Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Delusion of Competence; James Bond Movie Guide (by a Priapic Amnesiac)

What is it that makes me, or us, or whomever, forget about the entire plot of a Bond movie the minute it's over? In addition to the car chases, sexy women, full-scale battles, and barroom brawls, there is usually a densely interwoven plot of machinations, but who can remember half of it, or from which movie each plot comes? It's like some magic amnesia is interwoven into the Bond mythos, and I mean that with gratitude, for unless it's one of the terrible ones, they never get old. And most important, perhaps, is the way the serve as a family viewing paternal link to our fickle fathers.

Dads of the 70s loved Bond, without pretense or qualms, especially the Connery films. And why not?Every red-blooded Anglo Saxon male's last chance at colonialist glory, Bond morphs to suit each decade's needs, growing older, then younger, then old again --and if needed he can fake his own death. Immortal yet continually imperiled, through him we learn the best ways to create diversions, break out of strongholds, or how to seduce pretty women can be more dangerous than spin-the-bottle with a loaded gun. Most of all we learn that if you're handsome and confident and loaded with government gadgets and money and have cultivated a sartorial eye, you can skip all three dates and have sex within minutes of meeting a foxy dame. (far easier to fantasize about than to do, even drunk.)

Alas, what we don't learn from Bond is that most women don't conveniently get killed by the villain within a few scenes, or disappear after the credits, leaving Bond free to fool around for the next film. In reality the previous film's woman is still around at the start of the new one, but now older, overweight, and ragging on our every move. But that's maybe the fantasy at its purist and most unrealistic - that girls will just 'disappear' after some convenient credits. Most of us have too much guilt, and too few licenses, so we live our fantasy with James. Even fathers and sons may share this cathartic fantasizing as one - a kind of dusting off of the collective family crest. Our armor and weaponry is taken out of the garage and symbolically oiled.

Following a handful of similar but deceptively elaborate plots that seem to bleed across each other (making each particular film hard to remember), Bond films have always rewarded repeat viewing over the decades; as we change from children to men our perceptions of the movies change, too, and new fissures of interest are sussed out. The Cold War atomic bomb hijacking minutiae and intrigue, the most boring parts when we were kids, are now (at least to me) the most fascinating: the giant computers and tracking devices are like windows into a forgotten field of punch card pre-silicon technology. In THUNDERBALL (1965) for example, it takes about five minutes of real cinematic time to throw a camouflage net over one lousy sunken NATO bomber - we see the whole operation, in real underwater slow time - something modern attention spans can't easily survive - not that there's anything wrong with falling into a reverie.

One thing our dads maybe never go to share, or only did in the last decade or so, is the ability to see all these same films on big anamorphic HD. They're whole new worlds: On pan and scan, THUNDERBALL's aforementioned plane netting underwater scene was impossible to follow. Now, on the anamorphic, it's a poem. Meanwhile, Connery is at his most alarmingly quick and violent meanwhile, elbowing a fire alarm at a health spa without looking at it or breaking his stride down the hall; turning some painful spine stretching into a chance to blackmail his masseuse for sex (but then reciprocating by massaging her with a mink glove); and he's got a great opposite side spy to contend with, a woman who--like him--uses sex freely and often in her work and is smart, ruthless and thoroughly a villain, and now the beds these spies work on are stretched out to the full widescreen to savor their ornate frames framing the screen and exposing our agog minds to the wonders of Mad Men-era decor.

Now that I'm an adult lost in a world of whiplash editing and every third climax needs to have the world on the brink of extinction and six school girls abducted to feel any urgency, I love that the early Bond films aren't about saving the world but stealing code machines from embassies and foiling relatively un-apocalyptic sabotage-blackmail schemes.

The widescreen enhanced HD look lifts even mediocre Bonds, for they're generally artful with widescreen deep depth travelogue on-location compositions. We don't have to go now, to Istanbul or Osaka or Las Vegas on vacation, too exhausting, honey - we can just send Bond, and reach into the HD widescreen like a combo diorama and dog door. But Bond needs to go, on our and the world's behalf, even if the world he saves no longer even exists, and the film is 40 years old or more. He takes the risks and endures the long flights and torture and performance anxiety; if we don't have his luck, or way with the ladies, or cat-like reflexes, or peerless marksmanship, or perfect hair, we can't begrudge him. We can always watch the movies if we need to feel proxy danger, or luxury. But which came first: our impoverishment creating a need for escapism, or escapism being used to make us impoverished? Either way, Bond eases the pain. Forever.

My first memories of Bond: falling in love with the very kinky edge of THUNDERBALL (Largo applying scientific hot and cold to the naked heaving back of kept woman Domino [Claudine Auger]) as a little sadomasochistic seven year-old watching on TV with my dad. To me, that was Bond in the 70s, in a wet suit, shooting at a shark or a bad guy with his harpoon gun while a hot girl with a cute mole lounged in the white sand at his side, this during the time of Roger Moore's SPY WHO LOVED ME, which was a colossal hit my parents felt I was too young to see. Then, in the 80s, when sexual harassment was becoming a thing, we rented them all from the newly opened video stores at the mall (or from the back room of appliance stores) and saw them over and over, as reminders of the power we were once going to inherit as men, allegedly, but now never would. Awareness and compassion--forced on us via the very media we sought refuge in--came packed with loss of the kind of naive innocence that allows for the heedless exploitation of others. My best buddy Alan and I saw them all (MOONRAKER the first one I actually saw in the theater, finally old enough --and it was goddamned rate G) and when FOR YOUR EYES ONLY came to cable, we must have seen it 500 times because by then we had cable. Only gradually did we learn to appreciate Connery over Moore. The TV game show handsomeness and self-reflexive winking of Moore was reassuring but he lacked the muscularity of Connery; his punches looked like they would hurt only himself. In MOONRAKER, OCTOPUSSY, and VIEW TO A KILL he seemed far too old; when he gets it on with a girl young enough to be his granddaughter the effect is downright skeevy. He didn't smoke and seldom even drank by then. Yeccch! Rated G!

In the 90s,  my whole relationship to Bond changed when our friend Jen (not her real name) brought a rented copy of ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE over to our loft one foreboding Friday night in 1997 -- year of my party boy apocalypse. I was so hungover from the night before it carried through the day and into the night - a blackout of shame and regret and paranoia and as the night began a looming terror of the idea of going out again into the swankiness of another expensive bar. Once I saw the video rental bag in her hands, I knew it would all be OK. We all sat around, absorbed, not drinking, just soda and popcorn. I absorbed the film fully, enraptured in ways I never would have been without her guidance, her presence like a soothing balm, her championing of Lazenby all that was needed to raise that film a dozen points in my eyes. It was a special event, one we tried to duplicate again and again after, but it never worked, not unlike the first tab of really good ecstasy: that first big breakthrough is so good that, once it's gone and the last fumes wear off, it never comes back. You pine for it with a broken heart forever after, never to recapture more than its stale reflection no matter how many tabs you take. Meanwhile Brosnan was entrenched, a perfect choice for the Metrosexual Age.

