Tag Archives: James Bond

No Time to Die First Take

We went to see No Time to Die this past Monday afternoon, which ought not to surprise anybody who read last week’s post about watching all the previous Daniel Craig Bond films.

This post contains spoilers.

I am going to put the title card in, then write a few more general paragraphs about the movie, then I will put a cut in and discuss spoilers below that.  Spoilers will not appear on the front page of the blog, but if you read this via RSS or came directly to the post then you are in danger of tainting yourself with them.

Again, spoiler warning.  You carry on from here at your own risk.

So, as noted, we saw the film on Monday at an afternoon matinee in a sizable theater with maybe a total of ten people on hand.  There is a reason we chose that time slot.  It was the first time we have been back to the theater since either Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker or Knives Out, both of which we saw during the holidays in 2019.

It has been a while.

And I will say that movie theater popcorn is every bit as good as I remember it.  It beats the crap out of home popped or microwave popcorn.  Really, they don’t even compare.  It was so good that I am sure it must somehow be destroying the environment or involve some sort of exploitation of labor.  Amazon probably runs the factory and the delivers services using entirely gig labor compensated as piece work with impossible to meet quotas.  But I savored it all the same.

James Bond, however, was a bit of a let down.

No Time to Die picks up where Spectre left off with James and Madeleine in Italy, together after having thwarted Blofeld.  They are in love and going to spend the rest of their lives together.  James says that they have “all the time in the world,” which I couldn’t help recalling is pretty much what George Lazenby said to Diana Rigg at the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service right before Diana Rigg dies.

Foreshadow much Bond?

Maybe, or maybe not.  We’re not to the spoilers quite yet.  Anyway, it turns out SPECTRE the organization (as opposed to the movie) is still kind of pissed off and they come to get Bond and there is a car chase and guns and a guy loses his prosthetic eye and when they get clear there is the question of who sold out whom and the relationship is off.

Then we get the opening credits, which were a bland montage backed by a bland theme song.  Completely forgettable.  If you’re a Billie Eilish fan, I’m sorry, but it just wasn’t enough to carry the opening.

After the credits it is five years later, a sinister plot is afoot and Bond, who has been in retirement in Ian Flemming’s old digs in Jamaica, gets pulled into things despite the fact that he’s off the list and there is already another agent sitting at the desk labeled “007.”

Anyway, he goes in, there is action, betrayal, a major double cross, more action, lots of gun play, an escape, another double cross, then a big reveal about how all of this a black project that is now in the hands of the bads.  More Bond digging, plot discovered, bad guys one step ahead, big chase scene, Bond gets away.  Then finally the big set piece infiltration op, facing the bad guy, then the grand finale, roll credits, the Daniel Craig era is over.

And it was okay.  Mostly on formula.  It looked good on the big screen.  There are, as always, boxes that need to be checked.  Action was done in the Bond fashion.  But, as with Spectre, the whole didn’t really come together into something greater than the box-ticking parts.

Having seen all five in the space of a week, my wife and I hashed out our ranking of the Daniel Craig Bond films as:

  1. Skyfall
  2. Casino Royale
  3. Spectre
  4. No Time to Die
  5. Quantum of Solace

I might give QoS the benefit of the doubt and put it ahead of No Time to Die, maybe… as at least it wasn’t two hours and forty five minutes getting somewhere.  If you’re going to be mediocre, at least be brief about it.  But my wife insisted it be at the bottom, so I’ll leave it there.

The odd thing about that list is that the best film, at least in our ranking, is the one that doesn’t get all bogged down in the shadowy world of mysterious global criminal organizations that control most everything behind the scenes… though the SPECTRE organization roster seems a bit thin in No Time to Die for an organization that claims to have people everywhere.

Anyway, we are at the spoilers section.  You have been warned.

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Warm Up for No Time to Die

As I may have mentioned here a few times, my wife and I are fans of the James Bond movie series and, with the final Daniel Craig film in the series, No Time to Die, coming out this weekend we felt it might be time for a warm up back into the series.  It has, after all, been five freaking years since we’ve had a proper Bond film in the theaters.  Not the longest gap in the series, which was between Dalton and Brosnan, but still a long time.

