Friday, 16 March 2012

Who are you? You're not James Bond

George Lazenby has inherited the role of Bond and it's an impossible task. It's not that George is that bad in the role it's just that he's had to follow Connery. Poor sod. It's as if the producers didn't want to acknowledge him as most of the marketing was about Bond and some pieces even blacked out Lazenby's face. Strange seeing that they'd apparently given him a seven picture deal. If only Sean had decided to retire after this one rather than come back for Diamonds Are Forever.

This is a serious Bond film, and certainly one of the best. We're back on the trail of Blofeld who wants to sterilise food crops around the world using his 'Angels of Death' controlled from his Alpine base. Gone is the globetrotting, this is the only Bond film entirely set and filmed in Europe. Bond is essentially AWOL before M removes him from his official hunt for Blofeld, this leads Bond to quit the Service and the retrospective scenes in his office are great.  It's OK though, that scamp Moneypenny has changed his resignation into a holiday request. R and R with Dian Rigg is next up on the agenda and ex-Avenger Rigg is a masterstroke of casting.  Rigg is strong and classy, more than a match for Bond and yet is more personable than her Avengers predecessor in Goldfinger. Perhaps this is because Rigg as Tracy is central to this story. Rigg makes Tracy and Bond's romance all the more plausible and it's end more poignant. Until now Bond had been charming but ruthless, arrogant and hard. Lazenby is tasked with making Bond softer and more vulnerable and he manages to pull it off.

Unofficially, Bond continues his hunt for Blofeld using the world's largest safe breaking machine and a copy of Playboy, before getting a gig impersonating Inspector Wexford as a genealogist. You see, as well as extorting huge piles of cash from world powers, Blofeld wants a bit of respectability and is set on proving his heritage as a mid-European Count.

The change in Bond also sees a change in Blofeld. He's no longer the hiding, pussy stroking evil genius. Now he runs about and does a lot of shooting. He also has a strange way of holding a cigarette.

How to use a cigarette as punctuation. Rule 1

Bond is soon amongst the Angels of Death and Irma Bunt, who all seem to be under the spell of a young Joanna Lumley, and on the way to stopping Blofeld again. Seeing that Blofeld and Bond had a coming together in a volcano not too long ago they show a remarkable lack of recognition for each other. We're left to enjoy some now typical ski and car chases mixed up with a little hanky panky before we get down to the nitty gritty. OHMSS is the only film where Blofeld and his right hand man/woman make a getaway after their plan is foiled. This allows for the most tragic ending.

It took five days to film Bond and Tracy's nuptials and we're all set for another happy ending before the brief return of Blofeld and Bunt.

Bond's goodbye to Tracy was filmed twice after the director told Lazenby that 'Bond doesn't cry'. Bond might not but I was bloody welling up. The sadness deepens when you later find out that the title song was the last thing Louis Armstrong ever recorded and that Ilse Steppat (Irma Bunt) passed away shortly after the film's release.

Lazenby may well have been a one hit wonder with Bond but On Her Majesty's Secret Service is up there as one of the best and we are about to witness a steep decline.

James Bond will return in the 1970s, with his old face but this time we'll see him going in a different  direction and we'll see that the decade will not be kind to him.

In space no one can hear you eat a spaceship

Bond is dead. Noooooo! Bond is, oh wait a minute. Connery's fifth adventure goes all Oriental and we have a lovely theme tune ripe for ruining by an egotist from Take That. Connery has been enjoying the good life recently and is substantially chubbier than previous outings. At least Blofeld is back and this time we get to put a face to the voice. This time he has a dastardly plan to start a war between the USA and USSR and get paid for the pleasure.

The late 60s are upon us and JFK promised a man on the Moon by the end of the decade so the Space Race is in full flow. It's only natural that Bond gets in on the action. But what's this? Roald Dahl has done the screenplay? Does this mean crazy witches and giant fruit? Thankfully not. Although the film does have it's moments of silliness, kicking off with a Lazarus like Bond asking for permission to come aboard and his snobbish reminder of his First in Oriental Language from Cambridge.

Now don't forget the key ingredients from Goldfinger and Thunderball. Firstly, gadgets are now important and secondly, ginger girls are evil. Once again the ginger bird gets it. Although this time she's eaten by piranhas after failing to bump off Bond.

