Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Best of Bond: Top 10 Fight Scenes

We all know Mr. Bond's proficiency in getting women shed their wardrobe in the name of Her Majesty's government.  But we also expect our favorite super spy to be ready when the situation calls for fisticuffs.  Hand to hand combat has been a staple of Bond movies since the beginning.  Connery excelled at this, and his early films are some of the earliest examples of martial arts in cinema.  George Lazenby, for all his faults as Bond, was also very good.  Roger Moore... not so much.  Dalton was serviceable. Brosnan was surprisingly good given his slight frame.  And Daniel Craig is just fantastic.  He has the benefit of working with a stable of expert fight choreographers in the era of Bourne movies, but the 007 that Craig has created is perhaps the most brutal, physically imposing Bond yet.

10.  Room Service

Watching this scene from On Her Majesty's Secret Secret Service, you wouldn't think George Lazenby was the least convincing Bond.  He performed action scenes as well as any other 007.  The scenes would have been even better had the director and fight choreographers not included multiple haymaker uppercuts in every fight.

9.  Be sure to tip the driver

Bond bites off more than he can chew in You Only Live Twice.  Fortunately, he is an expert couch-fighter.

8.  "Heavy, Mr. Bond?"

For a guy who was 53 when he made this movie, Sean Connery is still pretty impressive.  In Never Say Never Again, Bond must fight the big bald German goliath that beat the crap out of Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  This scene does a great job mixing humor with the action, especially with sight gag at the end.

7.  No more foreplay

mix of fight and foreplay from Goldeneye may be the series most original physical confrontation.  Pierce Brosnan tries to avoid getting crushed between the legs of the sadist Xenia Onnatop.

6.  Jaws attack

Roger Moore's Bond was more inclined to use brains than brawn to defeat his enemies.  Here, he's completely outmatched against the franchise's most famous henchman, Jaws, in the The Spy Who Loved Me.  With nowhere to run, Bond has to get creative.  Agent XXX isn't much help.

5.  "You just killed James Bond!"

The tight confines of an elevator is a great setting for this well choreographed fight scene.  One of the few bright spots in Diamonds Are Forever.

4.  Don't bring a knife to a Bond fight

This fight from Quantum of Solace is so sudden, so fast and so brutal, I find myself holding my breath.  Here, Daniel Craig shows why he's the Bond you least want to mess with.

3.  007 vs. 006

When two super agents fight, this must be what it looks like.  Fantastically paced and choreographed, this fight pits Bond against his former friend, 006, in Goldeneye.  The two are so evenly matched, neither can get the upper hand. With its mix of fighting techniques, physical fatigue, and their mutual animus toward the other, this pitched fight just feels authentic.

2.  Machetes and stairwells don't mix

Maybe the most intense scene of any Bond film, this savage fight down the stairs against a machete wielding killer in Casino Royale just leaves you exhausted.  This fight is so well conceived and frenetic, it really does feel like life and death.  Unlike so many of the Bond films over the years where killing has become routine, this scene really conveys the awful brutality of killing someone with your bare hands, as well as the mental and emotional toll it exacts.

1.  Fight on the Orient Express

Bond's showdown with SPECTRE assassin Red Grant in 1963's From Russia with Love is still the benchmark for all 007 fight scenes.  Their desperate back and forth melee in the cramped space of a train cabin just crackles with energy and dramatic tension. Grant kills a host of people before posing as a MI-6 liason in order to get close to Bond, and thanks to Robert Shaw's physique and acting chops, the audience has no doubt he is more than a match for 007.