And so Bond became something to drink to, and who could make hangovers or sobriety disappear in equal measure. This was the era of the TNT Bond marathons, so important in staving off looming male impotence they were even cited by Kevin Spacey in AMERICAN BEAUTY. Pierce Brosnan had taken over after a two film stint by Timothy Dalton, who at the time had some big shoes to fill and people weren't prepared for a Bond who could act, or had the physicality and grace to appear like he could actually do the stuff Bond did and still seem actorly and a little wicked at the same time We disliked that he quit on us after only two.

By then the issue of sexism was too pronounced to ignore, so they cast Judi Dench as M, and made post-modern wisecracks about Bond's dinosaur patriarchal cluelessness. But dismissing Bond movies as sexist is a bit like dismissing MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE as too paranoid. The truth is that being a spy has always been about being a whore for your country (ala NOTORIOUS and NORTH BY NORTHWEST), a master of using sex to convince vulnerable people to confide secrets, then leaving them to be killed while you pursue your quarry, keeping your dance card open for the next info source, who is maybe a spy too, which means both of you are pretending to love each other, so well you might even be in love for real and not know it. So unless a man is super confident, irresistible to women, inordinately lucky, able to keep one hand on his trigger as well as hers even unto the point of orgasm, a great shot and dogged in determination to chase down his man, even at the risk of massive destruction (all those trashed and probably uninsured Third World villages), and the death of the girl you just 'turned', that man don't have a chance. In sum, sexism and sexiness are both essential to a spy's survival.

Save the jokes, Mr. Bond
People make satires of Bond (Matt Helm, Our Man Flint, Modesty Blaise, etc) but that kind of underestimation gets old quick when its just in service of itself. For best results, it must be played dead straight. And one must bear in mind Fleming was a big name in Naval Intelligence and knew all the true stories no paper would ever reveal. So they came out as fiction but had the ring of truth underneath the added sex and violence (at least at first). And second, people squawk about how no bad guy ever shoots Bond when they have the chance, or they all have terrible aim, but if you study the real spies' exploits you learn that a smart enemy never kills someone they learn is a spy. They either try to turn them into a double agent or feed them false information, or failing both, use them as a hostage for ransom or prisoner exchange (or torture in case they might know something). Also, if the spy dies via 'suspicious circumstances' it's a sure sign to his organization that something major is going on wherever said spy was sent. So next thing to come in would be drone strikes, or whatever the era will allow. But if a spy is found half-eaten by alligators or piranha, or strapped into a stolen helicopter and exploded, then they can conjure it up to mere misadventure. So in that way, throwing a man to the sharks makes more sense than just pumping him full of holes.

1962 - ****
Everything is new and fresh. There's no vocal to the opening theme song/credits, and Bond actually acts in a cumulative manner, super cool most of the time but unnerved by a midnight tarantula visit, and around 3/4 of the way through he starts to really exhibit the stress of continually fending off attacks on his life. Very cool. His only gadget is a new hand gun and he shoots and kills a man point blank who has an empty pistol, and nearly breaks a girl's arm for taking his picture. That's what I miss most in the post-Connery Bonds, that kind of cold ruthlessness. Connery's Bond is the fire you use to fight fire with. I also love that -from the moment we find him getting off the plane in Jamaica-- we stay with him, in real time almost- from getting in the wrong cab to the embassy and so forth. There are only a few breaks from this (i.e. a few Mabuse-style encounters between No and his henchmen).

1963 - ****
These first four were each released a year apart, capturing a very successful momentum marked by an adherence to tick-tockality of an almost Hawksian level and low stakes games (missile toppling, codex triple crosses, gold irradiation) that are more believable and therefore more engaging. Nothing like a sanely motivated super villain to add to that effect, and SPECTRE in these early films is a shadowy organization of Cold War extortionist profiteers, stealing nukes and decoding devices to either sell to one side or the other, and always keeping their promises, so both sides know that if they pay the ransom, the goods will be delivered or hostages or nukes released --which puts Spectre's #1 man in an awkward position if he's already negotiated with the Russians for the return of something he hasn't even stolen it from the British agent who stole it from them yet. This helps the proceedings feel actually possible, like we're learning a bit of what goes on in the Cold War world that the media never gets wind of. Lots of odd touches, like the Bond theme going full bore while Bond just noses around his hotel room looking for bugs, and of course one must savor Weimar legend Lotte Lenya as the ferocious Rosa Klebb; and Robert Shaw giving away his identity by ordering red wine with fish. The whole world saw this movie, and no one ever made that mistake again.

1964 - ***
This movie used to annoy me because everyone talked about how it was the best Bond but I thought it was the most illogical and garish. Goldfinger kills a mobster who wants to back out of the deal by crushing him up in a big Lincoln, along with a fortune in gold --why not just cap him off while he's on your property? Odd Job brings the crushed block back to the horse ranch and then needs to 'extract' his gold. Dude, talk about a waste of time and effort all just to show a car getting crushed into a block.  My dad loved that scene and talked about the 'great piece of music under it', I didn't think so, and argued that this version of Bond (even though I too was drinking copious mint juleps) comes off as a real snob in this, lecturing heads of MI6 on an the "indifferently blended" brandy they serve him, and the whole radioactive gold thing makes no sense since they never remove the gold at Fort Knox anyway--there's rumors it's not even there at all, showing just how little the writers (Or I) know about the world's gold standard (it's not like the Federal Reserve ever has to let the UN walk through with a geiger counter). But I think my real dislike for the film comes from the golf scenes - that sickly British sky, the mowed grass and ambient bird chirps - it all reminds me way too much of being stuck in New Jersey, developing brutal hay fever mowing the endless grass and getting withdrawn and depressed from my allergy medicine.

1965 - **** 
Even with the new anamorphic letting us appreciate the underwater stuff, it still stops the picture dead more than once, as does the dumb shit like the spine stretcher and jet pack. Nonetheless, the tick-tock momentum is still in effect, mostly, with a great evil spy lady occupying the whole midsection. (full review here)

1967 - ***1/2

Second to DR. NO and the first film as far as tick-tockality -especially the entire first half which seems to unfold almost in real time, ramping up suspense and expertly conveying the difficulty in separating which spies are on his side vs. the other when everyone's playing so close to the vest. it has some of the most offensive sexiness ("in Japan, women come second" notes his secret police contact) and least traveling (it's all in Japan). But it's still pretty slam-bang and on point even if, by the end, you've kind of forgotten the beginning. You presume you just don't get as a youth but when you get older you realize a lot of things don't make much sense. A girl pretends to defect to Bond's side when she has him totally tied up, frees him, has sex with him, then when they're up in the air in a small plane, jumps out leaving him to die, though he easily frees his hands and lands the plain... wait, didn't she free him already? Why waste a plane when you have him at your mercy? Situations like that stack up perhaps as typical Bond moments but elaborate volcano hidden bases used to abduct space ships and incite a global Cold War crisis are too abstract --we don't need such massive stakes for Bond to work. Stealing a couple of warheads through an elaborate NATO heist on the other hand (as in THUNDERBALL) is at least conceivable. Otherwise the shit going down makes as little sense as GOLDFINGER (detailing your Fort Knox plans via an elaborate diorama set-up just to machine gun your confederates two seconds later, for example). In other words, the spycraft minutiae of the books is on the way out and the comic book 'countdown to apocalypse' whizz bang is in, but only just.