Bond goes to see the Narrator for some insider information on why spaceships are going missing and pursues his assassin by disguising himself as a six foot Japanese man. Cunning but obvious. Is Bond getting lazy? The producers definitely seem to be as we are subjected to several strange chase scenes that practically come out of nowhere. First on foot down by the docks and later in the air as Little Nelly fights off some S.P.E.C.T.R.E. bullies. Bond buddies up with Japanese Intelligence in the form of Tiger and his school of ninjas. A ninja school, how cool is that? Having said that, these ninjas seem to have a lot to learn. They're very noisy. In the meantime, S.P.E.C.T.R.E. continue gobbling up spaceships.

 Munch, munch, munch American space craft

World War III is taking a step closer, worrying seeing that their cosmonauts are controlled by a bloke from 'Allo 'Allo.

Where is Gruber?

Bond has only one lead. A flimsy one at that. He follows the Ning Po and gets a Japanese makeover. A cross between Herman Munster and Mr Spock. Now, apparently, Bond is ready to blend into the Japanese countryside and make his way to the best location for an evil megalomaniacs base in history.  You'd need more than Phil and Kirsty to find you somewhere better than a hollowed out volcano for your underground lair, especially one with an indoor monorail. It's time for Bond to bin the kimono and put a pair of pyjamas on to infiltrate Blofeld's lair.

Japanese Bond/Munster/Spock. Before the pyjamas

Predictably, Bond gets snared and so Blofeld is forced to reveal himself and insert some interesting syllables into the word 'annihilation'. Bond is face to face with his nemesis and says nothing. NOTHING. A wasted opportunity.

Yes Mr Bond, I do have a face

Bond is effectively rescued by Tiger's ninjas distracting invasion. So 'eloquently' described by Alan Partridge's friend Michael. All sorts of mayhem ensues, not a ninja death star in sight yet, as Tiger's boys get the better of Blofeld's mini army who are all conveniently colour coded like walking Skittles. Blofeld bails on his monorail and leaves Bert Kwok in charge. What do you mean he's in Goldfinger too? Presumably Blofeld is off to give a small boy some psychiatric help for John Carpenter.

Blofeld has also, kindly, left his giant henchman, Hans, behind. Hans isn't too bothered about the volcano falling apart around him or his employer's bolt job and ultimately pays the price and becomes fish food after a needless fist fight with Bond. There's just one thing left to do and with five seconds left, Bond destroys S.P.E.C.T.R.E.'s space chomper and prevents World War III like a true gent.

Now to brace yourself as Connery quits and a new man is installed for On Her Majesty's Secret Service. It's the end of an era now as we say goodbye to Connery and the role he has nurtured over the past five films. On the whole they've been good and that's why I certainly regard him as the best Bond.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

The Life Aquatic with Sean Connery

Transvestite bashing, pointless escape by jetpack and a tedious theft of some nuclear missiles. Bond is back. It's just he's in slow motion and the film lasts almost as long as Tom Jones holding that last note to the theme tune.

 I could run faster than this thing flew

OK, so Goldfinger and From Russia with Love saw the bar raised for what a spy film should be and Gert Frobe being sucked through a light aircraft window is going to be tough to follow but Thunderball is just a plain tiresome.

The original end credits of Goldfinger said that Bond would return in 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' If only Eon had done that with Connery. It would have blown everything else out of the water.  It's not all doom and gloom though. Blofeld's back and so is S.P.E.C.T.R.E. and they want £100 million. There's a bloke that looks suspiciously like Delbert Grady in S.P.E.C.T.R.E but this story is all about Number 2; the eye patched and chubby Emilio Largo. Using some mug called Angelo and a bit of strategic plastic surgery, Largo acquires two of NATO's charming nuclear warheads and puts them in hiding in The Bahamas whilst his evil ginger associate with a great rack sets about keeping the scheme going. Meanwhile, Bond is getting some treatment in a spa hotel conveniently located near the scene of the crime.

Ginger = Evil
The main problem with Thunderball is that it's so slow. It takes an age for anything to happen. Sure there a lots of pretty shots of planes flying and yachts knocking around crystal clear waters but you find yourself tapping your fingers waiting for something to happen.  The actual theft of NATOs missiles sees me growing a three day beard.  Christ, this film is making me look like a hobo! We haven't even got to one of the underwater fight scenes yet. It's good to build tension but not good when it takes this long.
Bond is dispatched to The Bahamas (nice work if you can get it) to recover the warheads after avoiding a boring turn in Canada. He has one lead. Disastrously, the mug S.P.E.C.T.R.E. used and killed had a sister. Yes! Another bikini clad beauty and this one's called Domino. Oh no. Domino is protected by Largo. Now things go all a bit Jacques Cousteau. Lots of snorkeling. Lots of fish. Lots of stifled yawning. Even Largo's penchant for feeding people to his pet sharks wears thin.  There is brief respite as Q arrives in the field wearing a magnificent shirt and armed with a case of bits and bobs. How does he get these things through customs?
 Q's shirt. Much better than Leiter's effort

Binoculars, yachts, sharks. Something. Clay pigeons. Water. Oh, sorry, I appear to have nodded off. I've come round just in time for the best part of Thunderball. Fiona's pursuit of a bleeding Bond through the Junkanoo is magical. This is why Bond was called Mr Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.  Fiona's death is something Moore and Dalton could only dream of.