Ranking the James Bond films: #9

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
After British and Soviet nuclear submarines disappear, the two countries decide to work together to recover the technology used to track and capture their vessels.  Bond is therefore forced to work alongside his Soviet counterpart, Agent XXX, Major Anya Amasova.  This film perfectly encapsulates the James Bond of the 1970s -  a comic book villain with an outrageous scheme (he wants to destroy the world and create a new underwater civilization), huge action sequences, campy humor, and ridiculous gadgets.  What sets this film apart from the rest of Roger Moore's 70s efforts is that it's actually done reasonably well.  Moore really hits his stride as Bond in this film, finally making the role his own.  The villain, Carl Stromberg, is comes across as both competent and psychotic.  And of course, Jaws is one of cinema's greatest henchman. Barbara Bach is a little flat as Agent XXX, but she has just enough chemistry with Bond to make it work.  The plot is full of holes, but I'm not sure we're supposed to care with this type of Bond film.  The action and stunts are what matter here and two really stand out.  The film's opening, which culminates with Bond skiing off the end of a cliff and falling for what seems like forever before his Union Jack parachute blooms, is just fantastic.  The film also features a first rate chase scene involving a helicopter and one of the great Bond cars, the Lotus Esprit, which escapes by transforming into a submarine after plunging into the ocean.  The Spy Who Loved Me is campy fun, but never original or compelling.

10.  On Her Majesty's Secret Service
11.  You Only Live Twice
12.  The Living Daylights
13.  Quantum Of Solace
14.  Never Say Never Again
15.  Tomorrow Never Dies
24.  Die Another Day 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Ranking the James Bond films: #10

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Famous for its star, George Lazenby, the guy who had the unenviable task of replacing Sean Connery as Bond.  He did one movie, then decided the franchise was on its way it out, and quit.  Lazenby looks more like a boy scout than a secret agent.  He's likable enough, and manages to acquit himself fairly well, but his screen presence is just so far below that of Connery. No doubt he's big part of why On Her Majesty's Secret Service feels so different than any other Bond film, but it's grown on me over the years. The plot involves Bond's attempt to track down the head of SPECTRE, Ernst Stavro Bloefeld.  He traces him to an allergy research institute high in the Swiss Alps, whose only subjects are beautiful young women.  Disguised as a genealogist, Bond is hired by Bloefeld to investigate his ancestry in order to claim nobility.  While bedding nearly all the girls in the clinic, Bond discovers the they are being brainwashed for some yet unknown purpose.  Bloefeld is played by Telly Savalas of all people, the second actor to take up the role.  Savalas is actually pretty good, but he would have been better as his own original villain, not Bloefeld, whose previous incarnations he neither looks nor sounds like (plus I can't help but think of Kojak every time I see him).  OHMSS is first film in the series to feature romance as Bond falls in love with Contessa Teresa di Vincenzo played by Diana Rigg, perhaps the first Bond girl to qualify as a real character.  Rigg and Lazenby have great chemistry and their relationship is one of the movie's highlights.  Another is the soundtrack.  John Barry composed the score which includes awesome new theme music.  If you can get over Lazenby and the garish 1969 fashions which replace the classic Mad Men-like early 60s styles, OHMSS will surprise you.

11.  You Only Live Twice
12.  The Living Daylights
13.  Quantum Of Solace
14.  Never Say Never Again
15.  Tomorrow Never Dies

Friday, December 13, 2013

Ranking the James Bond films #11

You Only Live Twice (1967)
This movie has a great opening in which a U.S. spacecraft is mysteriously attacked and disappears.  Meanwhile,  Bond is killed in Hong Kong.  Not really, of course.  Turns out, MI-6 has staged his death so he can investigate the attack without suspicion.  The rest of the movie takes place in Japan, which is gives it a distinctly Eastern feel.  You Only Live Twice plods along at times like it's predecessor, Thunderball, but lacks its memorable characters and performances.  Perhaps the strangest thing about YOLT is that the screenplay was written by Roald Dahl.  Yes, that Roald Dahl.  It's a solid script, but with elements such as the spacecraft-swallowing rocket and the volcano fortress, YOLT marks a shift to a more ambitious style of Bond movies, featuring the really over the top schemes, and large scale action sequences that would become a mainstay of the Roger Moore era.  The film's climax, filled with samurais and ninja with machine guns (and about every other Japanese stereotype), feels excessive and bordering on cheese. In YOLT, we finally get to see the face of the most well known Bond villian, Blofeld, leader of SPECTRE, who in previous films was known simply as "Number one," and was seen only from the neck down, stroking a cat.  I have to say, it was kind a disappointment.  Donald Pleasance doesn't come off as particularly threatening; nothing like what we would expect from the deep, sinister voice heard in From Russia With Love and Thunderball.  And after watching the Austin Powers films, it's hard not think of Dr. Evil whenever Pleasance is on screen.