1969- ****

The idea to make George Lazenby's first appearance the same one where he gets married and then cries is a bit of a misstep, makes him seem a weak Bond, like he can't handle the gaffe, but the whole down-the-Alps chase is all so well done it achieves greatness (his foes are so dogged and resourceful the chase lasts half the movie). Lazenby's a bit of a cypher but the more times I watch it and the older I get the more I think Lazenby might be the best Bond ever. Critics ragged on him for being such a blank slate, but that works for a spy, and through it all Lazenby shows real emotion. For example when he goes undercover as a snobby genealogist sent up to Telly Savalas' high-in-the-Alps stronghold he puts on a posh droning bore professor demeanor that's so vivid casual viewers think that's the Bond Lazenby has envisioned! When Blofeldt finally unmasks him, we see Bond become very relaxed, even bemused. And then, scared when he escapes and, then at his wit's end when Diana Rigg skates over; she rescues him! She's there when it counts, and his kisses on her cheek as she delivers some top notch evasive driving are maybe the first time we've seen Bond exhibit that kind of genuine affection (rather than lust). Next time you watch it, savor the worried look in his eye in the barn when he realizes he's madly in love with this girl in ways he wasn't with anyone before, it scares him but Lazenby still keeps the fear close to the vest. At the end wedding, check out his eyes when he says a wordless goodbye to Moneypenny after throwing her the bouquet. He's like a genuinely hopeful child, warm and alive with a new innocence he may not have had since his mother was alive, and Moneypenny recognizes it. This isn't just the usual flirting repartee he and Moneypenny share, but a real friendship. Lazenby's still Bondian but beyond goes way beyond Connery's range all while staying cool, and those tears at the end are earned. Let him grow on you, and Lazenby will grow. (expanded in Takin' it Bond-by-Bond)

1971 - ***
The song is over quick. The intro finds Bond tracking Blofeldt clones played by Charles DEVIL RIDES OUT Gray; Connery's back and looks great, rested, but the 70s has begun. Bond gets slugged from behind with the regularity of old Jim Rockford; old ethnic TV character actors squeeze themselves into every bit part; Bond's receding hairline and gray chest hairs and short sleeve shirts make him seem like Bond's uncle sometimes, especially when he's either blithely letting the formulaic script carry him along or comically flailing at unfamiliar controls; and the two mincing coded gay assassins are kind of, what is the word, ah... yes... antiquated? Holding hands and ever in sync like some reptilian netherworld version of Rowan & Martin, they're still a hoot. There's also a great close quarters 'lift' fight and a moon buggy chase.

 On the plus side, Bond's still rough with women--choking a girl with her pearls on the beach into snitching on Blofeld (after old Stavros offed his wife when Bond had a different face)--and there's two of the most voluptuous (if obnoxious) Bond girls ever: this is one of the first movies my brother and I taped on our dad's new VHS back in 1980, and Jill St. John's sexy double agent gave me a lifelong love of black chokers, red hair, and acting from the Russ Meyer School of Line Shouting. Sporting a similar look is another of my favorite hotties, Plenty O'Toole (Lana Wood). A cooler for the casino owned by Willard White, she's first thrown into a pool from the 25th story or so (and it looks like a stunt double totally made the drop in real life) and then winds up drowned in a different pool. Together they became my feminine ideal and that's why I've never been drawn to the skinny models preferred by my old roommate / guitarist. A girl needs curves, bro and ideally Faster Pussycat Kill Kill line delivery. Other than that there's a great car chase around real Vegas streets (though again that PG TV cop show vibe carries) and the Vegas stuff has a certain Rat Pack swagger. There's good tick-tockality and Bond actually relies on teamwork with the CIA, stunts are pretty thrilling overall, as when this old Bond starts rappelling around the outside of the Willard Whyte skyscraper.

1973 - ***
Harlem, voodoo floor show contortionists, tarot readings, ostritch feather cowls, piranhas, a hat on the bed, the old snake in the bath trick, alligators, Geoffrey Holder as Baron Samedi, it's "the black one." Yaphet Kotto is a heroin distributor named Kananga and a Harlem smack kingpin with a Mabuse-like network of black muscle; he dies inflating like a balloon, though before then there's a great boat chase my brother and I used to watch endlessly (the second thing we ever taped), and we still talk to each other like the tobacco-chewing Louisiana sheriff ("what are you some kinda doomsday machine, boy?")  Jane Seymour is an interesting Bond girl, interesting as she's a psychic whose powers will disappear once she loses her virginity, a pleasure Kananga intended for himself. Heh heh. Also, her peacock shawl thing is lovely. The first black Bond girl is a terrible actress, "you're only my second mission, you know? The first was Bangs," notes Gloria Hendry, and if you substitute mission for trick, the difference between actress, hired girl, and spy all melt into one another. Oh well, it's neat to see Bond seem like such a clueless mark, pinned by half of Harlem as a honky chump narc everywhere he goes, somehow thinking he can blend in. The abundance of smart, organized, ambitious black criminals paints a weirdly positive-- if racist--gloss on the drug trade and inner-city violence, though we still get questionable lines like Felix Lighter shouting on the phone "Get me a make on a white pimp mobile!" Wings's theme song is one of the series' best, though at the same time one of the most white (if ever a Bond film calls for a Barry White number, this one's it). Roger Moore's debut film finds him at his most robust and handsome, but his reliance on dumb luck, impossible physics, poor villain marksmanship, fortuitous CIA intervention, and villains who'd rather use Batman style killing devices than caps to to the melon, speaks ill of the future of the series. Connery's Bond would never be so luck-dependent (Diamonds excluded). And neither would Felix and the CIA. Kananga/Big has nearly every black man in the diaspora on his payroll but Felix just sends Bond, not even with a machine gun or even an automatic, just a magnum revolver he throws away to fight Holder in the voodoo showdown. Ah well, at least Kotto makes a fine villain and Holder became, thanks to this and his 7-Up commercials at the time ("crisp and clean and no caffeine") a minor cult star, until no one could find anything else for him to do.

1974 - **

This is where Moore's Bond shows the ridiculous kid-friendly slapstick side, perhaps it's even the first film where you feel the target demographic slip down about ten years, from young married couples who get a babysitter for the kids before heading out to see it, to the kids themselves, with a villain who continually gives Bond free passes for his blunders. Seriously? This supposedly genius and very rich killer constructs an elaborate funhouse just to chase Bond through so he can use a golden gun? One peep at the life-size Bond replica he has inside his target practice hall of mirrors and we already know how Bond's going to beat him in the climax --there's literally no other reason for its presence. And so it plays like a long episode of FANTASY ISLAND rather than a real Bond movie and not just because of Hervé Villechaize. An ex carnival sharpshooter and ex-KGB assassin who now charges a million dollars a hit, Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) also- Bond makes sure we know, has a superfluous third nipple. Bond wonders "who would pay a million dollars to have me killed?" He then wonders if the danger he's facing from Scaramanga might lessen if he finds Scaramanga before Scaramanga shoots him. Brilliant deduction, 007!

