearly knows his way around an action film and it shows with his attention to character development in the face of elaborate stunt sequences.

With long-time credit designer Maurice Binder passing away, Daniel Kleinman took over the reins and delivers a stunning series of images set to the title track written by Bono and The Edge and performed with class by Tina Turner.  It’s probably my favorite credit sequence of the series and I’ll often pop in the film just to watch the opening scene and credits.  Only Eric Serra’s score disappoints here and makes you mourn the loss of original composer John Barry.

Bringing the Bond series into a new era with a revitalized hero, interesting villains, and a strong narrative, GoldenEye is a welcome return to the glory days of the series.  It’s strong enough to compete with the best and has a high re-watchability factor.

Bond-ed for Life ~ Licence to Kill

The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and with the release of Skyfall I wanted to take a look back at the 22 (23 if you count the rogue Never Say Never Again, 24 if you count the 1967 spoof of Casino Royale) films that have come before it. So sit back, grab your shaken-not-stirred martini and follow me on a trip down Bond memory lane.

The Facts:

Synopsis: James Bond leaves Her Majesty’s Secret Service to stop an evil drug lord and avenge his best friend, Felix Leiter.

Stars: Timothy Dalton, Robert Davi, Carey Lowell, Talisa Soto, Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Zerbe, David Hedison

Director: John Glen

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 133 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  Though The Living Daylights introduced us to a strong new James Bond, it was a fairly generic entry in the long-running franchise.  Coming in as a second choice, Dalton was working with a script that was intended for Pierce Brosnan so did the best he could.  When it was time to re-up for another Bond, Dalton was met with a script that dug deeper into the personal affairs of 007 and provided the actor material that pushed the character further than ever before.

The first Bond film to be rated PG-13, Licence to Kill earns the rating with gritty violence that hadn’t been seen before in the franchise.  Finding Bond on a mission of vengeance against the drug kingpin that brought death and destruction to a colleague, the movie has a different look and feel than the previous entries in the series.  As the times have changed, so have the tastes of the audiences and the producers have wisely fashioned Licence To Kill around interesting character development and some of the best action sequences of the series.

Along with the strong work from Dalton, Davi is one of the baddest of bad men that Bond has encountered.  Quietly evil, Davi never loses control over the situation which makes his character subtly menacing even though he appears benign.  Among his henchman is a young Del Toro and the future Oscar winner should give you the creeps in his unhinged performance.

However, it’s the Bond girls that once again come up short.  Soto has to do double work as Davi’s abused girlfriend and a secret confidant to Bond…she balances it nicely until she falls into the same trap many of these ladies have.  Once she sleeps with Bond it’s like a switch is flipped and she loses all sense of confidence and independence.  When she tearfully (and not very convincingly) confesses “I love James SO much” it seems to come from a love struck teenager rather than an otherwise fiery female.

Lowell fares worse in a part that’s both underwritten and underperformed.  Again, though she starts out as taking no crap from 007, she inexplicably falls into bed with him and then latches on like a weepy schoolgirl.  I know these roles are designed to fall on the stereotypical side, but it does get a bit exhausting with the umpteenth iteration of the same romantic plot point.

There are some really impressive stunts captured in the film, most notably an extended chase sequence that takes 007 from an underwater battle to a tense fight in midair.  Gladys Knight lends her strong vocals to one of the less memorable title tunes set to another so-so credit sequence designed by Maurice Binder.

I’m not sure if director Glen knew this was to be his last Bond film but he really ups the ante here with a film that has a wonderful pace and some fine performances.  Though it ended up being the lowest grossing Bond film, Licence to Kill should be considered one of the better overall adventures.

Bond-ed for Life ~ The Living Daylights

The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and with the release of Skyfall I wanted to take a look back at the 22 (23 if you count the rogue Never Say Never Again, 24 if you count the 1967 spoof of Casino Royale) films that have come before it. So sit back, grab your shaken-not-stirred martini and follow me on a trip down Bond memory lane.

The Facts:

Synopsis: James Bond is living on the edge to stop an evil arms dealer from starting another world war. Bond crosses all seven continents in order to stop the evil Whitaker and General Koskov.

Stars: Timothy Dalton, Maryam d’Abo, Joe Don Baker, Jeroen Krabbé, John Rhys-Davies

Director: John Glen

Rated: PG

Running Length: 130 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  In 1985, A View to a Kill marked Roger Moore’s seventh and final film as superspy James Bond so it was up to the longtime Bond producers to once again look for another actor to take on the legendary role.  Now, by this time the Bond character was part of the cultural landscape with most everyone being able to identify who James Bond was.  For an actor, that level of notoriety can be a difficult thing to take on and stepping into a role played by three men on screen already had its pros and cons.

It came down to two actors…both of whom had been on the shortlist of Bond replacements for several years.  For a time it looked like future Bond Pierce Brosnan would be making his debut in the role…until a last-minute option on his television series Remington Steele was picked up.  It was then that the role was given to Dalton, the Wales born classically trained actor who would make his debut with The Living Daylights.

The last Bond film with a title taken from the works of Ian Fleming, The Living Daylights is a decent debut for Dalton working with a script that was originally tailored to Brosnan.  Dalton’s Bond rights some wrongs brought on by Moore by giving 007 the edge that had been missing for most of Moore’s tenure in the role.  There’s something smart about Dalton’s approach to the role but it also keeps him a bit removed from the admittedly slight material that makes up this thrust of this outing.

Going back to the same story well involving Bond racing to stop another world war from breaking out, The Living Daylights features one of the more benign villains in Krabbe and Baker as men from two different countries uniting for world domination.  Most of their material is so jokey and played as farce that it’s hard to take either men as seriously as Dalton so desperately wants to.  Sometimes you can almost hear Dalton’s eyes rolling as Krabbe graspingly mugs for the camera.

Learning nothing from the bland Bond girl of Tanya Roberts in A View to a Kill, producers cast another blonde beauty with virtually nothing to bring to the table.  D’Abo has an interestingly European look but struggles quite a bit with her accent and limited acting skills.  The chemistry between Dalton and D’Abo is next to nonexistent so it’s just a function of the script that they end up twisted in the sheets together.

With a new Bond I wished that the producers has also brought in a new director as Glen’s fourth opportunity to direct doesn’t bring anything new to the series.   Had a different director been hired I’m wondering if that would have allowed the franchise to make some needed steps forward rather than continue to coast along at the speed limit.

Pop group a-ha provides a nice title track but Maurice Binder’s credits sequence seems a little underdeveloped…it’s another case of someone coasting along on the strength of their previous work.  Pushing the envelope was something that was needed here and Binder’s effort falls flat.

The Living Daylights is a respectable first entry for our new 007 that does hint at the promise of things to come.  Dalton seems eager to please and up for the challenges of the role – based on that obvious enthusiasm I’m sure the film will please Bond fans that were waiting for something different than what Moore had been offering up.