12.  The Living Daylights
13.  Quantum Of Solace
14.  Never Say Never Again
15.  Tomorrow Never Dies

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Ranking the James Bond films: #12

The Living Daylights (1987)
A solid, if forgettable Bond film.  Timothy Dalton makes his debut as Bond here.  He was originally offered the role back in 1968 for On Her Majesty's Secret Service, but declined, believing himself to be too young for the part.  Eighteen years later, upon Roger Moore's retirement after A View to a Kill, the producers were set on Pierce Brosnan to replace Moore, but when Brosnan was unable to get out of his contract with NBC, Dalton was offered the role.  Dalton is an able Bond, darker, more vulnerable, than Connery and Moore, but lacks their charisma.  The plot revolves around Bond's pursuit of a double agent.  The opening sequence is pretty good, as is the scene where Bond helps a defecting KGB officer escape from the Russians.  But the villains are just campy and don't seem particularly capable or dangerous. And at 131 minutes, The Living Daylights is just too long. An editor could have shaved ten minutes off and the film would have been better for it.

13.  Quantum Of Solace
14.  Never Say Never Again
15.  Tomorrow Never Dies

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Best of Bond: Top 10 Theme Songs

Theme songs are part of the Bond movie blueprint.  After 23 movies (now 24), the series has featured music from multiple genres, including standards, rock and roll, pop and alternative.  I wonder if there's a formula for putting these songs together since, generally speaking, Bond themes have a kind of common sound to them.  Many of the movies actually integrate the melody of the theme song into musical score.  You may also notice there is little or no correlation between the quality of the song and the movie, but here are the best as I see it.

10.  Goldeneye by Tina Turner (1995)

Funky beat with coupled with Tina Turner's iconic vocals makes for a very cool Bond ballad.

9.  The Living Daylights by A-Ha (1987)

The first of three 80s songs on this list.  It's also proof that A-Ha was not entirely a one hit wonder (Take on Me).

8.  You Only Live Twice by Nancy Sinatra (1967)

I knew of Nancy Sinatra, but had no idea what songs she was famous for besides this one.  Turns out, she had several big hits including, These Boots Are Made For Walkin' and Bang Bang.

7.  Nobody Does It Better by Carly Simon (1977)

One of the few Bond themes that doesn't share the same title as the movie in which it's featured, The Spy Who Loved Me.

6.  For Your Eyes Only by Sheena Easton (1981)

The producers of the film originally wanted Blondie to perform the theme song, so the band wrote one, unaware that composer Bill Conti had already written it.  When Blondie discovered the producers wanted them to perform Conti's version they declined, and Easton got the job.  Blondie's version appeared on a later album and can be heard here. I think producers made the right choice.

5.  Live And Let Die by Paul McCartney & Wings (1973)

This song is pretty consistently considered the best of the Bond themes.  I think it's a great song, but a bit overrated.  There's kind of a cheesy bridge in the middle that, in my opinion, doesn't fit with the rest of the song.  I'm pretty sure this is the only song this group was known for, but could I be wrong.

4.  Goldfinger by Shirley Bassey (1964)

Like so many things that Goldfinger did to establish the franchise, it gave us the first distinctive Bond theme song.  It was a hit, and the highlight of Shirley Bassey's career. Her vocals, particularly that final note are pretty impressive.  Little known fact: Jimmy Page was the session guitarist for this song.

3.  A View To A Kill by Duran Duran (1985)

If God were to create the perfect 80s Bond theme, he couldn't do better than Duran Duran.  In fact, A View to A Kill has the distinction of being the only James Bond theme song to reach number one on Billboard's Top 100 chart.  And it's by far the best thing about this terrible movie.

2.  You Know My Name by Chris Cornell (2006)

Chris Cornell's killer vocals just energize this song.  Combined with cool visuals in the title sequence, and you have yet another reason why Casino Royale is among the series' best.

1.  Skyfall by Adele (2012)

Is there anyone in the world today better suited to sing a Bond theme?  Adele's rich and soulful voice blends perfectly with the tone of the movie, and gives it some real emotional weight.  Hard to imagine a better song for a James Bond movie. 