Bond eventually finds the plane that housed the missing nukes. You almost wish he'd found Jaws instead. There's some more paddling about before we reach our conclusion. An epic underwater battle with a smoky SCUBA tank before a fight with Largo, wearing a giant condom, onboard the Disco Valante. The final fight between Bond and Largo is so fast it's like a Benny Hill sequence. At least Domino can fill her black and white bikini and Connery's sunglasses make him look like a Ray Charles tribute act.
 I should've bought a corset

The underwater battle, with so many extras Spartacus would think twice, is bizarrely slow. It is now obligatory that all underwater craft in a Bond film be yellow and make a strange noise whilst Bond can do untold damage with a small knife. Harpoons are now seemingly the most accurate weapon on the planet and Bond is a bugger with an underwater grenade.

So, by virtue of it's thunderous ability to make you yawn, Thunderball is a bit of a flop but then we have been spoilt by it's predecessors

I'm already looking forward to some reasonable pacing and Donald Pleasance in You Only Live Twice.

Is that a duck on your head, or are you pleased to see me?

Bond has changed slightly. Connery has more than made the role his own, jumped in a DB5 and set about making a template for all following Bond films.

Some people say Goldfinger is the quintessential Bond film. In a way it is as here we are introduced to the wittier one liners, the larger than life baddies with grandiose schemes (more than Dr No ever had), gadgets and big bold theme songs.  Goldfinger is a slight reboot of Bond since From Russia with Love. Bond is less serious but makes up for this with chauvinism and arrogance.  This isn't a bad thing as we are moved from just another Cold War thriller towards an more accessible suave action film. This is what Goldfinger did more than anything; it made Bond for the masses.

We begin with the now almost traditional ending of a previous mission before the film's proper storyline begins. This means Connery with a duck on his head (the BEST disguise ever), some plastic explosives. heroin flavoured bananas and a damned treacherous belly dancer. A witty retort to a thugs death leads to a thunderous entrance for Dame Shirley's theme tune.

Bond is tasked with a simple case of gold smuggling but soon uncovers Goldfinger's plan to send the Western world back to the Dark Ages by making the US gold reserve glow in the dark. It's a simple storyline that encompasses the best looking death on screen in the history of cinema, some well place gadgets and a bird nicked out of The Avengers.

 Strategic cushion. Excellent Feng Shui

Pussy Galore. Really? I mean, really? Honey Rider was subtle and we haven't reached the depths of Holly Goodhead, but Pussy? It's just daft, Fleming must have been taking the piss.  It's a good job she's a strong character and gives Bond as good as she gets before the inevitable roll in the hay.  Bond's eventual 'seduction' is more than a little rapey.

For the first time in the film series we see Bond put in real perilous situations that he can't fight or shoot his way out of and the villain of the piece is armed with just as many quips as Bond.

'Get comfy Mr Bond, I intend to gloat over you'

The elevation of the villain to 'star' status is genius and allows for more development to the story.  For the first time we see the villain explain his diabolical scheme in no uncertain terms. The blow by blow breakdown of the plan is set up and conveniently gives Bond (actually spying) all the info he needs. Bond's use of Q's gadgets here is necessary and purposeful. The homing device especially. These aren't gadgets for the sake of having gadgets. Pay attention Roger Moore.

Predictably Goldfinger double crosses his allies and hurtles towards the final showdown at Fort Knox full of confidence and an unhealthy obsession with lasers.

Goldfinger has set up many elements which will become key to following films. The suave one liners, the gadgets, the theme tune, the henchman with a unique talent and the bonkers plots to take over the world from gorgeous locations.

Goldfinger was the first Bond to have everything. Connery peaked as Bond in this film and without disrespecting the two previous films set out what a Bond film should be.

Connery's next film splashing about in The Bahamas has got a lot to live up to.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Keep the love, I want a Lektor

No, not Hannibal from Manhunter, a crypto-typewriting-code-breaker-thing. I'll send my best man to pick it up, James Bond and you make sure that fit blonde bird drops it off. And there we have the basic premise for the best Bond ever.  And yet the pre-credit sequence sees Bond die.  Hang on, it was just a stooge in a face mask. Phew.