At any rate, now on widescreen in HD, Scaramanga's expressionist funhouse shooting range--built in and around natural cave formations in remote tropical paradise--is most attractive as one's own personal fantasy hideaway (or mine at least).

Because he caused such a scene-stealing stir last time, Louisiana sheriff J.W. Pepper returns--bumping into Bond on vacation, helping him jumping over 'out' bridges like the goddamned Duke Boys and calling Hong Kong locals a bunch of pointy heads in PIE-jamas. He's a "hoot," but superfluous as Scaramanga's third nipple, as is the fight scene in a belly dancer's dressing room. There's also Thai boxing and karate demonstrations, depressingly claustrophobic Asian strip clubs, and random chases through the unwashed throngs for no real reason except it's what Bond fans expect.

The cumulative portrait of Hong Kong is of a claustrophobic city that's sweaty, brutish, overcrowded, and glazed with condensation on every surface and skin, with no breath of fresh air for miles. Luckily its contrasted with some gorgeous (Thai?) coastal scenery along Bond's flight to Scaramanga's island hideaway, which is self-sustaining and very chic and all Bond can do is make lame quips like "this ought to run a few electric toothbrushes" and to impugn the vintage of his host's champagne. The idea of running MI6 operations out of a half-sunk battleship in the harbor is genius, and Britt Eckland is cute as hell even if, iconic purple bikini or no, she easily proves herself the most idiotic Bond girl in all of the series, shouting confidential information in public, she prefers to bemoan Bond's womanizing (they had an affair years earlier) like she's trying to be FOUL PLAY Goldie Hawn rather than Martine Beswick in THUNDERBALL than pretend the plot's important, if there is one, and that's damn depressing. She needs 'permanent retiring', not indulgence. Offensive in her endangering incompetence, we thankfully wouldn't see Good Night's like again until Cameron Diaz in KNIGHT AND DAY.  And it's a race to see who has the worst dialogue, with her sexy quip at the end being something like "I always wanted to take a slow boat from China." Yeeech.

Good thing then with the intelligence quotient so low that the script relies on dumb TV plot luck and past Bond formula instead of ingenuity: "I could have shot you down when you landed, but that would have been ridiculously easy," notes Scaramanga. It's a lucky man who depends on the sportsmanship of assassins. Connery didn't need to, and certainly wouldn't be such a drag about his license to kill. Connery admitted he was a killer, but Moore's Bond seems to think he's goddamned Pope Pious, all while dropping awkward sex talk that sounds like your grandfather squinting at a Playboy Club bar napkin. And Christopher Lee is trying to do a good classy villain here but he gets no help from anyone else in the cast.

The end climax with its sparse cast (no armies or anything, just Bond, Britt, Herve and Lee running around) sinks deep do the dregs of the series with cascading leaden humor, anti-sustainability subtext, offensive short person abuse, and limpid sex. Moore looks great, though as does the coastal scenery, and that bikini might not cover much of Eckland, but it does what it can to save the film from drowning in its own puerility.

1977 - ***1/2

The producers realized they should take their time rather than deliver another glorified TV movie, and the result is easily the best of the Moore Bonds, though it's quite jokey it's emblematic of the 70s with its wry crowd-pleasing humor (some ridiculous sound effects, dumb movie gag quotes in the soundtrack (Lawrence of Arabia theme when they're walking the desert, etc).. I was eleven years old when The Spy Who Loved Me was in theaters and it was PG but my parents figured Bond was too risque, so I longed to see it, hearing all about it. It's still not as good as I imagined, but there's some good use of Egypt and the pyramids (though the tour narrator mispronounced "Giza") and other typical travelogue awe intercut with spy posing. Moore's Bond is very smirky at times, going on an about women drivers and she should try 'reverse' when they're trying to drive away from their unarmed giant henchman foe (No one ever thinks of shooting him)  but he also delivers with admirable deadpan lines like "when one is in Egypt, one should delve deeply into its treasures."  Bach's got a great tan and looks hot in a Faye Dunaway if her face slipped on the ice sorta way and rocks Breck girl hair but seems ill-equipped for super agent status, and seems quite overdubbed and language coached; and her vendetta for killing her lover makes no sense. Still, this is the Fleetwood Mac's Rumors of Bond films, so emblematic of the 70s it may as well have a mood ring. It's also the first Bond film to tap the kid's market. Its gadget obsession and cartoon violence, where no punch or kick seems to hurt anyone, but the bad guys have to pretend and fall over. It's all a little crowd pleasing and not as clever as it would like to be (without a big audience to laugh at it there seems to be an element missing), but it's still pure Bond- both a satire of itself and a rip-roaring cheek-filled high end adventure. 

Connery's punches and kicks seemed like they'd hurt someone whereas when Moore kicks a bad guy in the ribs it's more like you worry he'll sprain his instep. The plot is basically a hybrid of You Only Live Twice and Thunderball- with the ship that swallows up satellites switched to a tanker that swallows up nuclear subs and the sharks that kill traitors and incompetent underlings in an aquarium instead of a swimming pool. And for a tough spy, Bach shows her womanly illogic--letting emotions dictate her behavior--and threatening to kill Bond for killing her lover who was trying to kill him back in the ski sequence beginning. But at least, unlike the first two Moore outings, the ending is straight out of the old days, with a massive battle between captured sub crews and the Stromberg line army, which is quite vast. The silvery cavernous supervillain set is staggeringly large and ornate--far larger than the tanker it's set on-- and the master plan of evil quite complexly staged, full of sailor groups moving hither and yon. Say what you want about SPECTRE, they were all about $$, they stole nukes just to extort more money. Stromberg, a German magnate, prefers to initiate WWIII in order to satisfy some vague fourth reich as imagined by Jacques Cousteau. But the silvery cavernous sets are great. And of course, there's that car. That super cool submarine car - every kid fantasized about it. And there's Caroline Munroe as a helicopter pilot assassin; Valerie Leon from my favorite movie Blood from the Mummy's Tomb delivers a message in a brief bit (either one of them would have made a better super spy than Bach); and some great synthesizer and flanger guitar moments run through the score once things get down to business. 

A fine example of how homophobia prevents gaydar can be found in the use of the closing super gay cabaret refrain at the end when Bond is 'keeping the British end up' (and Carly Simon's song, huge at the time, now seems quite anemic.) 

