Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Spy Who Loved Me


  After the previous 007 vehicle, which needless to say was quite inert... it seems that the powers that be took notice and decided to do it right this time. Despite having a few minor nitpicks, The Spy Who Loved Me was a fantastic and marked improvement. A real step up for the franchise. Of course, it's still a Roger Moore Bond film, which means that it will have it's tongue planted firmly in it's cheek, but provided you know that going in... you're in for a treat. The movie clicks along at a great pace, taking us all over the world to stunning locations and involving Bond in a deadly adventure. One that will take him from Egypt to "Atlantis". Not the underwater city of myth, but rather a man made marvel. Owned by marine biologist and megalomaniac villain, Karl Stromberg, the Atlantis is a massive structure that can surface and submerge under the ocean at the touch of a button from his control panel. Clearly this villain means business.

  He can pretty much do it all from his little control panels while watching on his tiny closed circuit television screens. Granted, it's somewhat of a staple for Bond villains... but somehow, it just works here. Curd Jurgens as Stromberg may not be memorable in the long run, but that doesn't mean he's not serviceable. His menacing scowl and his cold, calculated speeches make him instantly recognizable as a maniac to be reckoned with. He's also not interested in anything so trite as money. He has bigger plans. He plans to change the course of the history. He's quite the foe for Bond, even if he sortof seems like a Blofeld-lite. No matter- Stromberg's henchman, Jaws, more than makes up for this and with gusto. Actor Richard Kiel plays Jaws not just as a huge scary guy with metal teeth, there's a quiet glee behind those chompers. Jaws seems to enjoy his work, flashing a menacing smile far more often than his trademark scowl.

  He's a frightening adversary as he seems to be impervious to just about everything. Bond puts him through the ringer, subjecting him to a hundred would-be demises, including some that have worked on many of other unfortunate baddies. Jaws is rarely phased, simply dusting himself off and continuing the pursuit. The movie doesn't have much downtime with a villain like Jaws on the heels of our protagonists. Speaking of protagonists, the Bond girl this time around is far from forgettable.  Barbara Bach plays Anya Amasova, a.k.a. Agent triple-X. A Russian spy who has to work with our man Bond as a result of a temporary truce between the British government and the Russian. Yet despite this, they still seem to have a competitive spirit around each other. Which is quite fun to watch. Moore and Bach have real chemistry. It helps that Anya is developed beyond your standard pretty face. Not only is she beyond capable in every way that Bond is, including sex appeal and sharp wit, she has something of a complicated history with Bond.

  As it turns out, in Bond's flashy opening gambit, a high-speed ski chase he kills several of his gun-toting pursuers... one of which was Anya's lover. Bond has to confront this fact at one point during the movie. Moore handles the scene incredibly well, calling upon acting talent that he had not had to use in the movies thus far. It's a brief scene in an otherwise flighty and fancy free movie, but it's a powerful scene with palpable emotions running high. It's a glimpse into what a less tongue-in-cheek era of Bond films might have been like with Roger Moore. 007 might not have descended into self-parody over time, and we might have gotten more moments like this. It's hard not to think about, yet fortunately it's also hard not to have a blast with this movie just the way it is.

  Bond himself has some iconic and gutsy moments in this one. A gritty rooftop brawl with another of Stromberg's henchmen in Egypt, a stunning underwater battle featuring the classic Lotus Espirit submarine-car, and a gigantic climax in vein of You Only Live Twice and Thunderball (which is never a bad thing in my book), yet managing to be somehow even bigger. The Spy Who Loved Me is full of absolutely fantastic set pieces like this, and in trademark James Bond fashion, they all take place on remarkable sets. The sheer size of the set for the climax is just jaw dropping. As I'm recalling the climax, I realize I've neglected almost entirely to mention the plot. Which I won't dive into. It feels like a stock plot, but perfect for a Bond movie. It's simply a vehicle to get Bond and Anya onto a globe trotting adventure, taking them through stunning scenery and explosive action scenes. Simply put, once you get past or at least accept it's shortcomings, the movie is a blast.

  Despite all it's improvements though, it still has a sense of humor that sticks out like a sore thumb.  Even if it's only a trace element. Some gags are slight and off the cuff, those are great. Some are a little more in your face, significantly less subtle, and thus rather annoying. Nothing to the extent of the obnoxious sheriff J.W. Pepper from the previous two movies, but still. There are moments that seem to descend into self-parody. It's rather lamentable given that as a character and as a franchise, 007 could be so much more intense and engaging if they curtailed the shenanigans every once in a while. However, this is what the Roger Moore era is known for. Some people absolutely love that about these movies. Specifically, a friend of mine remarked that 007 movies are supposed to be silly and mindless. I couldn't disagree more, but to those who enjoy them that way, there's plenty to dig into.

   For me? I'll stick to the ones with a more serious edge. Nevertheless, if it wasn't for the hokey final scene and the obnoxiously dated and bouncy score by Marvin Hamlisch (which I seem to be alone in disliking), The Spy Who Loved Me might even be one of my top 5 favorite 007 films. As it is, I wouldn't hesitate for a moment to rank it in my top ten. There's no denying though that this one is a sleek, sexy, gadget-filled, well-acted spy romp that fans of the franchise shouldn't miss. Even casual fans, occasional viewers, and newcomers should be directed towards this entry as essential viewing. You really can't go wrong with The Spy Who Loved Me. Undoubtedly, in Moore's seven movie stint as the titular double-o agent... it's one of his best.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Man With the Golden Gun


  Out of this entire marathon so far, this might be the one movie in which my opinion of it, has changed drastically. The ninth James Bond outing has the titular double-o agent trying to find an infamous assassin named Scaramanga, who apparently is out to kill Bond. This would've been a great story, if they had stuck to that premise at all. It quickly descends into an 'energy crisis' plot, which ALSO would've been fine, if Bond had actually really... done... anything worth anything. He doesn't. As far as I can tell, everything he does is moot until the last 20 minutes. Which is different than a movie with actual struggle. In any story you inevitably have a "back to square one" scene in which the protagonist's efforts are reset in order to add another wave of drama and tension to the story. In The Man With The Golden Gun, I'm hardly convinced Bond ever left square one.

  Don't get me wrong, there are some great scenes. Particularly one where Bond goes to a gunsmith to find information on Scaramanga. Bond resorts to threatening the man with his own gun, one made for a man with only three fingers. A fantastic Bond moment, followed up by a scene in which he nearly breaks a woman's arm, twisting it for more information. It's dark, physical, and a little violent. It was nice to see this from Roger Moore's 007 as he seems more inclined to just "charm" the information out of the women. I heard Moore himself didn't like that scene, funny that it ends up being one of the better moments in the movie. Yet for all of the information gathering scenes, it never feels like Bond learns anything useful. Everything is a double cross on top of a double cross. He's going nowhere and getting there fast. It's frustrating.

