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Sean Connery as James Bond, Part 1 November 14, 2013

Posted by badblokebob in : Editorials, Action, James Bond, Thriller, 5 stars, adaptations, 4 stars, 1960s, British films, Specials, 2012, 2013 , add a comment

The name’s Connery, Sean Connery, the star of the first five world-conquering James Bond movies…

Featuring reviews of Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, and You Only Live Twice.

Everything or Nothing (2012) February 14, 2013

Posted by badblokebob in : Documentary, James Bond, 4 stars, British films, films about films, 2010s, 2013 , add a comment

2013 #14

Celebrate 50 years of James Bond movies with this feature-length documentary, on Sky Movies from tomorrow.

#86: Skyfall (2012) December 25, 2012

Posted by badblokebob in : Action, James Bond, Thriller, 5 stars, Adventure, British films, 2010s, 2012 , add a comment

Merry Christmas!

And that means it’s the final day of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2012. For today, I promised “an extra-big bumper review”.

Well, how does the best part of 4,800 words on the latest James Bond adventure sound?

Skyfall: Initial Thoughts (no spoilers) October 26, 2012

Posted by badblokebob in : Action, James Bond, Thriller, Adventure, British films, 'initial thoughts', 2010s, 2012 , add a comment

The new James Bond is excellent, and there’s much to discuss about it. A lot of that is incredibly spoilersome, so I’ll save it for a full review later. For now, here are 800 words conveying some of my main impressions about the film…

#73: Quantum of Solace (2008) November 17, 2008

Posted by badblokebob in : Action, James Bond, Thriller, 2000s, 4 stars, British films, 2008 , 3 comments

2008 | Marc Forster | 106 mins | cinema | 12A / PG-13

This review contains spoilers.
For a spoiler-free view, see my initial thoughts.

Quantum of Solace is to Casino Royale what Tomorrow Never Dies was to GoldenEye: it’s the second film of a new Bond, tasked with revitalising a flagging franchise (this time creatively rather than monetarily); it’s been promoted as shorter (though by 38 minutes, not TND’s mere 11) and more action-packed; and it’s got to follow a huge success, both critically (94% on Rotten Tomatoes) and commercially ($588m worldwide). It’s a tall order — one many believe TND failed to live up to (personally, I’ve always liked it). Does QoS do any better?

Well, it’s certainly action-packed. Bond hurtles from budget-blowing sequence to budget-blowing sequence with alarming fervour, the camera literally struggling to keep up. It’s this zoomed-in, over-cut, handheld style that most grates with me during these sequences. I quite like it in the Bourne films — it’s part of their style; it fits — but I was incredibly glad to not find it in Casino Royale, and therefore disappointed to see it showing up here. Compare Royale’s early free running chase to the early rooftop one in QoS and you’ll quickly see not only which is better staged, but which is better shot. There are some good moments action-wise — for every disappointing boat or plane battle there’s an effective duel (swinging from scaffolding) or a destructive car chase — but I do wish someone would put the camera on a tripod. The frequency of such sequences, plus an abundance of other common action/spy movie tropes (a rogue agent, shadowy organisations, moles — in fact, trust has never been more of an issue), suggest that this is very much the Action Movie on director Marc Forster’s increasingly eclectic CV. His true strengths show up elsewhere however, as the most memorable parts of the film aren’t the headache-inducing punch-ups, but any scene that involved Bond and M or Bond and Mathis.

The acting, you see, is of a high standard, certainly above the requirements of the genre. While Craig may be lumbered with a very focussed, almost one-note Bond, the flashes of drama and dark humour allow him the odd chance to stretch. He may not get the variety that Casino Royale offered in this department, but he does enough with what’s there. Never more so than in the scenes with Giancarlo Giannini’s Mathis — the action pauses for breath when Bond seeks him out, and we’re treated to some of the film’s very best bits. Some fans wondered how the character could be brought back after Casino Royale, and the trick is to transform his role: what was previously a minor part designed to facilitate the plot here becomes one of unique significance, an injection of emotion and humour that makes his unfortunate death the film’s most heartbreaking moment — in fact, I might go so far as to argue it’s the saddest moment in a Bond film since the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It’s these scenes that allow Forster’s dramatic directorial abilities to come to the fore, confirming that this is where his true talent lies.

Best of all is Dame Judi Dench, unsurprisingly excellent as ever. She’s aided considerably by M having a much bigger part this time out — not in an obvious The World Is Not Enough-style “have her kidnapped” kind of way, but just by giving her a lot more to do as James’ boss. In the old days the boss sending an agent out into the field and not hearing from him again until the mission was over may have made sense, but in our world of easy telecommunication it would be ridiculous if M wasn’t closely monitoring and commanding Bond every step of the way. So she does, and it’s great for the viewer to be treated to so much of Dench and her relationship with Craig. Not only that, but M has a spot of governmental and inter-agency politics to deal with too, increasing her role still further. If they retain any element of QoS for Bond 23, I hope it’s this.