1979 -  **
Rated G. Am I right? Now my parents had no more excuses, though I didn't even need them to take me by then. I missed the party, though. How typical for everything the 70s promised us kids, then yanked away when--in the 80s--we were old enough to receive it. Moore suddenly seems very old and tired, like he should be home watering his garden and having his neighbors to tea, not being spun around in a G-force simulator or pretending he could punch Jaws in the mouth without shattering his wrist. The girls he meets and seduces in his travels now seem less like enthralled nubile nymphs enthralled by his confident masculine energy and more like Valium-zonked call girls paid in advance to pretend he's a spy, tagging along beside him and hiding their eye rolls as he romps around his mansion uncovering little clues his butler hides like easter eggs the night before. Since it's so G, Bond doesn't even carry a gun now, so his own enemy, Drax, has to supply him with hunting rifles and lasers as needed. Pathetic, Mr. Bond! He doesn't even drink or smoke. Not even tea. He'd rather quip, and maybe try to stand up straight. Look, mom, he's doin' it!

THE SPY WHO LOVED ME had been such a huge hit two years earlier, and the underwater sports car thing so cool, so of its time--so perfectly attuned with both the shark-obsessed vibe of JAWS, sportscar obssessed vibe of SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT, and sci-fi gadget vibe of STAR WARS--that, for the follow-up they made the mistake of trying to deliver more of the same instead of doing something new. Now, instead of a car that becomes a submarine, it's a gondola that becomes a comical parade float. An old coughing Italian man at the Venice cafe sees a floating coffin and throws his cigarette away; the password to get into the secret lab is the little five-note musical alien greeting from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS; Richard Kiel returns as Jaws, gets a Pippi Longstocking girlfriend, survives more crashes, and becomes a good guy. The biggest crime--so rare in any Bond movie--is that the filmmakers and Moore presume our love and laughter without bothering to really earn it. "Dr. Goodhead" is a painfully sophomoric and snarky name that makes Pussy Galore seem the height of feminist class, and Drax is a dreadfully dull villain. The first batch girls (he has a splinter society of supermenschen ready to launch into orbit) all wear dowdy old peasant blouses, the sort that were fashionable only for mercifully brief stretch and now make girls from 1979 movies sometimes resemble sister wives from old Mormon scrapbooks. When not seducing Bond, they stand around in readiness like the prostitutes at a rainforest retreat prior to their Monarch 7 trigger activation ceremony. (That's not a compliment, more a sign of lack of direction.)

All that all said, the sets and music are good (the score references Wagner on the sly and gets downright trippy up in space) and I dig Drax's approach to planet cleansing. The world is damned overpopulated and the planet really could use a good space orchid allergy plague.. Jaws and his Pippi have the right idea -- a champagne toast as the whole complex goes up in flames around them. "Here's to us."

Thank god the 70s were almost over, and all the variety show schtick would descend once more into its vaudeville grave. With cable there would no longer be a need to appeal to the elderly, children, and everyone in- between all at the same time, as MOONRAKER does. But, hey, it's still the 70s one last time, and so we have the sort of movie where we get a tour through a priceless antique glass exhibit and know that, without a doubt, Bond is about to trash the place in a knock-out brawl with some masked assassin. Why else would a Bond film even include a 'priceless glass' exhibit? Why did god make china shops if not for bulls to romp in? And so bouncy music plays after every lame innuendo, and Kiehl survives everything with a flustered genial slow burn like Wiley Coyote after his latest Acme gadget explodes in his face. Still there's a few great moments: a slow carnivale clown stalk that in its weird shambling silence recalls the previous year's HALLOWEEN and the final battle with space jockey laser beams is both comical and out of sight, baby-o, especially now that, thanks to widescreen HD, we can see who's shooting who (back on regular TV it was impossible). And I dig the go-for-broke presumption the US has covert space suit-wearing laser fighting platoons ready to go at a moment's notice against amok splinter society-advocating cult billionaires trying to play Noah, as if that happens all the time and we just don't hear about it -- very Above Top Secret.

1981 - ***1/2
Return to basics?! Smart move, Mr. Bond. A very welcome resurfacing of one of the lost Bond archetypes--the ultimately good-natured older, fatherly rogue with criminal connections, here played with genuine robustness by Topal, who helps Bond against a bigger threat. And as the Bond girl, Carole Bouquet sports great long dark Greek hair and a crossbow. I like too that the stakes are basically small - the recovery and disposal of a top secret code machine or bomb sight or whatever, and someone trying to sell it to the Russians, or something - and a great extended scene climbing up  a straight cliff face to get the jump on the bad guys. And Michael Gothard as Locque? What's not to love? Well, the comic opening with Bond dropping an ineffectual Blofeldt down a smokestack (not very environmental of you, Mr. Bond.

1983 - *
Louis Jourdan looks way too old and tired to be a convincing Bond villain. Was he cast to make the now geriatric Moore seem robust and vibrant? Moore's pretty weak but Jourdan seems ready for, not world domination, but a late afternoon nap. All the lessons of the lean and lovely FOR YOUR EYES ONLY are forgotten as elaborate set pieces clunk listlessly across their marks to no noticeable generation of excitement or plot advancing tension. Bond girl Maude Adams was hot in Playboy (I was of Playboy-reading age at the time and still remember every photo) but proves dull as dishwater as the titular circus spymaster. Half the film seems consist of Bond and Jourdan ambling, like two rich old sex tourists, through a marble-walled harem. The other half is incoherent nonsense on a circus train with a cache of pilfered Russian Faberge eggs and plays from the Hitchcock playbook, badly bungled. There's also pint-sized jet that runs on--apparently--unleaded, that Bond uses to kill a whole airplane hangar of innocent Cuban pilots. Muy insensitivo, senior! The gypsy circus costumes all look brand new and the vibe is strictly TV movie with lots of snarky T&A. To make Bond look less old they've rigged the entire cast with grey and white hair. In short; this is what it sounds like when clowns die. Though I've tried to watch several times and can never pay attention past 20 minutes in any direction. Some good oboes in the score, though. And in the HD remaster everyone has an expensive bronze look and at the scenery is expensive and gorgeous.

Tacky moments occur throughout if you're awake: the Turkish MI6 agent plays the Bond theme on a snake charmer flute -how wry! There are gags with sword swallowers, beds of nails, and hot coals! That ought to warm things up, eh Mr. Bond?! But at least he's actually the race he's dressed as, and drives Bond on a merry chase through the busy markets of wherever. Kristina Wayborn is Bond girl number slated to die halfway through, and her enthusiasm for Bond's boudoir moxy rivals that of a fidgety child enduring church. She's too smart for crap lines like "that's my little octopussy" and her every line sounds overdubbed and strained, like she's been dubbed by someone even worse than herself. The henchmen are dull, too: the Jaws-in-a-turban bad guy can crush dice in his bare hands! African safari music plays during the tiger hunt (with Bond as the tiger); he tells a snake to "hiss off" and then swings through the air on vines while Weismuller's Tarzan yell pops onto the soundtrack. And of course there are clowns, and Moore's big turn in the center ring while the MPs close in. But hey -- his hairpiece stays on even when he's whipping along on the outside of the train! It's a really tacky brown-blonde color but man does it say on. Now that's truly an aging male's fantasy.