  Even Bond's plan to impersonate Scaramanga in order to gather information from one of his employers backfires. According to Bond this would work because Scaramanga never meets his clients face to face, yet we quickly discover that the joke is on Bond because the real Scaramanga was there in the flesh all along. This isn't shocking because by contrast it just makes Bond look inept. Every idea, every plan, and every single thing Bond does is undercut and backfires. Which makes for an annoying story overall. By the midway point we even realize that Scaramanga wasn't even planning to kill Bond at all, and in reality Bond was dragged into this by Scaramanga's mistress who wanted Scaramanga dead. It's an important reveal, and it should feel important but it doesn't. It feels... inert. Like most of the movie. There's some thrilling chase scenes, and some suspenseful moments, but this movie seems content to throw women at the screen at an alarming rate, pad it out with Moore's one liners and call it a night.

  Bond only even kills one person in the whole movie. I'll let you guess who. The last 20 minutes or so of the movie is interesting and fun, but it hardly makes up for the silliness that came before it. Even if the story wasn't inert, there's way too much emphasis on humor which robs the movie of the impact it generated with it's darker moments. The annoying redneck sheriff from the previous movie is back. Unfortunately. He serves no purpose either. He seems to be included just for laughs, but only ever registers a few groans. Same thing for Bond girl Mary Goodnight, played by Britt Ekland. She's an annoying throwaway character who fills a role that could've gone to a capable character, but no, she's bumbling and whining comedic relief. Which makes me think that nobody in charge of anything with this movie had any idea what sort of humor works in a James Bond movie.

  The movie's (almost) saving grace has to be Christopher Lee as Scaramanga. He manages to be one of the most interesting villains to grace the franchise since Blofeld's first appearance in You Only Live Twice. He has his own moral code in which he seems him and Bond on the same level. Equals, the only difference being that Bond works for "peanuts, and a hearty 'well done'-" whereas Scaramanga has made a fortune from being a hitman. Enough to have a private island fortress that runs entirely on solar energy. Leading us to the macguffin Bond has been after for about half of the movie. A little gizmo called the Solex Agitator. Which could apparently solve the ongoing energy crisis. It's never really that interesting, and is just a thing for Bond to chase around. I suppose this story might've seemed more relevant in 1973, and it probably should seem more relevant nowadays, but it doesn't.

  It's not an environmentally conscious 007 movie. It just uses the energy crisis backdrop to give Bond a gadget to track down. Because the notion that a super spy like 007 could single handedly solve the energy crisis seemed like a good idea at the time I guess? I don't know what was going through the filmmakers heads. There certainly have been better third acts in the franchise, though few set on an island as gorgeous as Scaramanga's. If only we spent more time out in the sun, rather than inside his wacky fun-house maze. Which isn't nearly as dramatic or scary as it would have us think it is. For all the trap doors and trick mirrors, it doesn't feel threatening at all. Bond manages to win the day, and I'll be honest, his little trick at the end was really cool. Then you remember that the main Bond girl was Mary Goodnight, and we'll have to see her again before the credits roll, and suddenly the movie loses some of it's charm.

  Ultimately, The Man With the Golden Gun is skippable 007 fare. It's not awful, but it's far from great. I can see how it might register with some as a guilty pleasure, and that's cool... but it's not one of mine.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Live and Let Die


  In Live and Let Die, the 8th official 007 movie, Roger Moore assumes the role of the iconic British secret service agent and comes out swinging, so to speak. There's no mistaking it, Roger Moore is James Bond. He fits the suits, throws a mean punch, and can dole out Bond-isms with the best of them. He's a worthy successor to Sean Connery, and what's even better is that he's clearly not trying to play Connery, he's playing Bond... James Bond. His own take on 007. Less of a brawler, more of a lover- Moore seems completely content relying on his 'bedside manner' and quick thinking to get him out of situations instead of a right hook and a Walther PPK. Even his choice of drink has been switched up. Yet make no mistake, this is still the James Bond we know and love. Just a different shade of the same character. This movie is pure escapist fantasy, just shy of the more serious tone of entries like OHMSS and From Russia With Love, it lands itself somewhere between Dr.No and Thunderball.

  The unfortunate downside is that the tone of the movie is far more than a stone's throw from what we're used to in Bond. It's more in line with it's immediate predecessor, Diamonds are Forever. Simple and lighthearted, but even moreso without Connery's trademark wit and grit. Despite this, there's something about Live and Let Die that makes it so much more fun. It could be the colorful villains, or the settings, but whatever it is... it makes Live and Let Die a surefire guilty pleasure. It seems to be just a series of situations Bond finds himself in, each outdoing the last in sheer spectacle or even just good ol' fashioned danger. It's infectiously fun. It takes a page from the quicker paced Bond outings and makes sure that the story is always moving forward.

  Whether Bond is getting into fistfights, car chases, or having to escape from a crocodile infested lake... Moore handles it all with grace and a few well-timed quips. He's impervious. Even in the face of certain death, he's rarely concerned enough to do more than raise an eyebrow. You can see the gears turning in there as he's working out how to escape. One thing he doesn't seem to have trouble escaping from though, is Sean Connery's shadow. He handles himself like he's been playing the role just as long. The weakest link might be some of the supporting actors, ranging from flat out bad to borderline parodic. In the bad category, we have a rather obnoxious redneck sheriff, and then we have Gloria Hendry as Bond girl Rosie. (notable as the first 'African American' woman Bond puts the moves on.) I have no qualms with Bond bedding women of any ethnicity, the only problem here is that Hendry is annoying, melodramatic, and a drag. Thankfully she's not in the movie long.

  I do suppose 'bad' is subjective in a movie like this though. It has voodoo, clairvoyance, pimps, "pimpmobiles", sharks, snakes, rednecks and fake afros. Somehow the movie makes it all work. Investigating the death of three fellow agents Bond goes from Harlem to Louisiana, and a hostile Caribbean island, blowing things up and running into traitors all along the way. He discovers that a prime minister, Dr.Kananga is plotting to flood the streets of the United States with $1 billion dollars of free heroin, not only cornering the market, putting the competition out of business, but also creating a booming customer base. Bond goes through everything imaginable to stop him. Ending in a trademark showdown in Kananga's secret underground island lair. Which, while fun and cool, just comes off as cliche at this point. Given the glaring absence of the international criminal organization and franchise mainstay, SPECTRE, from this movie, you wonder just how many independent criminal masterminds have underground metal-walled fortresses like this.

  Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Paul McCartney's fantastic and eponymous title song. The tune is catchy and gets stuck in your head. It suits the movie perfectly in it's own weird way and ends up not only being a damn good song in it's own right, but one of the most memorable Bond themes to date. In fact, all the music for the movie is great. It's hard to miss, and speaking of hard to miss... Jane Seymour plays Bond's other squeeze in the movie. She's the clairvoyant tarot card reader for Bond's enemy Dr.Kananga. It's an odd little fiasco, and Seymour is not all that memorable in the role, but she doesn't do a bad job either. It just wasn't written that memorably. Which is a shame because despite the age gap, her and Moore had good chemistry. Or so it seemed, whenever she wasn't stressing out and panicking as a damsel with the threat of death looming over her is likely to do.

  Overall, Live and Let Die is fun for all the same reasons it's hard to take it seriously. It's silly... but I think that's okay. For now. It's hard not to have fun watching Kananga's henchmen chase, torment, and try to kill Bond. Amongst which are the flamboyant and un-killable voodoo priest Baron Samedi, the fat, raspy and quiet 'Whisper', and finally the giggly, metal armed thug, Tee Hee. With such a colorful cadre of villains, Bond had his work cut out for him. By way of boat chases, a strictly land based airplane chase, a bus chase, and a skirmish in a speeding car, Bond finally saves the day. As per usual. Far be it from him to let the credits roll without bedding the girl one more time though. Attaboy James, way to dig into cliche.

  Nevertheless, I should point out that Roger Moore makes great use of his sarcastic wit. He coins it and makes it his thing, much like Connery's did with his sharp and biting one-liners. He inhabits the role well and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to watching the rest of Moore's films, even if Live and Let Die isn't anywhere near one of the best. A word to the wise however, it's a better movie if you view it as Moore's introductory outing, instead of a sequel to the previous films. Not even the staunchest critics can deny that this one has some great thrilling action sequences. An open mind and a big bowl of popcorn go a long way towards making this one infinitely more watchable. It's a middle of the road 007 flick, but a strangely enjoyable one at that, and not a bad way to kill a couple hours.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Diamonds Are Forever


  After Lazenby's infamous departure from the role of the titular secret agent, it was up in the air as to who would play Bond for the 7th outing, pitting him once again against SPECTRE and Blofeld. Of course, things shook out just the right way and for better or worse Sean Connery himself ended up back in the part. Diamonds are Forever is a nice Bond vehicle, but the darkness and seriousness that permeated OHMSS is nowhere to be found in this one. It has the depth of a ten cent spy novel and is about as original. Bond spends the movie tracking down a bunch of diamonds, as far as I could follow he's trying to find out who's trying to buy them. As it turns out, it's his old archenemy, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Of course, had this been a sequel with any sort of directness, it would've been a revenge thriller. It's really not. Bond's discourse with Blofeld isn't charged with the kind of hatred you'd expect after what happened to Bond's new bride at the end of OHMSS. It's a shame, but the movie on it's own terms doesn't really suffer for it. Diamonds are Forever, and so is 007 apparently- even in a silly outing like this one.

  Diamonds are Forever probably had the fastest pacing of any Bond movie ever in it's time. Even when exposition and character development are necessary, they happen on the fly. Bond is always moving from one encounter to the next, whether it be a deadly one... or a 'personal' one, he's no time to stop and smell the roses. As a result, this breezy little actioner feels frivolous and over rather fast. It carries none of the weight as Connery's previous films, but again, I can't imagine it was ever meant to. Bond isn't really a character in the movie as he is simply an action figure. Even in the other Connery movies, most notably in You Only Live Twice and Thunderball, he was indeed rather 2 dimensional- but never to this extent. The movie itself is solid, but it won't appeal to everyone. Some probably cite this one as a perfect example of what's wrong with a big portion of 007 movies. I can't imagine the impending Roger Moore era did anything to sway those people as his turn as the famous double-o agent is probably the silliest and most tongue-in-cheek.

  So those aren't necessarily flaws of this movie, if you're judging it on it's own merits. It manages to be rather light and carefree, especially in comparison to it's predecessor OHMSS. Yet, all the fundamental trappings of a 007 movie are here. The elaborate plot, the meticulously designed villain's lair, the car chases, gadgets, and more. It's sort of a back to basics notion that seems to be driving this movie- aside from Connery's wit and charm that is. His performance here seems to nicely pave the way for Moore's ultra-suave take on the character. Nevertheless the movie raises a question honestly, what do we really want out of a 007 movie? Is it the silliness of ones like this? Or is it the dark tone of the Dalton movies? Honestly, I think I prefer the darker Bonds, but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy ones like this too. It's carefree and often funny. It's an all you can eat buffet of one liners and Bond-isms.

  Even the lightheartedness aside, the movie definitely has some really intense moments. Bond gets trapped in a coffin inside at one point, set to be cremated. At another point, he has what seems like the entire Las Vegas police force after him in a show stopping car chase that pulls out all the stops. Even beyond stuff like that, Diamonds are Forever never has a dull moment. Or a quiet one for that matter. It's breakneck pace moves everything along with snappy momentum, and even giving us several quite memorable moments- but ultimately nothing that would go down in Bond history. I feel myself coming up short with critical analysis of this movie. It feels like a highlight reel of a longer Bond movie, but that's also not a bad thing either. Sean Connery is getting older but proves he can still keep up. Even if he is sort of just going through the paces. Again, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

  Connery had played Bond so much by this point that slipping into the character again looked effortless to him. That calm effortless attitude permeates the character itself. I think some misinterpret this as Connery phoning in his performance. I respectfully disagree. If you're fine with the aging star returning to the role which made him famous, then odds are, you'll like the movie. I've seen it twice and have yet to even marginally dislike it. It's basic fare, but well made at that. Stylish and sleek even. Jill St. John plays the main Bond girl this time, she's witty and sly, and easy on the eyes. However, she's not super memorable either. Diamonds are Forever really isn't either. It seems to me that it's doomed to end up as one of those movies that are just 'parts'. You can only ever remember parts of it, and wonder which Bond movie it was from. The "you have something to get off your chest" moment, the car chase, and Bond's confrontation with Blofeld.

  You'd almost never think of those moments and think: Diamonds are Forever! Ergo, the movie doesn't make for bad viewing, it's a fun time for sure, but it's unchallenging and emotionally inert. Not that it even attempts to be otherwise. It knows it doesn't stand a fighting chance of trying to continue on with the serious emotional tone from OHMSS so it just turns in as a lighthearted action adventure instead. Even Blofeld feels a bit like a stock villain at this point, but it still doesn't prevent him from chewing scenery and have fun doing it. He's still a fun villain, and nothing if not a staple of the franchise by this point. The movie... on the whole, is fun, but nothing spectacular. You could do worse as far as 70's lighthearted actioners go, and you could even do a lot worse with 007 movies as well. The flip side is that you could also do better too. I recommend it so long as you know what kind of 007 movie it is,  just plain basic fun- little else.

