GoldenEye (1995)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #40

You know the name.
You know the number.

Country: UK & USA
Language: English, Russian & Spanish
Runtime: 130 minutes
BBFC: 12 (cut, 1995) | 15 (uncut, 2006)
MPAA: PG-13

Original Release: 16th November 1995 (Canada)
US Release: 17th November 1995
UK Release: 24th November 1995
First Seen: VHS, 1996

Stars
Pierce Brosnan (Mrs. Doubtfire, Mamma Mia)
Sean Bean (Patriot Games, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring)
Izabella Scorupco (Reign of Fire, Exorcist: The Beginning)
Famke Janssen (X-Men, Taken)
Judi Dench (A Room with a View, Notes on a Scandal)

Director
Martin Campbell (The Mask of Zorro, Casino Royale)

Screenwriters
Jeffrey Caine (The Constant Gardner, Exodus: Gods and Kings)
Bruce Feirstein (Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough)

Story by
Michael France (Cliffhanger, The Punisher)

Based on
James Bond, a character created by Ian Fleming.

The Story
When Russian crime syndicate Janus steal the activation codes for a new satellite weapons system called “Goldeneye”, there’s only one man who can stop them using it for nefarious ends: Jack Bauer. Only kidding — it’s Jason Bourne. No, ‘course not — it’s Bond, James Bond.

Our Hero
Pierce Brosnan is Bond, James Bond, for the first time. After the almost-franchise-killing seriousness of Timothy Dalton, Brosnan nails Bond for the nostalgic ’90s: a dash of Sean Connery’s grit, a dash of Roger Moore’s raised-eyebrow humour, a whole lot of suaveness. For a while, the old “Connery or Moore?” question became “Connery, Moore or Brosnan?”

Our Villain
The mysterious Janus, who (spoiler alert!) turns out to be former MI6 agent and Bond’s chum Alec Trevelyan, out for revenge against the British Empire for betraying his family after World War 2, and against Bond for setting the bombs’ timers for three minutes instead of six.

Best Supporting Character
It was a bold choice to cast a woman as M back in 1995, even though she was inspired by the real director of MI6 at the time. Fortunately they cast the inestimable Dame Judi Dench, who naturally made the role her own — so much so that she survived the otherwise series-wide reboot in 2006, and having a male in the part now feels kinda odd.

Memorable Quote
“I think you’re a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War” — M
(If a single line saved the Bond series, it’s this. In one fell swoop Dame Judi proves that a female M will work, and that this is a franchise aware of the need to drag itself into the present day.)

Memorable Scene
The villains are driving off with the kidnapped love interest. There’s no Aston Martin in sight. Does Bond take another car? Of course not — he takes a bloody tank.

Write the Theme Tune…
Bono and The Edge of U2, hired after…

Sing the Theme Tune…
Tina Turner. According to Wikipedia, “the producers did not collaborate with Bono or The Edge,” hence why (unlike previous Bonds) there’s nothing in the main score that references the title theme. That would rather become the Bond M.O. as the ’90s went on.

Truly Special Effect
The bungee jump off the damn — because it’s not a special effect, it’s real. The Bond series’ legacy of incredible, groundbreaking stunts continues with considerable style.

Letting the Side Down
Éric Serra’s score. Hiring someone to write a very modern (for the early ’90s) score for the newly-relaunched Bond must’ve seemed like a good idea at the time… but it wasn’t. It hasn’t improved any with age, either. Tellingly, after the score was finished the producers had someone else re-score the film’s big action sequence, the St. Petersburg tank chase, with music that sounds far more classically Bondian. Bonus problem: if you had an N64 (like I did), chances are you played GoldenEye the game far more than you watched the film. It too used Serra’s score, meaning I can’t hear it without being transported back to an idyllic adolescence playing blocky video games.

Making of
Pierce Brosnan was originally cast as Bond in 1986, but was forced to pull out when his TV series, Remington Steele, was unexpectedly renewed (according to one telling, that was purely to prevent him playing Bond — they only made six more episodes). Previously, Timothy Dalton had almost been cast when Roger Moore became Bond, and Moore had almost been cast before Sean Connery. Don’t be too surprised if Henry “Superman” Cavill — who was almost cast before the producers settled on Daniel Craig — is taking his martinis shaken not stirred in a few years’ time.

Previously on…
16 previous Bond films (which are all technically in the same continuity). The last was six years earlier, and the least financially successful for 15 years in the US (did alright worldwide, though).

Next time…
Brosnan played Bond thrice more, to increasing box office (if not critical) acclaim. He was due to do a fifth, but then the producers won back the rights to Casino Royale and the rest is history.

Awards
2 BAFTA nominations (Special Effects, Sound)
2 Saturn nominations (Action/Adventure Film, Best Actor (Pierce Brosnan))
2 MTV Movie Awards nominations (including Best Sandwich in a Movie for the submarine sandwich with tomatoes and provolone. It lost to the ham and cheese sandwich in Smoke).