As for the other Bond girls, Olga Kurylenko is fine but unmemorable, perhaps most significant for being the only major Bond girl who doesn’t sleep with our hero. (Incidentally, this is the third action film in two years in which Kurylenko plays a major part and doesn’t sleep with the hero. That’s quite a niché to be carving.) Back-up girl Gemma Arterton is disappointingly underused, existing primarily for the sake of being another girl in an otherwise masculine film. Her Goldfinger-tribute death, a nice nod in a franchise that has almost entirely excised its past, is an effective touch in and of itself (aficionados will surely note that, this time, there’s no conveniently-placed cushion), but considering the substance at stake turns out to be water rather than oil, it’s either Quantum playing some misplaced guessing game or an ill-considered plot hole. More annoying is her name, however. I don’t care that she’s named Strawberry Fields — it’s either an appropriately silly Bond girl name or, in this day and age, depressingly believable — but much is made of her first name going unrevealed, only to be rewarded with no pay-off. It’s not revealed on screen (only in the end credits), and Bond doesn’t even have an (admittedly clichéd) “I never even knew her first name” line on finding her body. Only a minor misstep, to be sure, but a nagging one.

As the scheming villain-by-proxy, Dominic Greene, Mathieu Amalric feels underused. He’s not as non-present as some Bond villains (The Spy Who Loved Me comes to mind, where Bond shares all of three lines with his nemesis before shooting him), but there’s a definite sense that the military coup/water hoarding storyline is a perfunctory element around Bond’s hunt for the men behind Vesper, in the process establishing Quantum so they can be dealt with in a later film. While I like having a Big Bad Organisation to cross over the films, much as SPECTRE did in the early days, the downside to their first real appearance here is that this particular scheme — a coup in a relatively inconsequential country, it must be said — is a bit lightweight for such a powerful, important organisation. This, plus Greene being more of a civil servant-type figure than an evil megalomaniac, leaves the climax feeling rather anticlimactic, lacking both the grandeur of the old Bond and the emotional weight of Casino Royale (as if a sinking building wasn’t quite grand!) It’s been touted in interviews that Greene’s fighting style is that of “a man who can’t fight”, but that’s no reasonable excuse for his final duel with Bond being so brief. Try harder next time.

Which, it seems, has been the closing impression of QoS for many fans. In this vein, placing the famous gunbarrel at the film’s close is surely highly symbolic, in the same way that saving the equally famous theme music for the end of Casino Royale was: Bond has now completed his evolution, excised his Vesper-demons, and is now the character we all know. Where at the start of the film he merrily kills everyone he comes across, at the end, face to face with the man mostly directly responsible for Vesper’s suicide, who he’s spent most of the film tracking down, he questions him before handing him over to MI6. For all those who dislike QoS’s style, this closing gunbarrel is hopefully an indication that, come 2011, the Bond they know will be back.

So does QoS do any better than Tomorrow Never Dies? Critically, yes, actually — although it’s received mixed reviews, they’ve been positive overall. At the box office, very much so, including the franchise’s best-ever US opening weekend (in this case topping the widely-disliked Die Another Day, something Casino Royale didn’t even manage). As for me, the opinion that opened my initial thoughts on the film still stands: it’s not as good as Casino Royale, but that was a far above average piece of entertainment. QoS isn’t a great Bond film, and it certainly doesn’t have the cross-fandom appeal that Brosnan at his best managed — and it certainly does have more than its fair share of detractors — but it’s a solid entry in the series. When the preceding instalment was possibly the best the franchise has produced in its 46-year history, that can make things seem worse than they are.

4 out of 5

My initial thoughts also offer additional comments on the level of humour, the title sequence, and more.

#72a: Casino Royale (2006) November 16, 2008

Posted by badblokebob in : Action, James Bond, Thriller, 5 stars, 2000s, adaptations, British films, 2008 , add a comment

2006 | Martin Campbell | 139 mins | DVD | 12 / PG-13

I’ve seen Casino Royale four times in the two years since its release (twice on opening weekend, in fact), which is an unusually high number of viewings for me. Normally I’ll see a film once and, even if I really like it, might not bother again for years; even films I’d name among my most-favourites fall into this category.

The reason I share this upsettingly trivial bit of information about my film watching habits is because, after two years and four viewings, I don’t really have much to say about Casino Royale. It’s a damn fine Bond film, returning to Fleming and resetting the character without losing anything truly essential about the franchise. The action sequences are great because they’re not only exciting but also drive the plot forward and reveal character — when Bond runs through the wall at the building site is a prime example of this.