S.P.E.C.T.R.E., the evil bastards who Dr. No worked for have got the hump with Bond and want to set him up whilst making a few quid by stealing a Russian code machine (the lektor) and selling it back to them. The plan has been devised by a chess genius Kronsteen and an faceless, but frankly terrifying, Blofeld instructs evil lesbian Rosa Klebb to put the plan in action, keep an eye on her sensible shoes.  He even finds time to do an Attenborough impression regarding his Siamese fighting fish.  Apparently chess was sexy is the 60s as alluded to in a Manics video and Kronsteen's plan is seen as flawless. It just needs a nutter freshly escaped from Dartmoor and a pretty but easily manipulated blonde bird. Cue Donald 'Red' Grant and Tatanya Romanova.  Grant can take a punch to the gut and Tatanya doesn't like her hair being stroked.

After a meeting with 'Q' (he's not Major Boothroyd anymore) Bond trots off to Turkey with a suped up attache case and with a oversexed and likeable Karim Bey has a barney with some Bulgarians whilst having a party with some gypsies.  Proper gypsies with scratchy nails and spitting. None of the fake tanned Barbie shite you see on Channel 4.  It's about now that Red Grant develops a handy habit of saving Bond's life every now and then, just to make sure he gets his hands on the Lektor machine and an opportunity for a damn good fight on a train.  Grant has the relentlessness Arnie's Terminator and thankfully plenty of charm.

Bond challenges Russian pride by questioning their timekeeping before a limpet mine facilitates the acquisition of the Lektor. There's still half an hour or so left and Bond is already ready to escape. And what an escape route it is. With just one small obstacle; Red Grant.

The escape plan is a sleeper train through Eastern Europe towards Blighty and Bond's cover requires him (handily) to shack up with young Tatanya. On the way he is to rendezvous with a representative from Station Y who Grant eliminates and impersonates. To come is possibly the best death of a Bond villain ever. The tense standoff in the train cabin is great. Just the right balance of tension and jeopardy. The battle ebbs and flows before Bond prevails. If only Bond had questioned the choice of wine with the fish earlier.

Bond's escape plan is redesigned after Grant's exit and takes in a quite unexpected maritime battle. A S.P.E.C.T.R.E. henchman who looks suspiciously like a young Major Gogol takes charge of two ineptly crewed boats and Bond dispatches his foes with a flare and some tactical oil dumping. Simple and quite brilliant.  Bond is now firmly established as a character and rather than a sequel, From Russia with Love proves that he is worthy of a franchise.

James Bond will return, with some French nail varnish, a proper theme song and an attack on The Beatles.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Carry Bond up the Khyber Pass

The Living Daylights sees Timothy Dalton debut as Bond. It also sees a Dutchman playing a Russian and lots of cellos.

We've been yearning for a younger, more able and less cheesy Bond. Dalton delivers this and does his own stunts but you get the feeling he thinks he's too good for it. It's almost like he's trying out for a stage role with some positively Pinter-esque pauses and long stares into the foreground. This from a man who wore green tights in Flash Gordon. At least he's ditched the cigars and is back on the fags.

Bond's first action is a T.A. jolly to Gibraltar which is suspiciously populated by extras from Bergerac and dubious tourists. 004 bites the bullet and Bond is off to get to the bottom of Smiert Spionam in a flurry of paintballs. A parachuted escape out of a Land Rover and we're into a-Ha giving Duran Duran a run for their money.  Bond is then drafted to aid in the defection of a Russian general, Koskov. Amidst exploding milk bottles, trips to Tangiers and a pool party we're dropped into the most non-sensical plot since Octopussy.

A deleted scene from Bergerac 

Koskov wasn't really defecting you see, it was an elaborate plot to get the Brits onside so he could screw over his boss, Pushkin, so he could get away with using some money to buy drugs, turn a profit and then buy the guns he was supposed to. I'm sorry but a Bond villain is supposed to want to take over the world not make a few quid on the side much to Mother Russia's chagrin. Somewhere in there Koskov buys some diamonds to use in his drug deal. Quite why is beyond me. This is a bit lame so far, chuck in some action please.

Oooh, a car chase on icy roads. Just an excuse to show off Q's added extras and Maryam d'Abo's interesting 'surprised' face. 'Salt corrosion', a shed and escape by cello, insert attempt at witty one liner.  At least Roger Moore was ridiculous, so far Dalton's just flat and his Bond girl is irritating (silly bint doesn't even know when she's flying into a mountain). Pierce Brosnan was lucky NBC saved him from this.

