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 ~ Live and Let Die

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: 007 is sent to stop a diabolically brilliant heroin magnate armed with a complex organization and a reliable psychic tarot card reader

Stars: Roger Moore, Yaphet Kotto, Jane Seymour, David Hedison, Geoffrey Holder, Gloria Hendry

Director: Guy Hamilton

Rated: PG

Running Length: 121 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Though it had a small burst of rebirth with George Lazenby in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the Bond franchise took a wrong turn in Vegas with Sean Connery’s weak swan song of Diamonds are Forever.  In 1973 it was again time to look for a new Bond and with Connery’s blessing Moore became the next actor to be seen in the gun barrel opening shot.

Moore was a quaint choice for Bond in that he had the air of sophistication to him in an almost regal sense.  Where Connery had brute charm and Lazenby was energized by a playboy attitude, Moore’s Bond was a bit more of an English dandy than a gruff super spy.  Though Moore would get progressively hammier with each of the movies he headlined, Live and Let Die was a strong introduction to the next wave of Bond films.

Opening in theaters two years after Richard Roundtree brought Shaft to audiences and two weeks after Pam Grier showed The Man who was boss in Coffy, Live and Let Die has a decidedly early 70’s blaxploitation feel to it.  Though director Hamilton had already sat in the directing seat twice, I got the feeling he let his hair down a bit when returning for this globe-trotting jaunt that finds Bond escaping from reptiles, drug kingpins, voodoo curses, and psychic mystics.

Aided by a mysterious pre-credits sequence followed by Paul McCartney and Wings Oscar-nominated classic theme song, the film gets off to a quite nice start as 007 arrives in New York looking for clues in the death of several British agents.  It’s not long before he’s neck deep in trouble with a diplomat who may be more involved with the mysterious Mr. Big (no, not Mr. Carrie Bradshaw) than he lets on.

It was in Live and Let Die that Bond romanced his first black Bond girl (Hendry worthlessly playing a thankless role) and met up with another memorable love interest.  As Mr. Big’s tarot card reader Solitaire, Seymour looks wonderful in several gorgeous costumes and resists the charms of 007 just long enough to show she’s skews slightly feminist…only to chuck that angle out the window after a roll in the hay and becoming another helpless rag doll to the exploits of the film.

Kotto was six years from playing his memorable supporting role in Alien and his work here is efficient…though you’d be crazy not to spot the connection he has to the characters of Mr. Big and a United Nations diplomat.  In fun supporting roles, Geoffrey Holder is creepy as a voodoo priest and Julius Harris is agreeably menacing as the claw-handed Tee-Hee.

With its several well-staged stunt sequences, Live and Let Die was a strong start to Moore’s tenure as Bond.  More so than the film that preceded it, this picture allowed the secret agent to transition from a 60’s dapper spy to the 70’s wry secret agent Moore made him into.