Worst Bond Theme Song?

Die Another Day by Madonna (2002)

There have also been some really terrible Bond theme songs.  One that immediately comes to mind is Another Way To Die by Jack White and Alicia Keyes from Quantum of Solace.  But Madonna was there to bail them out with her contribution to Guantanamo Bay's enhanced interrogation program.

Ranking the James Bond films: #13

Quantum of Solace (2008)
What is most remarkable about Quantum is its sober, and even dark tone. There is virtually nothing in the way of knowing smirks, sipping Martinis and pithy sexual innuendo with gorgeous women.  Picking up right where Casino Royale leaves off, Bond seeks revenge for the death of the woman he loved, Vesper Lynd. Along the way, he uncovers Quantum, a worldwide organization so secret even MI-6 and the CIA are clueless. Quantum is essentially the new SPECTRE from the Connery-Moore days. The film well directed and paced, full of excellent action sequences, including a great pre-title car chase, but the plot is somewhat convoluted, and the villain is weak.  The film's climax is hard to take seriously when it takes place in a hotel conveniently filled with explosive hydrogen fuel cells, turning the entire place into an inferno, and backdrop for Bond's final fight.  Daniel Craig's 007 is cold and brutal, and while his performance is compelling, the film is utterly joyless and feels too much like a Bourne movie.  And that's the problem, Bond is supposed to be fun at some level and there is nothing fun about Quantum of Solace.

14.  Never Say Never Again
15.  Tomorrow Never Dies

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Godzilla trailer

There was a really cool teaser that leaked online a few months back, but it didn't show a lot.  This another great trailer.  It shows you just enough to get excited and to build anticipation like a well done trailer should.  Will it be enough to make amends for the 1998 version?

Ranking the James Bond films: #14

Never Say Never Again (1983)
Because of a legal dispute with Ian Fleming, Thunderball producer Kevin McClory retained the rights to make another version of the film after ten years.  Production began in the late 70s, but never got off the ground until Sean Connery, agreed to reprise the role 12 years after his last Bond outing, Diamonds Are Forever in 1971.  One has to wonder why Connery would choose to make this film, released in 1983 to compete with Eon's Octopussy.  In a sense, he stabbed his former producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman in the back, after they made him a star, not to mention undercutting Roger Moore.  Never Say Never Again is basically a remake of Thunderball.  As the only Bond film not produced by Eon Productions and is considered by many not to be part of the official Bond canon.  Another interesting fact is that NSNA was directed by Irving Kershner, director of The Empire Strikes Back and Robocop 2.  Despite having the same plot, the film bears little resemblance to Thunderball, thanks to Connery's age and the thoroughly 80s feel to it.  Connery, now 52, is good as always and the film, rather than ignoring his age, chooses to have fun with it.  Never Again also features some good supporting performances by Klaus Maria Brandauer as the villain Maximilian Largo, Barbara Carrera as his henchwoman, Fatima Bush,  Kim Basinger as Domino, and even Rowan Atkinson as a bumbling MI-6 operative.  The film is entertaining, although there's nothing original or exceptional about it.

15.  Tomorrow Never Dies

Monday, December 09, 2013

Ranking the James Bond films: #15

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
After creating a new kind of Bond film with Goldeneye, the producers of the Bond franchise inexplicably decided to go back to the Roger Moore era formula of implausible stunts and cheesy dialog.  This movie is Bond by the numbers with a really terrible script.  The cast, which includes Teri Hatcher and Michelle Yeoh is solid, but the characters are two dimensional.  Elliot Carver, is a powerful worldwide media mogul as the villain is an intriguing concept, but one that is never fully realized. Carver is far too over the top, and never really convincing, especially since he has repeated opportunities to kill Bond, but doesn't.  A great looking film, Tomorrow Never Dies turns out to be a big disappointment, particularly after the promise of Goldeneye.  It's too bad because Brosnan makes a great Bond, but he's given very little to work with.

16.  The Man With The Golden Gun
17.  Octopussy
18.  Moonraker
19.  Diamonds Are Forever
20.  License To Kill
21.  Live And Let Die
22.  A View To A Kill
23.  The World Is Not Enough
24.  Die Another Day