Having seen the cast interviewed on Graham Norton where it was mentioned that the new film carries on straight from Spectre, we thought we had best watch that again.  Then my wife suggested before I could even utter the words myself, that we should watch all the Daniel Craig Bond films.  So that was what we did, and here is the summary from our viewing.

Of course, this was easier said than done.  Much to my disappointment, none of the streaming channels to which we currently subscribe… which total more than half a dozen at the moment due to following various series, including HBO, Showtime, and Starz… had the films available.

So it was time to get out the disks and crank up the PlayStation 3, which is still out source for watching DVDs and Blu-Ray.  Fortunately we have all the Bond film on disk.  I had to put new batteries in the remote and go through yet another patch update for the PS3 and then figure out again how exactly it was hooked up to our sound bar, but once settled things went well enough.  We have the first film, Casino Royale, on DVD only.  That was fine and it looked good on our TV.  For Quantum of Solace we bough the DVD+Blu-Ray combo, because we didn’t have the PS3 yet.  The other two are on Blu-Ray only.

It had been long enough since we watched a store bought Blu-Ray film that I had forgotten how the studios liked to cram trailers for other films to run before you get to the main menu.  You can skip through them, but I tend to watch them for as long as it takes me to guess the film and get it confirmed.  It was a reminder of past times.

  • Casino Royale – 2006

Not my favorite Bond film, but I have softened on it since I put it on my “least favorite” list back in 2012.  I’ll trade it out for Die Another Day.  I think I’ve seen Casino Royale three times since then, including the past week’s viewing, and it has grown on me a bit.  I still have my gripes.  I am not saying they should have dumped Judi Dench, but when they made a big deal about cleaning house for a fresh Bond look and then kept the same “M” as the Brosnan series still strikes me as odd.

It also has to bear the weight of being an actual Bond story, one that has been done twice, once on TV and once in parody form.  It breaks the Bond mold in that it starts off with him not yet being a double-0 agent, so we have to establish that first, then we break into the intro credits before getting onto the traditional set piece action sequence which, true to the series, isn’t all that relevant but is a lot of fun.  Best parkour ever.  But we keep having to establish the Bond tropes because it is a reboot of the franchise.

But the real failing point of this outing for me is that the stakes really aren’t that high; win a card game.  What happened to plots to destroy the world?  Yes, there is a lot around that card game, but it still comes down to cards… and not even baccarat which, while unfathomable to me, still has all the classic dealer lines.  Instead it was Texas Holdem, which was a fad at the moment.  But Bond films are always of their time.

The opening credits are an excellent animation and the theme song is perhaps the most on-point since Goldfinger; a line like “But you yourself are nothing so divine, just next in line” calls to the reboot very nicely.  It might be one of the more underrated songs from the series… and it made an excellent WoW parody.

Overall decent, though it gets out of hand for the last 30 minutes or so, most of which could/should have just been appended to the opening of the next film.  Also, Daniel Craig looks so lean and crisp in the face.  I guess we were all a lot younger in 2006.

  • Quantum of Solace – 2008

My trajectory with QoS has been rather a flip when compared to CR.  I liked QoS a lot when it came out, but less so with each viewing.  It feels a bit like an appendage to the first film, carrying on immediately from the final scene, lurching forward with promise, then losing its way.

It doesn’t start out bad.  It opens with a car chase, a quick interlude, then a foot chase, then a quick trip, followed by even more action including a boat chase.  Very Bond.  And it carries on hitting all the usual Bond points with more action and a woman with whom he slept being murdered.

But the opening is about a shadowy organization that has infiltrated everywhere and is potentially a world menace, and ends up with Bond solving a water utility problem in Bolivia.  You might not notice the sudden reduction in scope on the first pass, but after a few viewings I’m left with sort of a “Hey, what the hell?” kind of reaction, and it is something that doesn’t even get revisited until Spectre.  We start with one goal, straight off the end of CR and end up in the Bolivian desert with no real answers.  Cool plane chase though.

Certainly not the worst Bond film, but doesn’t really stand out either.  Even the theme song, which was again on point, fails to stick.