Monday, November 24, 2014

On Her Majesty's Secret Service


  It's the end of the 60's and James Bond has a new face. The face of George Lazenby in point of fact. I was never a fan of his looks or his singular turn as the titular double-o agent. However, I paid much closer attention to the movie around him this time, and without a doubt it's one of the best. Like any Bond flick, it certainly has it's downsides, but the director knew what he was doing. On Her Majesty's Secret Service is slick, stylish, and grand- not unlike an epic from the 50's. Complete with excessively edited fights, and softly lit romantic moments, OHMSS feels a little dated. Moreso than it's immediate predecessors (You Only Live Twice, and Thunderball), but it also has that classical feel to it. Bond feels like a legitimate person here, fallible even. Capable of genuine love. Which is a dynamic hardly explored again until 2006's Casino Royale. It suits the character in a dark way. Behind the skirts, martinis, and car chases is a tragic character waiting to be explored.

  Unfortunately we wouldn't really get to see that side of him explored until the aforementioned Casino Royale, but it worked out perfectly and we had plenty of memorable 007 films in the meantime. Anyways, OHMSS is pretty great. A little slow around the middle, unfortunately too because this time isn't spent towards the budding romance between Tracy (Diana Rigg) and Bond. Instead this odd interim kickstarts the main plot, pitting 007 against Blofeld (Telly Savalas) once again. Yet by the time we get here, it feels like the movie has started several times already. You'd be forgiven for thinking the main plot revolved around Bond girl Tracy. She's crucial to the story, in a roundabout way, but not directly. Not enough to open the movie with. Having said that... it was a cool opening.

  Aside from the weird story structure, there's Lazenby himself. I don't really like him as Bond. I don't think he did a bad job per se, and I don't think Connery would've been any better in this particular story, however his absence is sorely felt. I think this would've been the ideal time to bring in Roger Moore. Maybe hand off a few of his later movies to Dalton. All would've been right with the world.
Moreover, Lazenby didn't sound ready for the part either. He quit the role before the movie even premiered, rebelling against the producers in a variety of passive aggressive fashions. He was certain that Bond had no place in the 70's, and he felt mistreated on set. Yet this was also his first movie, and on top of that, he was stepping into the well worn shoes that already rocketed one newbie to stardom. I can only assume he felt more people would listen to his opinion on things given that he was cast as Bond, yet the direct opposite was true. They cast a face, an accent, and a trademark swagger. Unfortunately for him, that was all.

  I have even more nitpicks, but they don't necessarily detract from the quality of the movie, which otherwise is pretty damn good. Lazenby does an admirable job nonetheless, though his wardrobe is frequently loud, occasionally ostentatious, and unfortunately his fights lack the grit of the Connery brawls. At the very least, he's got the swagger down and can throw a mean punch. His back and forth with Tracy is fantastic, and I heard extra effort was put into their dialog. It really shows honestly. You could pluck OHMSS out of the franchise entirely, and set it on it's own and it'd be a perfectly fine spy thriller. A great one even. It's a genuine romance story couched in tragedy and secret agent trappings.  Diana Rigg plays Tracy as the kind of woman that Bond is only ever going to find once. There's a scene where Bond is being hunted by the villains, he's genuinely scared for his life, and Tracy swoops in like a guardian angel- saving his life.

  Usually Bond is an infallible superman, even when he's inches from death he always has a quip or a trick up his sleeve to get away just in time. We really believe he would've died there if not for her. It was and still is largely unconventional, and then to have her drive the car in the subsequent chase sequence? Completely unheard of. She's as much of a hero in this movie as Bond is. She never feels overblown like a super-hero though, and neither does Bond. What's even better is that neither of them need to in order for the movie to work- and boy does it work. They're solid and well rounded characters. Especially Tracy. Not to mention, Rigg and Lazenby have fantastic onscreen chemistry, which is probably the main highlight of the movie for me. As Bond, his performance is debatable, but as a British secret service agent who falls in love under dire circumstances... he's great. OHMSS is a great Bond movie, but it's even better that it sorta feels like something else as well.

  It feels like a standalone entity in the franchise. It's probably more watchable out of any sort of continuity whatsoever. Whereas Dr.No, From Russia With Love, and Goldfinger feel like their own trilogy (to a somewhat lesser extent, it's perfectly fine to extend that into a quintrilogy to include Thunderball and You Only Live Twice) OHMSS doesn't quite move to the same beat. It's tone is different, it's momentum is different, it just feels like it's own thing. Despite having all the trappings of a classic Bond flick, OHMSS sets itself apart, discreetly... but it does- and that is not a bad thing. It's easier to enjoy it when you're not expecting a sequel to the Connery films. It is it's own beast, and should be appreciated as such.  I hope I'm not putting anyone off from watching it, because it's still a great 007 outing. From a thrilling escape from Blofeld's lair, culminating in a breakneck ski chase, to the explosive climatic raid, sending Bond, guns blazing, into the depths of Blofeld's sinister laboratory... the movie is a blast. Once it gets going, it keeps going.

  In the end, OHMSS manages to throw out a twist that will subtly define Bond's character for good. Whenever you question his behavior or his motives, you have to recall the end of OHMSS. There's no happy ending in store for Bond here, and even saying that is saying too much. Suffice it to say it adds a layer to his character that only the best of the movies even flirt with. Most Bond movies are content to be simple actioners, rarely do they get as personal and as dark as OHMSS. The vibrancy of the movie, and the tongue in cheek nature may be offputting to some, standing in stark contrast to the darker tone they belted out at times, but that's what makes OHMSS so worth seeing and talking about. I found a new appreciation for this movie, and I recommend it to anyone who never thought much of it before, or to anyone who's never seen it. It's an odd movie, and an odd entry in it's own franchise, but if you give it it's due diligence... it can end up being one of the most memorable and moving 007 movies to date. It left me shaken... and more than a little stirred.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

You Only Live Twice


  James Bond in Japan! In this fifth 007 outing, James Bond takes on SPECTRE and gives a face to the evil cat-stroking criminal genius. The movie is certainly an improvement over Thunderball; reining in it's runtime and tightening up the editing, it's a much smoother ride and one that holds your attention a lot better. You Only Live Twice is a great James Bond movie that delights in being self-indulgent the way Thunderball wanted to be. It's the sequel you would've wanted after Goldfinger. An exotic locale, great action scenes, beautiful women, and a fantastic finale. Of course, I should stop listing things like that as far too many sub par 007 movies have all that, and more. It's more in how you mix the ingredients rather than simply having them present. Thunderball had too much on it's plate and didn't know how to juggle it all successfully, but this movie seems to have gotten the knack.