All the hot girls of the Pussy's "Octopus Cult" are only seen in wide shot ---and some have Flash Gordon tights. The director has no eye for hottie curves. Maude Adams has a great body so why is it hidden behind a big powder blue sari sash in the limp seduction scene. We get a few glimpses of her spectacular midriff when she walks but that's it, and the film could have used more as she can't act to save her life. Ever the gentleman, Moore refrains from it, too.  He can't even wake up for the climax. "It doesn't matter to you that thousands will be killed!" he admonishes the war-crazed general. It doesn't matter to us, either. Two seconds later he's shooting innocent Russian soldiers for the crime of just following orders. But as long as Bond is upholding the status quo, he's the good guy. That's how you tell.

Still, for all that, the climactic attack on Louis Jourdan's compound by Octopussy's all-woman circus team is pretty inspired. Scaling the walls via human pyramid and elephant see-saw. On the other hand, it's very clumsily filmed. The climax with Bond hanging on atop a plane is pretty wild, though, with what seems like real (and real crazy) stuntman going nuts up there (and not to worry, the unmentionable stays right where it belongs).

The song "All TIme High" is one of the lamest of all Bond songs, Maude Adams and Wayborn are two of most lifeless Bond girls, and Moore us at his most awkward. The worst ever!

1985  - **1/2
Long considered the worst Bond, I'd argue it's GOLDEN GUN or OCTOPUSSY (is it a coincidence they both have Maud Adams?) This one has Christopher Walken! That alone makes it better than those two. He's great as the Bill Gates-ish bad guy planning to flood Silicon Valley.  Aquamarine-eyed angel Tanya Roberts is also in it, over whom I have always been delirious (she had a Playboy cover spread, too, in 1982, when I was a hormonal fifteen year-old - so I am bonded to her as if by some deep archaic hormonal edict) and a climax aboard a zeppelin tangled up with on spire of the Golden Gate Bridge. So View: Walken, Robets, a zeppelin. OCTOPUSSY: clowns. Figure it out.

1987 ***
1989 - ***
Timothy Dalton's Bond has been slighted over the years but we've forgotten why now (at the time we liked him but then we felt he betrayed us by walking away after only two films). Well, time re-evaluates all press, and soon Brosnan's time will come. DAYLIGHTS especially is a stripped down Bond with realistic and strange escapes and KILL makes hilarious use of Wayne Newton as a preacher using yoga to hypnotize a MOONRAKER-style conglomerate of white-robbed New Age chicks, and there's a great down-the mountain-tumbling truck-wreck climax.

1995 - ***
After a lengthy absence, a new Bond for a new decade. Pierce Brosnan is devastatingly handsome and just a little bit alien looking--half Esquire ad and half British issue robot--with mussed dark black hair that he inherited from his predecessor Dalton. Famke Janssen breaks into instant cult star status here, though her dumb name 'Onnatop' demeans an otherwise furious and crazy (and aptly named) Russian assassin who gets off on crushing her lovers to death between her thighs. We also see the first 'hacker' in Bondland (played by Alan Cummings). After being too familiar with KGB and SECTRE agents in lab coats and ties, now we've got lollipop sucking nerds as legitimate threats to national security, EMPs (Electro-Magnetic Pulses), and Joe Don Baker as a believable CIA agent, bringing grumpy ex-military crime drama resonance where it belongs. Not a lot of forward tick-tockality though --too much zipping around from place to place. Bond even disappears for whole sections of KGB offices and in a Siberian radar installation, where the juvenile antics of Cummings' hacker get old for us way faster than for the nondescript Bond final girl Izabella Scorupco. There are some actually witty, subtle  throwaway lines, though ("That's close enough" Bond says after Onnatop mounts him) and I dig that the bad guys are colorfully diverse, allowed to be human rather than simply cardboard megalomaniacs: a Russian Cossack betrayed by the crown after WW2; Orson Bean as Alec is another, whom M figured was too young at the time to remember. '

Best of all: Janssen's big breakout as the kinky sadomasochistic sex fiend henchman (she'd be right at home in Cronenberg's CRASH--check the way her eyes light up when she realizes the speeding train she's on is about to smash into a tank). She's so young, hot, confident, brash and downright dangerous you sense all the opportunities the series missed in the past by not having more women henchmen and supervillains--there were some with Bond in the early days (old bitches like Rosa Klebb and young mankillers like THUNDERBALL's SPECTRE agent Fiona) but few in the Moore and Dalton years. Here, it being the 90s, you can tell they made a conscious effort to tone down sexism and bring in strong women (M is played by Judi Dench, etc.) without being a ballbusting buzzkill about it. By the climax at the big satellite dish well, all of a sudden, like light switch turning on at closing time at the bar, you're more than ready to split. You should always quit while you're ahead, James! Still--fine work.

1997 **1/2
This used to be one of my favorites. I saw it in the theater with one of my aforementioned Faxy friends whilst getting sober and when you're getting sober you really feel the action deep in your gut on the big screen. But nowadays parts of it irk me: Jonathan Pryce--great in BRAZIL--is a colossal bore (and has terrible bridgework) as a prissy media mogul in the Charles Foster Kane- Rupert Murdoch vein, crafting a war with China for the nefarious purpose of filling a 24 hour news channel. Pretty clever idea but Pryce is way-too-pleased with his tacky lines: "what kind of havoc shall we create with the world today?" and "I'm having fun with my headlines." At least he also says, "thank you," to his aides instead of just shooting them and he has burly blonde rentboy Götz Otto as his Odd Job henchman, Thumper (though bland here he's at last huge and would be ausgezeichnet in IRON SKY).

Meanwhile, as if Moneypenny wasn't bad enough, Dench's M delivers terrible puns like "you always were cunning linguist, James," and Q looks so old and rheumy he should have retired 20 years ago. Luckily there's some weird cameos, like Vincent Schiavelli as an embarrassed Hamburg hit man, and--god knows why--burly magician Ricky Jay as Pryce's tech guy. Clunky expository dialogue abounds and there's almost an absence of the bubbly hotness we expect from at least one Bond girl in the first chunk: TV's Lois and Clark star Terri Hatcher is the one who always dies early--as the bad guy's expensively attired rich bitch lavender wife. She's strangely materialistic but well-lit with a gorgeous bronze patina and a dark feathery dress, cut to the burnished shoulders replete with Shanghai Express black feathers, but that's all she's got to offer. Michelle Yeoh is great in the fight scenes but the strain of speaking English prevents her from adding any kind of sexual nuance (one day we'll hear Bond speak a different language - in Connery's TWICE he says he took a 'first in oriental languages at Cambridge,' whatever that even means). Yeoh was hot at the time due to SUPERCOP 2, but she's a lithe kickass action star not a buxom love machine! When she rubs noses with Brosnan, there's no question who spent the longest time in hair and makeup.

1999 ***1/3
Denise Richards, on the other hand, is a great Bond girl. My problem with this one, mainly, is Brosnan's TV hair and very dated linen suits (being made in the 90s only excuses so much). I saw this opening weekend with my very first AA sponsor when I was only a few months sober. I loved it! But if your hair is still perfectly moussed after a knockout brawl, Mr. Bond, I would suggest you avoid work that requires such regular proximity to open flames.