  • Skyfall – 2012

After all of that secret society stuff that ended up nowhere, the franchise headed off in a more traditional “crazy bad guy with a Rube Goldberg level scheme that is timed down the second” event that would fall apart the second you applied any thought to it.  But it looks so good and runs along at such a brisk pace, giving you little time for reflection, that it works in almost a “a whole that is greater that the sum of its parts” sort of way.

Skyfall does not have the best stunts, the best chases, the best action, the best shootouts, the best locations, the best gadgets, the best villains, or even the best theme song of the series.  The story isn’t even that compelling.  But everything is good, or at least good enough, the villains especially after the tedious Le Chiffre and dull Mister Greene of the previous two outings.

This is my favorite in the Daniel Craig batch so far.  It also nicely brings in some of Bond’s past and does the leadership transition at MI6.  Sam Mendes did a good job.  A solid outing.

We even got Adelle for the opening theme, which is a bit nonsensical in the vein of the Thunderball theme, but at least sounds nice.  I don’t remember any of the lyrics, just that it is easy on the ears and goes with well with the credits.

  • Spectre – 2015

After writing past Bond stuff I meant to write a review of Spectre when it came out, but I wasn’t moved to do it because it felt kind of empty.

Part of it was, of course, the fact that Skyfall came together as such a solid outing.  Having Sam Mendes come back to direct after that seemed like a promise of more quality work.

And the film seemed to have so much going for it out of the box.  The title is literally the secret organization we have wanted to know about as recently as half way through Quantum of Solace, Andrew Scott shows up as a menacing “C,” Christoph freaking Waltz as the main bad guy, there are locations to die for, and it kicks off with arguably the best opening action scene of any Bond film ever.  This was going to be great.

Okay, the opening theme was completely forgettable… I’ve seen Spectre three times now, including just minutes before I started writing the section and I can’t remember anything about it… but you can’t have everything.  It just has to live in the shadow of the Mexico City opening.

And it is ambitious.  It tries to tie together the previous three films… ret-conning Skyfall and its main villain into the mix… as all part of the grand plot of an international cabal that drives everything behind the scenes.  Bond goes from Mexico to London to Rome to the Alps to Algeria, and is fairly exciting the whole way.  And then we end up at their HQ in the desert and things start to come unglued as we find out what is going on.

There is the big reveal, the raison d’etre for Spectre…  and I won’t spoil it, but it was akin to  when I found out that Lex Luthor is evil because young Superman caused a lab accident that made all his hair fall out and, rather than using his considerable intellect to work on a baldness cure, Lex spends all his time trying to kill Superman with kryptonite.  It was a serious “Are you shitting me?” moment.  I mean, sure, they’re still a sinister and powerful international crime syndicate, but their leader is hung up on something that happened ages ago and all his wealth and power somehow hasn’t assuaged it.

It was hard for me to take the movie seriously after that.  It felt like a lot of build-up expended pointlessly.  There is still the whole final climax yet to play out at that point, but you know Bond is going to win, it is just a matter of filling in the details.  Yadda, yadda, yadda.

  • No Time to Die – 2021

So we’ve had the build up, seen Daniel Craig age as we all have over the last fifteen years, now it is time to see the final act in his Bond arc.  The movie apparently picks up right where Spectre left off, which is a bit of a theme for these five movies.  I’ll probably write something up for next weekend about how it played for us.

Farewell Commander Bond

I woke up this morning to the news that Sean Connery had passed away.

Sean Connery had a long career in film. He was well paid and played many roles over the years.  But for all of his other work, both excellent and regrettable, he will forever be associated with James Bond.

About to say his famous intro, ‘Bond, James Bond’ for the first time in Dr. No

In the 60s he helped cement the James Bond franchise.  By the third film, Goldfinger, the style and required tropes, from the opening, to the required plot points, to the nature of the villains, of any James Bond film were set in stone.  And with that he became the benchmark against which any future actor taking on the role would be measured.

He played Bond five times in the 60s in Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice, and Thunderball.  He came back again in 1971 in Diamonds are Forever after replacement George Lazenby declined to play the role again, lest he be typecast, and once Cubby Broccoli threw enough money at him.