  The movie opens with Bond's death, and despite the fact we know he's not dead, it's still an effective and shocking opening. Well handled and fun, Bond's "resurrection" is just as cool. Of course, Sean Connery brings his sharp wit and suaveness back to the role, setting the bar extremely high for his successors. The plot this time involves a mysterious spacecraft stealing space shuttles in space (that's kind of a mouthful), leaving the United States blaming Russia for the mysterious disappearances, and promising war if it happens again. Obviously this is a problem. Those damn yanks, always jumping to conclusions. Anyways, British intelligence shows the mysterious spacecraft landing in Japan. Thus, Bond's headed to Japan too. It's a neat plot, nice and uncomplicated. I enjoyed this one a lot, both times I've seen it it's been a big ball of fun.

   The action is well shot and exceptionally well choreographed. It has some of the best pacing you could find in the early films, and a massive climax that takes place inside a secret SPECTRE base built inside a dormant volcano. Easily one of the coolest, biggest, and most iconic sets of the entire franchise. I'm getting a little ahead of myself though. You Only Live Twice is unfortunately without a memorable Bond girl. I can't even remember her name. Which is sad, because she was nice at least. However, since when has "nice at least" ever been enough in this franchise? I rest my case. With no standout Bond girl to speak of, it's funny that there's still plenty of women in general to go around. Bond is inundated with females. As his Japanese ally explains to him as a group of scantily clad women begin to disrobe and bathe them: "In Japan, men come first and women come second." I'll let you imagine how Bond responded to that.

  Nevertheless, if you're here for gadgets and action, this one won't disappoint. At one point, 007 sneaks into an enemy's headquarters disguised as one of them, when he's discovered, he ends up in a balls-to-bone brawl that's way more intense than it has any right to be. Like his fights with Red Grant and his opening brawl in Thunderball, this one is just as thrilling. Connery is a fighter unlike any of his successors. He quite literally throws himself into the fight, and has no reservations about wrecking everything in sight. The way he fights looks dirty, but in a way that makes it feel real. He's fantastic in the role as always and I have no complaint about him in this one. There is a point in the movie where they try to make him look Japanese with a surgery of sorts? It's really not successful. He ends up looking more like a relative of Spock from Star Trek than anything else. What's even weirder is that his disguise is only used very briefly, and then he's back to looking like his normal self. Not that I'm complaining... the wig they used was atrocious.

  The action isn't just limited to fist fights though, there's a few fun car chases, shootouts, and even an explosive aerial helicopter skirmish.  It doesn't get much better than that. Except for the climax, which is simply massive. They really opened up the scope of what's possible with these movies with that climax. It was great. It's also the first time we're formally introduced to Bond's archnemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. His presence is dynamic and he's a formidable opponent for James. He's immediately played as the smartest and most ruthless man in the room. He's even scarier when you stop and realize, he's the same cat-stroking off-screen supervillain from the previous movies. His cunning couldn't possibly be overstated. As far as memorable Bond villains go, he's number one. Moreover, You Only Live Twice was the perfect Bond vehicle in which to put a face to his name. An unforgettable face at that. Even with Blofeld having been endlessly parodied (Austin Powers' Dr.Evil of course) it doesn't take away from his villainous presence in this movie. It's great to be honest.

  As is the movie. It's a blast. It's the height of Connery with gadgets and supervillains. It's brimming with the best elements of a basic spy thriller, and all the wonderful flair of a fantastic 007 outing. You can't go wrong with this one. I will say it's not perfect, and in some ways is emblematic of some of things most wrong with 007 movies, like... being emotionally hollow, 2 dimensional, and being somewhat devoid of anything meaningful. The women are basic eye-candy, the action is ratcheted up to 11, and James Bond is a superman. Yet, with the impending Roger Moore era (which got even worse) I can't throw a damn fine spy romp like this under the bus. James Bond may be an action figure in a shallow outing like this, but he's an action figure with all the best toys. It even comes complete with the enemy's "Volcano Base HQ!" playset! How could you not have fun with this movie? It may not be as classic as Goldfinger or From Russia With Love, but it deserves it's place right alongside them. If you go in expecting something with depth (which I don't see why you would after the previous four movies) you'll likely be disappointed, but if you're just looking for a good ol' fashioned good vs. evil movie, you could do a LOT worse than this one.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Thunderball


  It's not hard to see why the makers of Thunderball thought it would be the best Bond yet. Afterall it has all the basic fundamental elements of a fantastic old school 007 outing. The tropical setting, the nefarious villain, his dastardly plot (bonus points for it involving stolen atomic bombs), gadgets, and beautiful women. Yet there is something about Thunderball that keeps it from being great. Certainly far from being the best, it is at the very least still fun escapist fantasy. I had seen it prior to this viewing, (as I have all the 007 movies) but I didn't remember it well. What I did end up remembering was how this movie never really held my attention. A problem I faced this time as well. I feel bad for that too, because once you get past a lot of it's flaws, Thunderball is still pretty good. As far as these sort of things go.

  It's the fourth movie in the ever-growing franchise and they pulled out all the stops. It opens with a bang as we join Bond hunting down an adversary who tries to evade capture by sneaking around in drag. Of course Bond sees right through his disguise, and gets into a rather gritty brawl with the skirt-clad man. Bond finishes the job and escapes via Rocketbelt no less, and then straight into his Aston Martin DB5 to make his final getaway. It's a great opening, if not a little weird and overdone. It just plain old fun. It's the kind of stuff you'd never catch Daniel Craig doing, yet Sean Connery pulls it off and can still walk away with his trademark swagger and be taken seriously. Mostly. Far be it from me to throw him under the bus now, despite how utterly off Thunderball is, Connery is a constant. He was great in the previous three, and he's certainly a highlight of this one.

  It would be ignorantly dismissive of me to call Thunderball a stinker, but it doesn't have the same flow as it's predecessors. It's more than a bit overlong as well, clocking in at just over a very full two hours. When honestly, the movie needed nothing more than 90 minutes. I think I liked it more this time than the first time I saw it though, and I think it made a bigger impact on me this time around. I feel it qualifies as a guilty pleasure. I know a lot of retrospective praise gets heaped on it, but it's really sort of dull at times. A very drawn out dullness that not even the wittiest wisecracks from our stalwart protagonist was able to alleviate. It's not a persistent dullness though. It's broken up by some rather fun scenes here and there. However you quickly realize that the movie is just taking way too long to simply get going.