This is also the one with Sophie Marceau as the deliciously evil villainess, Elektra King. Her stylist is without peer, that hair and those gorgeous whiskey in the sunlight flame-blonde streaks kill me. Playing a Turkish-Serbo-whatever national oil baroness, Marceau ably melds elements from the West, East, and Middle East into a fabulous modernist wardrobe and damn gorgeous hair and that gutsy fearless carnal badass ageless gorgeousity only French actresses seem to have, and And I don't care, Denise Richards IS a believable atomic scientist. She's so hot in those khaki shorts she should be handled with specially insulated tongs. (See The Elektra King Hair Complex).

2002 - **3/4
 Halle Berry tends to be fierce in dramas but mousy in action films. Too much dramatic acting only gets in the way of a Bond film and she doesn't know how to turn her brain off and her head's too small for such short hair, but there's a good plot here about genetic alterations that turn a North Korean army brat into a posh Brit using conflict diamonds and reflected sunlight in a bid to invade South Korea before his father finds out. Whew! There's a nice visit to the Ice Hotel (in Iceland), and a sword fight that tracks all around a posh British fencing club, providing such a nicely emblematic mix of privilege and destruction that not even Madonna's leaden presence or the cliche'd use of the Clash's "London Calling" over Big Ben B-roll can detract from it. And Miranda Frost looks great in fencing gear. Look at those free floating tousles (above)! I die for them.

2006 - ***1/2
We were all blown away at first sight--Craig is easily the best Bond and most believable killer since Connery. With those haunted sunken eyes and hurt-little-boy scowl, he seems genuinely dangerous and competent. But as an 'origin' story, CASINO ROYALE becomes harder to enjoy as years pass, the way it pains me to watch teenagers make the same mistakes I did at their age. At least we learn why he would never trust a dame again (Eva Green redefines sultry as British treasury agent Vesper Lynde). "Does everyone have a tell?" I fell in love with Eva Green at the time (as did we all), but now her character seems a horribly smug bitch who belittles him down at every turn like the writers mistook feminism for hissing condescension. There's also has a bit of ball torture which delivers 50 years later or whenever on the threat of Goldfinger's space age gem-cutting laser and makes us fear for his future erections (did it leave him sterile which is why he never worries about protection?)

It pains me to imagine him getting it on with Vesper after his balls are smashed numerous times but it's the right pain. Eva Green makes an indelible impression. There's a lot of interesting detail here, including detailed money wire information prior to the big poker game, and a scene where Bond goes to his car to look at documents and take a gun stashed in the secret compartment. It's the kind of detail and patience most Bond films rush past (especially in the follow-up, QUANTUM OF SOLACE) but here it's those kind of bits that really pay off for making us feel, for the first time, maybe, Bond's true core of cold courage and streamlined shark confidence, everything we wish we had as men, but are maybe in the end are just fine with watching him have them instead. It seems like a lot of work to be that cool. (see also: James Bond rides the Strip)

2008 - **
This might have been a good Bond movie once, but some insecure editor whittled it down, shortening nearly every shot and cross-cutting like a coked-up Eisenstein between bullfights, races, post-modern operas, and rich men and women checking their coats and getting in and out of posh vehicles. There's also misogynistic sexual assault and political disillusionment (even the CIA is corrupt) --very out of place for a Bond film. Disillusionment with the system and our collective hatred for sexual violence is why we turn to Bond! For all his sexism there's seldom lurid misogyny beyond just killing or threatening. We don't need to hear there's no use fighting evil! Don't ask me to pick between RIO BRAVO and THE SEARCHERS because it will be RIO BRAVO every time. Every fucking time.

On the other hand, the whole 'who can you trust even after they show you the right code sign?' harkens back to the Connery films as does the idea that a pretty girl who invites you into her car might be CIA, SPECTRE, KGB or anyone else pumping you for information, so don't presume anything even after you sleep with them. Lastly, the post-internet and cell phone age has changed Bond in ways both good and bad, and the film itself seems to miss the old clarity of a simple Cold War. I don't mind the ping-ponging around the globe because now information flows so fast it's at the risk of outrunning our boy if he doesn't keep his momentum at Jan De Bont levels.

That said, part of the escapism of Bond is to imagine that actual smart, brave, good people are at the helm of our military intelligence. Here both the British government and American CIA are hopelessly corrupt, in bed with 'Quantum' an Illuminati-like conglomerate of Third World democracy topplers. But there is a lot of fire in the climax, and a great airplane-through-a-canyon chase. This is the movie where I first fell in love with Gemma Arterton, even if she does have only five fingers on each hand (she was born with six! Why cut them?) but of course she gets a mere three exceedingly brief scenes before she's offed, cruelly, pointlessly and reminiscently of Shirley Eaton in GOLDFINGER. Never were there so few breaths taken over so short a Bond film, for so little reward. If we wanted to feel depressed and shaken, not stirred, we would watch a documentary on global corruption, not seek refuge in old school colonialist wish-fulfillment.

2012 - ****
In SKYFALL there's not even enough time for a second, non-killed Bond babe; M and Javier Bardem are the closest we come and both are excellent. Bardem especially brings it all to a whole new level. He's one of my favorite actors and earns that love yet agin. But by now, MI6 is a shrinking network, and the return to the old ways wished for in QUANTUM are now unleashed with a cathartic vengeance. Try not to muck it up, 007. Things are looking good for the next film, with a new M and a new Q, both of whom seem well-suited to the post-cheeky age. Alas...

2015 - *

A feature length men's fragrance commercial disguised Bond movie, this has a pretty great train fight, a lovely French girl (Léa Seydoux) in perfectly mussed blonde hair wisping over black turtleneck against a snowy white Alpine background and a glum attitude of systemic corruption dragging MI6 down the drain so fast there's no way to stop it. This time the chips are so stacked so high against our Mr. Bond and his method of fighting back so idiotic as to redefine deus ex machina. All alone (aside from Seydoux) he strides right into the dragon's den, has his arch enemy Stavros Blofeldt (Christophe Waltz, yet again) display how the entire purpose of the huge criminal empire he's created is simply to enact a decades-long revenge, purely since James is his (adopted) brother and always his dad's favorite, not little Stavros! 

Longtime fans of the series can't help but feel towards this film the way Alien fans felt towards Alien 3. I still hate David Fincher for that wasted opportunity, the obvious contempt and disinterest expressed towards the tropes of the franchise. Not only that but a kind of half-assed contempt for even the basic laws of plot machination, turning everything that's happened since Craig took over the role (all the last few supervillains) into mere tools of one short little German's embittered Jacobean revenge scheme. 