And then he returned once more to the role in Never Say Never Again, a remake of Thunderball, and outside of whatever continuity the EON produced Bond films have.  So that is seven total appearances as the character, for which, by the end, he was paid more than most actors will ever see in their lifetime.

But the appeal of Sean Connery was him being Sean Connery.  The role might have been James Bond, but he made it his.

There are actors who get lost in roles, who become different people with different scripts.  Actors like Daniel Day Lewis or Meryl Streep.  They can morph into what the script needs them to be.

With Sean Connery you got what you got, a tall handsome Scotsman with an oft imitated accent and a brash, confident demeanor.  The character was molded to fit him.  A Soviet submarine commander, Indiana Jones’ father, a Kipling hero, a Irish Chicago cop, a Franciscan friar, or a post-apocalyptic “brutal,” all of those roles ended up on him like so many tailored suits.  They clothed him, sometimes quite well, but did not change what you were getting.

While he had been retired from acting for almost two decades, he still casts a long shadow, especially for anybody taking on the role of James Bond.  He leaves behind a legacy on the big screen that will endure.

The Problem with Bond Villains…

A friend of mine was complaining about the latest James Bond movie, Skyfall.

He did not like the movie because the Bond and the MI-6 team did several things that he felt were… well… dumb.  Dumb to the point that they ruined the movie for him.  And, I had to admit that some of the items he listed had merit.

However, I still had to laugh as he didn’t seem to have any problem with the villain’s plan until I pointed out that the bad guy could have accomplished his goal, wrapped things up nicely, and gone off to live happily ever after in the first 30 minutes of the movie had he not been bat-shit insane.

And that is a major aspect aspect Bond Villains.  To get in the cross hairs of 007, you practically have to be certifiable.

I wrote a piece back in December, Travels with Commander Bond, which included some lists of some of my favorite aspects of the film series.  However, I felt one list was clearly missing, the list of my favorite Bond villains.

The problem was that, while the other lists sprang to mind pretty much fully formed, when I think of Bond villains, things get a bit confused.

Certainly some quips come to mind.  “I don’t expect you to talk Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!” is a favorite.

I speak English well! I learned it from a book!

I speak English well! I learned it from a book!

But then I start thinking about henchmen.  Rosa Klebb, Odd Job, Jaws, Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd… but they are just the hired help.  They aren’t running the show.  Then there are the various incarnations of Ernst Stavro Blofeld.  Does he count as one Bond villain, or is he a different villain in each movie?

Then there are the plots.

And here is where thinking too hard about Bond movies starts to fail you, because the schemes, when examined, can underwhelm.  Wikipedia has a nice list of Bond villains from the movies, what their plan was, and the result.  Simplifying the plans down to desired results, out of 23 films, I count the following motives:

Money – 14

Surprisingly, to me at least, this seems to be the most popular motive.  I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise.  Twice it is in the name of drug cartels.  But a lot of the time… especially in the SPECTRE years… it seems to be an already fabulously wealthy organization spending a lot of time and money on a result that, even if successful, would have paid off less than just investing in US Government securities.  Max Zorin, for example, wants to destroy Silicon Valley in order to increase his company’s market share.  That is his business plan!  I suppose you have to go to some lengths to look evil relative to Bill Gates… though this pre-dated most Microsoft shenanigans… but still, couldn’t he have just lured away a few key execs?  He already had immense wealth.

Start a War – 3

Actually, starting a war comes up four times, but I am not counting Elliot Carver because he was trying to start a war merely to expand his media empire… so, really… money. And I am not sure I should count SPECTRE’s attempt in You Only Live Twice, since they are doing it for a third party.  But since they spent enough money to create a secret space program more advanced than either the US or USSR (whom they want fighting) and hid it in a dormant volcano, I have to imagine that the return on investment will be pretty poor.  And, of course, in none of these movies does the whole war scenario really seem like a good idea.