  Once it does though, it's very enjoyable in a strange sort of way. As if in direct response though, to Bond's 'roll in the hay' with Pussy Galore in the previous movie, turning her 'good', Bond's efforts to do the same thing this time... completely fail. The femme fatale in this movie doesn't fall victim to Bond's... "charm". Her character is all the more engaging for it and she has several great moments with Bond. I don't know exactly why the Bond girl in this one, Domino, is a much more fun character than Tatiana Romanova in From Russia With Love, but she is. Despite her being little more than a damsel in distress primed to fall in love with Bond, she manages to hold her own. In point of fact, Bond invites her to dinner and she outright refuses him with a simple and to-the-point "No." She's gorgeous and a little naive, but she's not a wimpy rag doll, and she's not about to swoon for Bond. Something which I felt Tatiana did just about every eleven seconds. "Oh James!"

  Thunderball explores the secret criminal organization of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. a little closer in this movie. Opening up their scale considerably showing us an intimidatingly big board room in which it looks only fit to discuss plans for taking over the world. Not to mention the entrance to this room is a secret sliding door. Of course. Which brings me to the villain of the movie. Emilio Largo. Sporting an eye patch, Largo looks the sinister part. A part he wholeheartedly lives up to, feeding his enemies to sharks that he keeps in a pool on his property, stealing a whole bomber plane and the two atomic bombs on board, and leveraging them for ransom. (If I remember correctly that is) Thunderball is the type of movie that introduces elements that become so iconic, they can and have become cliche. Any plot where a villain steals bombs, has pet sharks, and/or wears an eye patch isn't ripping off Thunderball, (maybe it is a little, but-) it's just being maddeningly cliche.

  Largo isn't a bad villain, he just isn't a memorable one. Same goes for the movie itself. It isn't necessarily a bad movie, and I can't say it isn't memorable, but it's devoid of that cracking energy that made the previous three so great. There's a lot to love about Thunderball and I believe that it is underrated, but with it's lethargic pacing in the first half, simplistic story, and semi-forgettable villain, it'll never be one of the greats. However... however, as it is, it's still a really fun action movie. The underwater climax is as thrilling as it breathtaking. It escalates to almost unbelievable levels, turning into a full fledged underwater war. The sequence goes on and on, some criticize it for being too long- but I disagree. I think it more than makes up for the lethargy that had occasionally plagued the first couple acts. Bond literally drops in and manages to 'turn the tide' of the battle. With cracking style and flair nonetheless. He's finally the fantastic man of action we all know and love, and he gets quite the moment to shine in the climax.

  Nevertheless, it's definitely a mixed bag as these movies go, and it's also highly subjective. Your enjoyment of it will depend on what about the 007 movies you like. If it's gadgets, palm trees, and explosions, you're in luck. Yet mileage may vary still. I think Thunderball has less of a pacing issue and more of a momentum issue, as it's start-and-stop methods get old rather fast. For some, this movie might be a total drag, and I understand that. I can see how they might feel that way. I halfway agree, myself. However! Bond's heroics have never been more in-style and his one liners are as witty as ever. If you want some good ol' back-to-basics spy thrills, you could do a lot worse than Thunderball. God knows there are worse Bond movies, and I myself don't rank this one amongst them. I think most fans owe it a second, if not third look.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Goldfinger


  There's a scene in Goldfinger where 007 is making his getaway in his tricked out Aston Martin DB5 from some enemies. He flips open a panel between the seats, and flicks a switch, sending thick rows of vision-obscuring smoke billowing out the back of his car. The woman in the passenger seat smiles at the neat gadget, and Bond smirks. This scene perfectly embodies the spirit of the 007 movies, and of Goldfinger specifically. Bond is back, in style, and showing off all his new tricks. He's proud of it too. The movie is aware of this, and rightfully so. This is the stuff we like to see when we watch 007 movies. Tongue planted in cheek, but not too firmly. There are levels on which you can't take any 007 movie seriously, but for the most part, they play it straight and deliver good old fashioned spy thrills. Goldfinger is no exception, and even raises the bar even higher for all it's successors.

  Bond wouldn't be as fun if his gadgets did all the work for him, so of course Sean Connery proves yet again that his rough-and-tumble take on the British secret agent is a perfect fit. Sure, 007 uses a gadget here and there, but he's always ready to throw down, or more importantly- think his way out of a situation. They really do show his deductive skills at work here, and not only here but in the previous two movies as well. I feel that's something always overlooked about Bond. He tends to use his head more than his gadgets. He thinks ahead, anticipates, and prepares. Even as the situation evolves, he's constantly assessing a new way to approach it. Granted, eventually, given the nature of these movies, it's obviously going to boil down to fights, shootouts, or a chase scene. However, that doesn't negate the fact that 007 is one smart cookie, and Connery knows how to play that up quite well.

  In this threequel, Bond is sent out to investigate Auric Goldfinger, the eponymous villain of the movie who's supposedly smuggling his gold illegally. Of course, a much larger plot is afoot, and soon a very dangerous game of cat and mouse evolves between Bond and Goldfinger. The thrills come fast and hard in this one. From the explosive opening gambit, to Bond's repeated encounters with Goldfinger's iconic henchman, Oddjob. The movie opens up the throttle even more than it's predecessor did. Also introduced in this one, is Bond's trademark Aston Martin. The gadget filled Bond-mobile has rather limited screentime in this one, but makes a hell of an impact nonetheless. It's sleek, sexy, and full of surprises. Coincidentally, that statement fits the movie on the whole.

  I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention the Bond girl of this outing... Pussy Galore. A vast improvement over the previous Bond girl. Ms.Galore is much more of an equal to 007 than either of the prior two Bond girls. She's tough, no-nonsense, and not afraid to judo-flip Bond on his ass. Granted, James wins her over eventually and she actually helps save the day, but this brings me to my first (and really my only) point of contention with Goldfinger. This is a little spoileristic I guess? So if you haven't seen it... whatever. At one point, Bond and Galore have some time alone, with the impending climax mere minutes away (no pun intended) and they have a playful little sparring match in a barn on Mr.Goldfinger's ranch in Kentucky. It ends with Bond physically forcing himself on her. She's trying to push him away, and he's leaning in for a kiss, overpowering her. She of course ends up melting into his arms, but that doesn't negate several glaring problems with this.

  One, it's basically rape. Half the world would be up in arms if the current James Bond did this in the next movie. I don't even feel I should have to elaborate on that point. It's extremely cut and dry. Secondly, it undermines her character. Obviously the two characters were going to have sex sooner or later, but it doesn't happen on her terms, and the fact Bond forced her into it ends up being semi-essential to the plot. Her uniqueness, her identity, everything about her becomes instantly irrelevant because she's useless until Bond has sex with her. Only then does she realize she should do what's right. It would've been much more compelling if the balance of power had been in her hands still when this happened. Of course, that was probably unthinkable for the 1960's, but it's still lazy writing in my opinion. The whole scene, and the subsequent effects of it make me very uncomfortable.