Meanwhile, the bad guys know all 007's secrets but of course aren't bright enough to remove his trick watch when they strap him to the torture chair. One well placed laser shot and he's free- a few escape hatches and a single lucky shot later and the whole entire billion dollar complex is up in flames. And then it's on to another designer boutique parfum tableaux of corruption, expository tirades about how the future of international security is camera and internet not spies, contrasted with artsy shots of rich kid cars and other toys bashing into walls and mountains. Not to say there's not some great vistas, but really... the chain of paranoid conspiracy theory logic is so wearying in its oppressive glitz, the contempt for the entirety of the series to that point so palpable, it becomes the most un-Bond Bond ever. as if--having gone back to basics in SKYFALL--director Sam Mendes wanted to just scrub all the humanity and wit in favor of some ill-conceived 'interrogation of power' 70s-style conspiracy downer. In other words it's THE PARALLAX VIEW dressed up like a Rolex fold-out supplement in Esquire - a more woefully incongruous juxtaposition you may never find. Even more depressingly misogynist and materialistic than QUANTUM OF SOLACE, it posits the entirety of the world governments as so dumb they'd turn over their national security to a shady private contractor at the first sign of trouble, no more aware of the associated dangers to such a move than a row of cowardly grocers paying off the Black Hand. And MI6 still lets the entire weight of the old world order rest on one man's shoulders, even while loudly ordering him to let it drop, yet still paying the no doubt astronomical tab he runs up on his Platinum account -- Mastercard, wherever the day takes you.

Fight corporate synergy in affordable style and comfort
In short, the writers love to set up plush high end noir Bildenberg conspiracies for Bond to be almost swallowed up by, only to completely annihilate the whole dark empire with a single half-assed shot -- but he's so comfortable in the 'top one percent of the top one percent' spending arena we can't help but wonder how he's going to overthrow the power without losing his million dollar endorsement contract. 

And if it wasn't enough, we have to know that so much of the SPECTRE treasury is paid for by white slavery, just because, you know, sexually brutalized foreign females are the new status symbol. But then those writers and product positioners are at a loss how an expensively-coiffed Brit with nothing but a snub nose automatic and an exploding watch can defeat this vast conspiracy inside of the next hour; and then--back in London (do they play "London Calling" over Big Ben B-roll? Isn't that the new rule, except for the ring and the truncheon thing?). At the big climax, the same snub nosed pistol brings down a helicopter in mid-air, this time from a half mile away (on the ground). Oh James, is that your 'magic' gun? Does the screenwriter really know anything about how guns work, does he think that calibre bullets wouldn't just bounce off a copter hull at that range? Or that they'd have any kind of consistent accuracy without a longer barrel? As long as the products are in focus, who gives a shit about the limited effectiveness of small arms fire? It's that kind of contempt for the audience that sticks in the craw. 

The only interesting part is the torture device of Ernst's: a small robotic surgery needle that bores into various parts of the brain to erase memory and the ability to recall faces (so everyone looks like a stranger). But hey! Mere torture doesn't work on Bond! Needles burning out cortices means nothing. He's got magic brain?! For some reason! Is it lazy writing that we never know why it doesn't work on him? Why even bother with the laborious sleazy, Fu Manchu-style lurid set-up of the device if it will turn out not to work?  It's clear the writers would be more at home doing HOSTEL III than writing action movies --they got their vile sadism down pat but don't know shit about reality, let alone spycraft, so rather than learn, they "streamline" the franchise down to what they can do and know about. Even the old 60s Batman wouldn't rely this much on their target demo's ignorance of basic physics.

On the other hand, if you can flip through an issue of Esquire without feeling like you're being sold on the idea of investing in a corporate white slavery ring by some synergizing pimp, then you really are already so brainwashed by the objectifying media that even a Situationist street agitprop freakout can't wake you up to your own commodification, so sleep on. The only way the Mendes can justify such strident product placement is to have Bond give up spycraft at the end to go show his new girl a good time, the kind of time he's entitled to for having bought just the right car, watch, cologne, sunglasses, boots and jacket, only from Sharper Outfitters and Target. Target: take aim! 

Non Salzman-Broccoli Bonds:

One's a lame overdone 'everything but the chicken soup' disaster typical of the floundering studio system's efforts to seem with it, and hip, baby, as the 60s came to a close; the other is a remake of THUNDERBALL with geriatric and urination jokes, a balding Bond, Kim Basinger at peak lusciousness (in wet negligees and almost sold at auction to a slavering Arab). Stravinsky's Rite of Spring on the soundtrack, and James Fox as a very cranky M trying to reign in Bond's drinking. Ugh. Klaus Brandauer ranks right down there with Louis Jourdan as far as looking too old, tired, and generic to be a good villain, and the idea of putting video arcades into the ritzy parties, casinos, and hotel lobbies is really ill-conceived (we don't need to see Bond playing Missile Command instead of actually commanding missiles).

Both films are worth seeing once though, just to realize how many mistakes the main Bond films avoid. Reign on, Cubby and Harry's James. The future may be written on silicon chips, but the credits are still on bouncing silhouettes of guns and girls and we'll always need a real man to kill the rich, even in our dreams.

"One of the many things which makes Daniel Craig the best Bond since Connery is his pain. He’s aware of the lost sense of intimacy that came with having license to both kill and “be a sexual heel.” Connery’s Bond was always civil to the bad guys until they killed a friend or a girl of his, then his steely eyes hardened and the insults started flowing; underneath the tough veneer he genuinely cared. The later Bonds by contrast put up a caringveneer in addition to a tough veneer; they were all veneer. Daniel Craig comes to us with all veneers smashed; the pain of crushed innocence and the rage of a wounded orphan child in his big deep gray eyes, the “non-venerial” toughness returned. "

"The nifty thing about this new Bond approach is the way it remains conscious of the Moebius strip upon which it runs. It is aware, for example, that the entire cycle of Bond films–which stretch from the Cold War straight through to the future–actually involve the surpassing of technologies in real life that were created in the older films as sci fi devices. Consider for example the “full circle” of our post-modern nostalgia over the gigantic “futuristic” computers of the old Bond villains like Dr. No–with their reel-to-reel computer tapes and punch cards–which we watch on plasma screens from super deluxe DVD sets or ultra slim laptop computers. And now Bond is actually younger and the futuristic gadgets he thought were so nifty have not just been invented but have been over-promoted to the point of un-coolness, and promptly forgotten, and his boss has become a woman, and suddenly he is newly promoted to the job he’s had all his life, and he is ready to meet the only woman he will ever love… for the SECOND TIME!"


  1. Man With The Golden Gun is by far my favorite Bond movie, not just because it's so '70s (complete with flashes of 70s PG nudity), but also because it embraces the comic book nature of the series. I'll take it any day over the dour, oh so "serious" Daniel Craig movies. Casino Royale is the only Bond movie I ever walked out of.

    On Her Majesty's Secret Service would be my second favorite and it doesn't nearly get the respect it deserves.

    Great writeup as usual!

    1. Thanks Joe I may have to revisit the Golden Gun. It's the only one I haven't seen with my adult eyes yet. You've inspired me to give it a second chance

  2. Evan Connell11 June, 2014

    When I think of those early Connery Bond films, I too am reminded of my Dad, who took me to see them (I think starting with "From Russia With Love" when I was about 5!). After Goldfinger, my parents gave me for my birthday the Corgi toy version of the gold Aston Martin DB5, complete with bullet-proof shield, guns and ejector seat.

    I still think From Russia With Love is close to the best - but I haven't seen them all. Your piece will guide me in catching up with the later ones. Thank you


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