Revenge – 2

This is at least a raw, emotional motivator.  It just doesn’t come up very often.  SPECTRE wants revenge for the death of Dr. Julius No (After all, the R in SPECTRE stands for Revenge! It is part of their mission statement in a way that smart financial planning is not.) and Raoul Silva wants revenge because he simply isn’t as tough as James Bond.  Alex Trevelyan claims he wants revenge, but his revenge involves stealing a lot of money and covering his tracks, so I put him in the money column.

Utopia – 2

Kill all of humanity except for a chosen few, who will repopulate the world.  In one the chosen were going to hide under the sea, and in one they were going to hide in space.  This plot came up twice in the 1970s, back when we thought we were destroying the Earth (global cooling) and running out of resources.  I am glad we’re past that now.

Just Doing My Job – 1

In For Your Eyes Only, Aristotle Kristatos steals the ATAC device for the Soviet Union… because that is who he works for.  And when the plan fails, his boss doesn’t even seem that upset.  Maybe the most realistic plot ending ever in the world of James Bond.

Random Asshattery – 1

I am not sure it is ever fully explained WHY Dr. Julius No was messing with the US space program in Dr. No.  I guess SPECTRE was funding it, though it could have just been a hobby.  Or it might have been version 1.0 of SPECTRE space program.  It could have been meant to start a war eventually, or used for extortion.  But in the movie Dr. No just seems to enjoy pissing off NASA.

So the prime motivator for a Bond villain appears to be money, followed by, but not exclusive from, insanity.  After all, in Live and Let Die, Dr. Kanaga’s drug cartel plans were built around readings from a tarot deck.  Then there is how all these guys plan to kill Bond after they inevitably capture him during the course of the film.  Like that SNL skit said, when you capture Bond, don’t screw around, just shoot him and be done with it.

And don’t even get me started on the poor rank and file of these villains.  How do they recruit them?  And what entices people to work for these guys?  I have to think the death benefits for your family must be excellent, since these villains kill their own rank and file on a regular basis.  Their HR staff must be going crazy.

So, in the end, it is very hard for me to pick a favorite James Bond villain because they are all so bad at what they do.

It is almost like they are put up there simply to make James Bond look good…

Oh…

Yeah…

Well, without them, we wouldn’t have had the Austin Powers series.

Roll on Dr. Evil.  Your plots are not half as mad as they could be.

Travels with Commander Bond

50 years worth of travels in about three weeks time.

As a household, my wife and I are James Bond fans.

I would not say we are excessively so however.  We do not own any sort of memorabilia.  Any affinity towards martinis tends to center around the cosmopolitan. And while I do own a tuxedo, any resemblance between myself and Bond is a matter of coincidence and poor eyesight.

And we don't smoke...

And I don’t smoke…

But we do like the movies.  So we ran out to see Skyfall on the opening weekend, daughter in tow.  The reviews had been quite favorable.

However, a couple of reviews said that Skyfall was the “best Bond ever,” an opinion which put that skeptical look on my face. The movie was certainly, to my mind, the best of the Daniel Craig outings.  But the BEST Bond ever?  That was something that needed some thought.  And some research.

So we decided to watch  all the Bond films.  In order.  Again.

We’ve done it before.

We may not have memorabilia, but we do have all the movies on DVD.  MGM put out a three-part boxed set around 2000 that included all of the Bond movies up to that point, a run that encompassed Dr. No to Tomorrow Never Dies and five of the six Bond actors from the official, EON-produced films. (Never Say Never Again and the 1967 Casino Royale do not enter into this discussion.)  We have purchased all of the subsequent films on DVD or Blu-Ray since then.

And so we set out on a three week journey with a plan to watch one of the movies every night.  In addition, we also watched supplemental material included with each of the movies.  One of the nice things about the set is that MGM produced a “making of” documentary for each of the movies up through License to Kill that covers the trials of making the movie, the stunts, and some of the politics and justifications around what went on.

These documentaries run anywhere from 25 to 45 minutes each, and since rare is the Bond movie that runs under two hours, we were committing ourselves to quite a nightly camp on the couch.

But we made it.

What follows after the cut are some observations and lists based on the experience.  If James Bond isn’t your thing, you can safely go elsewhere.

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