There's a rooftop chase after Bond fakes the shooting of a remarkably tall Gimli the Dwarf which fails to inspire after a quick flash of side boob. Whilst we appreciate a bit of seriousness being put back into Bond we still need a little bit of humour. This humour is not introduced by Art Malik and his odd Mujaheddin. In fact the funniest bit of the film is Dalton's reaction to the chloral hydrate in his martini.

Bond's final act of globetrotting then ends up with him in Afghanistan. Those pesky Russians are at it again with the local population whilst The Red Cross is practically everywhere. A fact that they were less than pleased about.

Jeroen Krabbe's attempt at worst baddie ever is cemented by the fact he doesn't even die. He gets arrested by Gimli and there's a vague allusion to execution.  Throughout the story he's been flouncing around in uniform without looking the least bit sinister.  He makes Kristatos from For Your Eyes Only look butch. At least his henchman goes out with a scream, I wonder if he ever let go of that boot?

The rushed ending could have been avoided too. There really wasn't any need to see Whittaker in his games room but then we did get a Twin Peaks episode out of it.

Sort yourself out for the next one please Timothy. I'm expecting vast quantities of cocaine and some faffing about with beach planes and petrol. I don't care if you do know a great restaurant in Karachi. Oh, and whose idea was Chrissie Hynde?

What an introduction

Is there a doctor in the house?

Well yes, but he's an evil bastard.

Dr. No is where it all began. Against the author's wishes (Thomas) Sean Connery brings James Bond to the big screen. And bloody lovely it is too.  Looking back you have to remember that people didn't fly around the world on holiday all the time, they pretended they were having fun in labour holiday camps a la Carry on Camping but here we have a movie thrusting the Caribbean and all it's charms down your throat.

Beginning with weird radio type noise before unleashing Monty Norman's epic theme and we're treated to some gloriously Technicoloured ex pats in Jamaica. A quickfire assassination and the action moves to London. Baccarat, smoking, and the now standard introduction of the suavest mutha fucking spy you've ever seen and we're off on our first adventure of the next 50 years.

The first thing to strike you about Dr. No is that it's tense and understated. The storyline builds nicely whilst introducing the key characters. From their first meeting we have a stern and authoritarian M who knows just how to treat his cavalier double 'O' agent.  We understand that Bond is obviously good at his work in an unorthodox way. So how the bloody Hell does he let some bird from the casino break into his flat and faff about with his putter? A bit of how's your father before his flight is just the way to treat a burglar for Bond.

For a spy, Bond doesn't seem to want to blend in all that much. Hat and jacket stay firmly in situ whilst dealing with a dastardly driver and ignoring the bloke from Hawaii 5-0 on the way to Government House.

In a whirl of Brylcreem and Old Spice Bond makes his inquiries on the way to Crab Key. Crab Key, a name that sounds like it was stolen from a Scooby Doo cartoon and an obvious location for an evil genius bent on world domination to have his gaff and not a swig of red Stripe in sight.

Along the way we pick up Quarrell, meet Felix and dispatch a tarantula before one of the most iconic scenes in cinema history. Random Swiss Ursula Andress was chosen, blatantly not for her acting ability. Teenage boys around the world didn't care about her lack of English as they desperately tried to find something to cover their laps as she sported that bikini.

I'll ignore the 'dragon' and it's shabby treatment of Quarrell. It's for the best. Bond is captured and subjected to a non-Psycho shower scene before we finally clap eyes on our villain, the doctor of the title.  What gets you is the fact he's just so normal. OK he's got massive metal hands but he's just an ordinary bloke. No superpowers or piles of weapons, just a fierce intellect, a taste for fine wines and as we discover a plan to take over the world by annoying the Americans.

In the process the evil doctor lays some important ground rules for successive evil geniuses. One of the most important is to ensure henchmen wear a uniform that Bond can fit into should the need arise. How Dr No doesn't notice that Chang has suddenly grown six inches before taking the nuclear controls is beyond me.   It is also important that any henchman not know the location of his nearest fire exit and possess the ability to run around like a headless chicken at the drop of a hat.

Our slightly underutilised Dr No is dispatched in a good old fashioned fist fight whilst being lowered into some nasty nuclear flavoured water. His massive metal hands ultimately being his downfall. Still, that's better than in the book where he died under a pile of birdshit.

The world has been impressively introduced to Bond and can't wait for the next instalment.