James Bond

Here’s to “Love”: On “From Russia with Love” and Bond’s Sophomore Bump

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At twice the cost of its predecessor Dr. No, the nearly $2 million budgeted From Russia with Love was the fuse that existed between Dr. No’s match and Goldfinger’s stick of dynamite, the explosion setting waves through cultural history for decads to come. The 1963 sophomore effort from producers Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman has an interesting place in Bond history: it’s one of the very few Bond films that is at once not married to the formula that Goldfinger  solidified and but features several of those prototypical elements without diluting it as a kind of standalone film. Read the rest of this entry »

Die Another Day: “Skyfall” and the Nolanization of James Bond

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skyfall-movie-screencaps.com-26My contempt for the Bond formula has been extensively chronicled, especially my blame against Goldfinger for starting it all. It was thrilling, therefore, to see Casino Royale go in another direction, a very “back to basics” version of the franchise that was reminiscent of even earlier entries in the series, Dr. No and From Russia with Love. In those films, action, plot, and character were balanced precariously, yet perfectly. And in Casino Royale, that balance was brought back; Bond was suave without being a superhero, the political context was intact without being a punchline, and the stakes were high enough without a muddled plot.

Skyfall went somewhere else. It is unlike any other Bond film in the rest of the franchise. It literally is something else. And James Bond is someone else. At its core, it resembles 1995’s GoldenEye and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, but I’d hesitate to call such a comparison disingenuous because the former is one of the best Bond films, and certainly Pierce Brosnan’s best entry, and The Dark Knight is one of the strongest superhero films in recent memory. It’s that tone of morbidity of the latter, and its re-envisioning of its character, which seems to inform how many perceived what some might call The Nolanization of James Bond. Read the rest of this entry »

Girl on Fire: Goldinger’s Best Shot

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I was asked quite graciously by Nathaniel R. over at The Film Experience to contribute to his series Hit Me with Your Best Shot. And here is my rambly, weird contribution. 

Bond likes to have his way with women, and often, much to contemporary viewers’ dismay, at any cost. So, with a feminist slant, it’s interesting to take note how very odd Goldfinger is in Bond’s oeuvre in that it’snot od or even atypical at all. Bond’s rather misogynistic attitude is present in the books and such an attitude more than seeps into the films. In the pre-credits sequence, Bond uses the woman he is romancing as a shield from an attacker.  But, more heinously, Bond forces himself upon Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman), when he is well aware of her sexual orientation.

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That Goldfinger is hardly an anomaly in terms of Bond’s attitudes towards women, particularly his violent ones, feels kind of gross. (Remember Roger Moore slapping Maude Adams in The Man with the Golden Gun?) But perhaps the fact that, thinking retrospectively about the films at least, they do seem so dated in their gender politics (I guess not necessarily their fault given the time period they were made in) is why I find the image of an explosion projected onto the back of a golden girl in the main titles sequence so resonant. The image, created by Robert Brownjohn (who did the titles for this and From Russia with Love while Maurice Binder was on leave), is nearly prophetic and totally inadvertently so. Yet its unintentional subtext about the women of the Bond franchise makes it seem more powerful. It’s emblematic of pain.

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Personal interpretation, yes. It does not let Goldfinger off the hook at all, but it’s an image that’s striking nonetheless, carefully saturated and gilded, with model Margaret Nolan in a position of vulnerability, revealing her back to the audience, as Shirley Bassey’s harrowing vocals give the impression of a house up in flames. Natalya in GoldenEye remarks, “How can you be so cold?” While Bond remains frigid towards the women he beds (and occasionally loves), the women are on fire.

Runner Up: Odd Job


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I am also quite fond of Odd Job. Just in general. I always enjoyed his hat trick, and, rewatching the film recently, his giant, menacing silhouette is still worthy of a shiver. John Barry has a penchant for slightly melodramatic scoring (I honestly never saw the need to introduce Bond with Monty Norman’s theme every. single. time.), but the ringing of the bells is kind of reminiscent of a horror movie. It’s foreboding. It’s iconic. Just like Bond.


Can You Hear What I Hear?

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Hey folks, I’m really excited to tell you that I have a new writing gig! I’ll be a columnist over at the awesome Movie Mezzanine. This is totally awesome because that’s a super great site and some of my favorite writers are on their team. Yeah, so thanks so much. The column I’ll be writing is called Songs in the Key of Cinema, which will take a look at how music is used in film. Thanks everyone for their support over the years! And thanks so much to Sam Fragoso for allowing me to join his team of great writers!

Check out my first entry here, on James Bond, masculinity, and the Animals’ “Boom Boom” in Skyfall.