In Daniel Craig and Eva Green the franchise has probably the best two leads it’s ever had, in terms of acting ability, and they put it to good use. There are many more pitch-perfect things about this film — not least making a poker game engrossing — and, yes, a few flaws, though for me they’re so minor as to not matter; but I don’t feel the need to expound on them a great deal because the film really speaks for itself. And, looking at the UK box office and DVD/Blu-ray sales, I’m not sure there’s anyone who hasn’t seen it.

In summary, Casino Royale is possibly the best Bond film of all time — though when you have a series that has encompassed so many disparate styles (directly compare From Russia With Love to Moonraker and one might even struggle to believe they’re from the same series), it makes for an incredibly hard selection to pick a sole winner from. Still, this one’s up there with the very best, not just of Bond but of action-spy-thrillers in general.

Now, I just wonder what happened next…

5 out of 5

Quantum of Solace: Initial Thoughts (no spoilers) November 1, 2008

Posted by badblokebob in : Editorials, Action, James Bond, Thriller, 2000s, British films, 2008, 'initial thoughts' , 2 comments

Quantum of Solace isn’t as good as Casino Royale; though I should immediately qualify that statement by saying that the previous Bond movie is not only one of my favourites of the series, but also one of the best action-thrillers ever made. It would’ve been some feat indeed for QoS to top it.

As it is, director Marc Forster doesn’t really try. Casino Royale was about a poker game; QoS is about bringing down a significant player in a worldwide Secret Evil Organisation — but it’s the former that’s more epic. Bond rattles around the world, from action sequence to action sequence, at a rate of knots. There’s a sense that Forster, who has never made an action film before and was initially reluctant to take this one on, has treated this as the time he tried an Action/Spy Movie and so thrown everything at it. There’s a car chase, a bike chase, a roof-top chase, a foot chase, a plane chase/fight, gunfights, fist fights, knife fights, sneaking around, going in all guns blazing, betrayals, reversals, having to be a maverick agent because Bond’s right while his superiors refuse to trust him… And all this squeezed into the shortest Bond film yet made.

In truth, the running time isn’t really a problem. The film doesn’t come up for air until quite far in, but if one pays attention (and can remember Casino Royale — this really is a direct sequel) the plot can be followed well enough and you’re not likely to get bored. It’s a tad ironic that Forster was chosen because of his Oscar-nominated ability to do Character Drama and the like, and yet has wound up crafting such a relentlessly action-packed entry in the series. QoS is perhaps at its best when getting stuck into the meatier scenes between Bond and M, or Bond and Camille, or Bond and a returning character from the last film. The action scenes occasionally had too much of a Bourne vibe for my taste. I love the Bourne films, but the Bond films are different, and I don’t want a handheld camera shoved so close you can barely see anything, and even when you can the next cut is only 0.4 seconds away.

There are other flaws. I don’t mind Bond being light on humour, and it does at least mean when the jokes come they’re all the more welcome, but I think Casino Royale’s torture scene exemplified the overall mix the rebooted Bond should aim at: dark, gritty, nasty, real… but the scene also got the biggest laughs of any part when I saw it at the cinema. Bond doesn’t need the campness of Moore or Brosnan, or even as much humour as Connery injected, but I think it could do with more than Dalton had, and The Craig Era has now reached that level of humour-dearth. On the flipside of that argument, this is a darker story all round… but I’ll have to save the end of that argument for my spoilery review at a later date.

My other main complaint is probably the title sequence. I like the song, personally, but MK12’s titles are bland, generic, and too colourful for either the film or the song. They’d look fine on a tie-in video game (in fact, they do — I saw it on YouTube), but in the film itself I almost began to wonder what they were thinking. I may have some residual distaste for the dropping of Daniel Kleinman here — certainly, I haven’t seen anyone else write about them; but then Proper Critics tend to have other things on their mind — especially after he created one of the best main titles ever for Casino Royale, but I sincerely hope they bring him back for the next film.

As for the next film, I think QoS will leave some with a feeling of, “well that’s that out of the way — next!” In truth, it’s not that bad. It suffers by following the exceptional quality of Casino Royale, and also being so tied to the former’s story, but despite that pulls a well-above-average action-thriller out of the bag. I expect it will continue to receive a mixed response from critics and audiences, which is more due to people’s expectations than the film’s inherent quality, but that’s the way things go. As far as I’m concerned, Bond’s back, and that’s always a good thing.

A fuller review of Quantum of Solace — I have a lot more to say! — will appear as #73 in the next few weeks, following my reviews of After the Sunset, Stay, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Hitman, St. Trinian’s, The Invasion, and Casino Royale.

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