  I do understand that society and it's view on women and their roles was all very different in the 1960's. Let's just say I'm glad we've graduated past that. Nobody is denying that Bond girls are largely there to be eye candy, but saying that's all they should be is ridiculous. A dumb, wimpy Bond girl is annoying and frustrating to watch. The most interesting ones? The ones people remember? Those are the smart ones. The ones that can hold their own with Bond. Isn't it interesting that the best ones are the ones that rival 007 as an equal? If not an equal physically, then emotionally, or intellectually. Food for thought if nothing else. Pussy Galore was a victim of bad writing, but for the most part was a very fun character who didn't let Bond push her around... until she landed on her back. Then all bets were off.

  Anyway, what's a 007 movie without it's villain? Auric Goldfinger isn't the visual image of menacing. He has neither the well worn scowl of Rosa Klebb, nor the icy cold demeanor of Dr.No. He's rather rotund, greedy, and perhaps a bit over confident. He makes a unique villain for Bond, and one that comes quite close to killing him on several occasions, not the least of which is the iconic scene involving an industrial laser. "Do you expect me to talk?", "No, Mr.Bond! I expect you to die!" Goldfinger retorts, as the laser beam inches closer to Bond on a fixed trajectory to cut him in half, right down the middle. At this point, I was legitimately on the edge of my seat. I've seen the scene several times, and it never loses it's biting tension. It's a classic moment, and it's only one of many. The movie is full of great scenes. For certain reasons, it'll never be my absolute favorite, but it's in my top five. You can expect this one to deliver. As if you needed me to tell you that...

Sunday, November 16, 2014

From Russia with Love


  James Bond's return to the big screen was a fantastic success. All the rough edges that were present in Dr.No were sanded down, delivering a much smoother film. From Russia With Love is a movie I like more each time I see it. It's faster, bigger, and more intense than it's predecessor. And while Dr.No introduced a few iconic mainstay elements, this one completed the package. From top to bottom, From Russia With Love gives us the rest of what makes the classic 007 films so much fun. The dry wit, the gadgets, Q, and the faceless cat-stroking villain, pulling the strings behind the scene. It's hard not to enjoy this movie. Pound for pound it's one of the best of the franchise.

  In this sequel, we have Bond being sent to Istanbul on assignment to steal a top secret decoding device from the Russians. The device is called a 'Lektor', and is actually of little importance to the story, besides the fact that everyone wants it. The whole scenario in reality is a trap set up by SPECTRE to obtain the Lektor, and kill James Bond, exacting revenge for the demise of their operative Dr.No. Of course 007 is wise to the face not everything is as it seems. He partners up with his ally in Istanbul, and with the help of a young and beautiful Russian intelligence clerk begins to work out the details of acquiring the Lektor. A simple task made excruciatingly difficult by assassins, explosions, and endless shootouts.

  The movie doesn't skimp in the action department. From a guns-blazing enemy raid on a gypsy camp where Bond is hiding, to a high-speed climactic (and explosive) boat chase, the movie delivers thrill after thrill. It also takes us to fantastic locations as well, including secret underground canals, a great set piece on the Orient Express, the vibrant and colorful Gypsy camp, and the wonderfully eye-catching streets of Istanbul itself. Which were shot on location I believe. And of course, Sean Connery's Bond glides through the movie with confidence and swagger, dispensing punches and bullets as he sees fit. The guy is a balls-to-bone brawler. He doesn't fight with the calculated precision and learned skill of some of the later Bonds. He fights like he learned on the streets. I think it adds something to the character. Whether or not it was a conscious thing they did, or just something Connery brought to the role, it's a fantastic little touch.

  I don't want to say these movies invented the spy genre, but it sure sensationalized it. James Bond became not only the archetype for secret agents, but the standard... and it was movies like this that helped him get there. The worst thing From Russia With Love could've done is tried to replicate the precise formula of Dr.No. Another tropical setting, another ominous villain in an underground lair, et cetera et cetera... Instead, they stuck reasonably close to the source material, and produced another great adventure that takes us to a very different corner of the world, forsaking palm trees and bikinis for cobblestone streets and cold war espionage. As much as the blue skies and sandy beaches suit the aesthetic of an ideal James Bond movie, so does a setting like this. Though that's not to say it's without it's own host of wonderful characters.

  Not the least of which is Bond's charismatic ally, Karim Bey. As resourceful as he is hospitable, the movie wouldn't be as much fun to watch without him. He certainly makes an impression and ends up being a real memorable character. To be a memorable secondary character in a franchise that has 24 installments is no small feat. Karim Bey, and his many sons are great. Loyal allies to Bond, and interesting to watch, From Russia With Love is all the richer for it. It also wouldn't be as classic if it wasn't for the trademark henchman, Red Grant. Lackey to the sinister Rosa Klebb, Grant follows Bond around the entire movie, watching and stalking him from the shadows. His presence is felt throughout, even when we don't see him. By the time Bond and him meet face to face, the tension is beyond palpable. Grant sets the bar high for any possible successors in the villainous henchman department. He's smart, strong, and ruthless, but he too feels like a well rounded character. Which is fantastic because his is the sort of character that could've easily wound up with a personality not unlike a brick wall.

  The weak link for me is the 'Bond girl', Tatiana Romanova, played by Daniela Bianchi. I understand how some might like her, but she's a drag.  A doe eyed damsel in distress who falls madly in love with James Bond. She doesn't seem like the type that would take it very well when she finds out that he doesn't really care about her, and he'll move on to another three women before the week is up. I understand the need for a female counterpoint to Bond in these movies. Whether it be a damsel in distress or a more capable woman, more his equal. But Tatiana is a stock character. There's nothing exactly groundbreaking or even interesting about her. She fawns over Bond the entire movie, and does little else. The only moment in which she's really required to do anything comes at the very end. Which is a shame because the role her character filled could've been brilliantly tweaked to straddle the line between femme fatale and damsel in distress. As it is, all we have is a damsel in distress, and not a very interesting one at that. She's about as engaging as a fangirl or a groupie, following their idol around for a week.

  On the flip side, she's not bad enough to bring the movie down either. She's just a fixture, little else. Which is fine because there's so much else going on regardless, there's no time to really stop and think about her. The movie clicks along at an even faster pace than Dr.No which is actually very welcome, but somehow it never feels quite as alive. There was an energy to Dr.No which to this day allows it to edge out as my favorite Bond movie ever. Maybe it was the newness of it, maybe it was the setting, or the villain. I don't know. It could be any one of a hundred things that From Russia With Love doesn't have, but that's not to say From Russia With Love doesn't have it's own incorrigible likability. It's a great action movie, and a great James Bond movie. A solid entry in the franchise which is as memorable as it is exciting. It's set pieces are immediately recognizable, and it's characters unforgettable. I have a feeling I'm going to run out of adjectives before I reach the end of the Connery era. Yet as the credits roll, they tell us that James Bond will return in "Goldfinger", and I too will return, with my review of "Goldfinger".