With that butter slathered hair, the cream colored jacket and ambrosial dress shirt, and flamboyant nature in general, Javier Bardem’s Silva seems, at first, entirely antithetical to Daniel Craig’s James Bond. But their similarities is what makes the relationship dynamic intriguing. Silva knows how Bond operates and knows exactly how to get under his skin: by challenging Bond’s ideal of masculinity. This sly, subversive action can be summed up easily by the use of one song: The Animals’ cover of “Boom Boom”. Late in the twenty-third James Bond film, Sam Mendes’s Skyfall, Silva brings a massive helicopter and blasts the song towards Bond’s home, taunting him, practically begging for Bond to walk out so Silva can continue to play mind games with Bond. And with the use of that song, one can delve into the twisted dynamic between James Bond and one of the most memorable villains in the franchise.

Also check out my review for the “based on a true story” psychodrama U Want Me 2 Kill Him?

Directing Bond: Will Bond Change with Better Directors?

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Besides being absolutely fantastic and looking absolutely superb, there’s something a little different about the latest James Bond mission, Skyfall. Whether the presence of said difference is immediately noticeable or subtle and subversive is up to the audience, but one thing is clear: Skyfall is better because of its director. Yeah, screenwriter, cinematographer, Craig, Dench, etc. But the twenty-third entry into the longstanding 50 year old franchise has a particular man helming the picture: Sam Mendes.

Mendes won an Academy Award for Best Director for his work on the “is the grass really greener?” satire American Beauty, and has made his interesting mark on film with such works as Road to Perdition and Revolutionary Road, and his stage production revival of Cabaret. With each film, Mendes has added his own elements, evolving his style, etc. While I don’t necessarily want to jump into the “is he an auteur?” argument, I do want to make this point: his reputability as a director is a rare thing for the Bond franchise, and his expertise as such obviously shows in the work.

As mentioned in my review for Skyfall, the last time a director of that kind of caliber was hired for a Bond film was for The World is Not Enough. Michael Apted, director of the Up documentary series, didn’t quite make the impression other directors have made. One could argue that Martin Campbell is a good director, but his films, such as Edge of Darkness and Defenseless, are significantly smaller and hardly well received. (Yes, he also did Green Lantern and the Zorro films.) But his two entries into the Bond franchise, GoldenEye and Casino Royale, are two of the best in the entire history of James Bond.

There is Marc Forster, whose film Stranger Than Fiction ranks amongst my very favorites (though, that is partly due to the screenwriter, Zach Helm), and Finding Neverland, which is very imaginative, but his entry into the Bond series, Quantum of Solace, is one of the most disappointing and forgettable films ever. Just ever. I like to pretend it never happened. Poorly directed, incoherently edited, and with a rambling script (that remained unfinished due to the 2008 Writer’s Strike), Quantum of Solace is also the only Bond film to be a direct sequel. Which is, well, not a good thing. In an attempt to follow the adrenaline packed Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace is a half-assed rehash of all the things that made its predecessor great. So, there’s him.

So, besides Mendes, Forster, and Apted, Bond’s history of directors hasn’t been terribly start studded. More than half of the Bond films were directed by one of three people: Terrence Young (3), Guy Hamilton (4), or John Glen (5). Then there were some sporadic choices, but no one with the name that Mendes has, and pretty much no one with that much prestige.

But now that Bond has been directed by an Oscar winner, and a guy who was once married to Kate Winslet, what does that mean for the future of Bond and his missions? I’m not going to spend time speculating who might direct the next Bond films, but one has to wonder what kind of people will direct the Bond films.

Mendes definitely added an element, and with him he brought a team of incredible people. Roger Deakins for cinematography, John Logan for screenwriting, and Thomas Newman for the score. So, with a stunning arsenal of a crew, does that mean that the people behind Bond’s future missions could be just as prestigious as the director?

Mendes’ films, from American Beauty to Revolutionary Road, are marked by their seamless balance between darkness and style. The best of Skyfall feels at times like the best of a spy thriller worthy of Alfred Hitchcock. World weary though Bond may be, he’s still the best character the spy genre. So, thus Mendes’ dark, almost cynical look at Bond fits the film perfectly, blending it effortlessly with Roger Deakins’ gorgeous cinematography.

So, if other people take the helm of a Bond film, does that mean the Bond films will steadily get darker, more vulnerable, and look damn good? Will the next director continue to take Bond in a direction where a new canon is being created? Does this mean that the Bond films will look better, be directed better, — maybe just be better films? What do you think? What’s next for the quality of the Bond films?