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Dr. No


  For my 400th post, I'm pleased to kick off my 007 marathon with a review on the first ever James Bond film, the  undeniably classic... Dr.No. I've seen this movie several times, but my first encounter with it was on ABC when I was 7 or 8 years old. It was the movie of the week I believe, and I didn't catch the whole thing, but what I saw was simply entrancing. It wasn't the quickest paced movie for a kid who's attention span was catered to by the likes of Power Rangers and Star Wars. However, even back then, there was something captivating about Dr.No. Sean Connery's James Bond glided through the movie with uncanny grace under pressure and a suave yet steely resolve. It certainly left an impression on eight year old me. Yet it wasn't just one thing. It was also the vibrant colors, the massive sets, the architecture of the villain's lair, the tropical setting... It was all top shelf escapist fantasy. It didn't need a breakneck pace or non-stop action. It still doesn't.

  I'm glad to report that it holds up better than one might think, especially in the face of the modern 007 with it's tightly edited, faster paced, and far more brutal sensibilities.  Dr.No wasn't a slouch either. For those who would say it has languid pacing, I would ask them "Where?". Right as the film starts, a trio of seemingly blind beggars turn out to be ruthless hitmen, killing a man and whisking his body away immediately. It kicks off the movie with a bang, and it rarely lets up from there. Providing of course you're not expecting an action thriller that moves like one today would. It was a movie made in a very different era and by a different set of standards. Even so, it's fairly action packed, and at times toes the line between action and violence.
There's a classic scene in which Bond corners a man who was sent to kill him, the man tries to shoot him but his gun is out of bullets. Bond makes a quip, and shoots him dead in cold blood. It's a chilling scene regardless of what era you're in.

  The movie clicks along at it's own pace, recognizing that Bond is a secret agent, not a soldier or an assassin. If this were a movie about soldiers or assassins, I'd expect something entirely else. As it is, James Bond is sent to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of a fellow agent, and from the get-go runs into all kinds of trouble. Assassins, traitors, femme fatales, poisonous spiders, and all this is before we even get to Dr.No's island fortress in time for the climax. The film is a bit rough around the edges, overly eager in it's execution sometimes. Certain music cues run too long and spill over into the next scene quite needlessly, or certain shots feel way too short, but this was the first James Bond movie. Everyone saw the bigger picture, and without this fantastic starting point we wouldn't have the more refined movies that followed. I do think that this roughness is also part of the appeal to Dr.No. It still feels a bit fresh. Hot off the presses, if you will.

  None of Bond's cliches really even exist yet. It's just as raw as say... Casino Royale. There's no Q yet, no real gadgets, and Bond is seen really thinking his way through situations, not just magically knowing what to do, as it would end up in some of the later movies. Bond is much more of a brawler here, though of course that could be said about Sean Connery's take on the character in general. Speaking of Connery as Bond, he's the top dog in a cast full of entertaining and vibrant characters that feel pulled right off the page of a thrilling spy novel.  You have the American CIA agent, Felix Leiter, the local boatman, Quarrel, the beauty hidden away from the world, Honey Rider, and of course the eponymous Dr.No. The actors bringing these characters to life couldn't have been better cast. Even though makeup prosthetic was used on actor Joseph Wiseman to make him look slightly more Chinese, it manages to be less noticeable and less offensive than the same methods used on another peripheral character earlier in the film.

  Wiseman ends up being absolutely fantastic as the villain of the movie, seeming like he'd been playing this role for a long time in a well established franchise. He is instantly recognizable, not just as a villain, but as a Bond villain. When you finally see him, you can see how he clearly set the bar for all future Bond villains. His performance instituted the formula for what makes a good nemesis in this universe. He doesn't even need to be seen for the first 3/4ths of the movie. His assassins do his bidding throughout the movie, upping the body count every chance they can, building Dr.No up to a very ominous and all-seeing status. By the time he has any direct onscreen role to play, it's just his voice. It's a chilling scene, and incredibly effective.   Dr.No is one of my all time favorite villains, not only of the franchise, but in general. As simple as the concepts were bringing him to life and to the big screen, I don't think I'd have it any other way.

  Of course, there are plenty of things about this movie that would clash with modern audiences. The 60's was a very different time and as much as Ursula Andress brought Honey Rider to life with a fiery and independent personality, most of the women in Dr.No were little more than decorative objects. They're all attractive, and moreover they're all attracted to James Bond. It's played up to an extent that at times, it comes off as hokey. Even in later movies in the franchise. I never got over that. One girl, two girls yeah. But random peripheral characters? Waitresses? Receptionists? Every single female? Perhaps Q branch developed some sort of double-o pheromone for Bond. This early in the series, that seems more likely, as Connery was still working on the finer points of the character's charisma and charm. He's suave, but he's also a bit of a thug. Which of course, isn't a bad thing here.

  I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about the last quarter of the movie all by itself. When Bond finally gets to Dr.No's fortress island, things really kick off. Bond, Rider, and Quarrel try to escape No's soldiers and run into all kinds of harrowing situations. Of course, all is for naught when they're eventually captured and taken inside the underground complex. The complex is massive, seemingly. It has a decontamination area, laboratories, an ornate and flamboyant dining hall, which seems to double as a trophy room no less, and a whole wing that seems like a floor of a five star hotel. The sets are gigantic, lavish and colorful. They are perfectly suited to the larger than life performance by Wiseman as Dr. Julius No. It's a fantastic setting for Bond and No to match wits and brawl with for the explosive finale. Bond has to sabotage the facility before No and his scientists can execute their plan, and as per usual, in trademark 007 fashion, it's quite thrilling.

  I can't help but fall in love with this movie every time I see it. It's classic escapist fantasy.  It's because of this movie that we think of villains as hiding out in underground fortresses and having huge wall-sized aquariums, and the like. Many subsequent Bond movies, and even movies that had nothing to do with 007, took a page from Dr.No when it came to creating their villains. Despite the fact he barely has 10 minutes of screentime, Wiseman's Dr.No is the real star of this movie. Without him, without that island fortress, this movie would've been worse off. Maybe even a total waste of time. Connery is great as Bond, but a hero is only as good as his villain. I've said it before, the success of a 007 movie lies in whether or not you can market the movie around the villain, and people would still want to see it. With a character as ruthless, enigmatic, and larger than life as Dr.No... you can't go wrong. Dr.No manages to not only be one of the best James Bond movies in a 23 movie franchise, but it's one of my personal favorites as well.