What the Critics Said
“James Bond, the British spy with a taste for the high life and a licen[c]e to kill, comes back in surprisingly hardy and supple form. Gadgets firing, quips racing, libido unfurling, surrounded by a top-notch supporting crew of actors, designers and demolition experts, the new Agent 007 (now played by Pierce Brosnan) delivers whatever Bond devotees could reasonably want, or what newcomers anticipate. […] So much familiarity may lead to contempt in some quarters. But Bond, like Sherlock Holmes, Jeeves, Tarzan, Frankenstein or Dracula, is one of those mythical British pop figures who seem ageless, infinitely adaptable. […] Perhaps the reason is that Bond — as his detractors have always noted — is an adolescent fantasy figure, a Peter Pan popped onto the stage of international espionage. Like Peter, he can’t — won’t — grow up. [He has] caught the world’s imagination because he played out its darker dreams with fairy-tale lightness.” — Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune

Score: 78%

What the Public Say
“Rarely in the Bond franchise have directing, acting, cinematography, action, and music come together to create such a stylishly sublime experience. GoldenEye has undeniably earned its now-solidified status as a classic.” — Lukas, Lukas + Film

Verdict

After diminishing box office in the Dalton years, a long gap forced by legal battles, and the Cold War ending in the interim, bringing Bond back for the ’90s was perhaps a bit of a long shot. Fortunately, this fact didn’t escape the makers: there are numerous nods to Bond’s somewhat old-fashioned values (see also: memorable quote), and a whole heap of effort was expended on large-scale action sequences and stunts. Couple that with a solid storyline, several memorable villains, and a “greatest hits”-style leading performance from Brosnan, and you have a series that wasn’t just revived but was set to reach new heights (of box office, if nothing else).

Frankly my dear, #41 doesn’t give… a damn.

From Russia with Love (1963)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #32

James Bond is back!
His new incredible women!
His new incredible enemies!
His new incredible adventures!

Country: UK
Language: English, Russian, Turkish & Romany
Runtime: 115 minutes
BBFC: A (1963) | PG (1987)
MPAA: GP (1971) | PG (1994)

Original Release: 11th October 1963 (UK)
US Release: 8th April 1964
First Seen: TV, c.1995

Stars
Sean Connery (Darby O’Gill and the Little People, Zardoz)
Daniela Bianchi (Special Mission Lady Chaplin, Operation Kid Brother)
Pedro Armendariz (Fort Apache, 3 Godfathers)
Lotte Lenya (The Threepenny Opera, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone)
Robert Shaw (A Man for All Seasons, Jaws)

Director
Terence Young (Dr. No, Wait Until Dark)

Screenwriter
Richard Maibaum (Bigger Than Life, Licence to Kill)

Adapted by
Johanna Harwood (Dr. No, Call Me Bwana)

Based on
From Russia with Love, the fifth James Bond novel by Ian Fleming — one of John F. Kennedy’s favourite novels.

The Story
When Soviet consulate clerk Tatiana Romanova offers to defect, she has one condition: that she is extracted by James Bond. Although M smells a trap, as collateral Tatiana offers a Lektor, a decoding machine MI6 have wanted for years. Bond travels to Istanbul to steal the Lektor, unaware he’s being manipulated by the criminal organisation SPECTRE…

Our Hero
The name’s Bond, James Bond. In only his second big-screen outing, so Connery is still establishing the character here — considering all the ‘fun’ antics that came since, Bond is quite a hard bastard in Dr. No and From Russia with Love (which is only appropriate for a government-sponsored killer, of course).

Our Villains
They may not be as grandiose as the volcano-dwelling types that came later in the series, but From Russia with Love has two of Bond’s most memorable adversaries: the hard former KGB officer Rosa Klebb, with her deadly shoe (well, it sounds silly when you put it like that), and assassin Red Grant, who may not know what wine to have with fish but could certainly gut you like one. A fish, that is. Not wine. You can’t gut wine.

Best Supporting Character
Kerim Bey, British Intelligence’s man in Turkey. An affable, witty soul, he’s also an invaluable ally during Bond’s time in Istanbul.

Memorable Quote
Tatiana: “I think my mouth is too big.”
Bond: “I think it’s a very lovely mouth. It’s just the right size… for me, anyway.”

Memorable Scene
On the Orient Express, SPECTRE assassin Red Grant manages to corner Bond in his compartment. Although he has Bond at gunpoint, Grant is distracted by the offer of gold coins hidden in Bond’s case. Bond tricks Grant into setting off the case’s booby trap, allowing Bond to tackle him. A rough close-quarters fight ensues.

Write the Theme Tune…
Having arranged and performed Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme for Dr. No (for which he didn’t receive a credit), John Barry was the main composer for Bond’s second adventure. However, the producers tapped Lionel Bart — then popular from Oliver! — to write the title song. Barry didn’t like that Bart’s lyrics had nothing to do with the film’s story, a point he set out to rectify when given full control of the soundtrack to Goldfinger.

Sing the Theme Tune…
A good answer if you’re ever faced with a trivia question about James Bond theme singers, Matt Monro was — so Wikipedia tells me — known as “The Man With The Golden Voice” and “became one of the most popular entertainers on the international music scene during the 1960s and 1970s.” With the Bond formula not yet fully established, a snippet of his song is heard on a radio early in the film, but not played in full until the end credits. (The title credits are scored with an instrumental version of the song, plus the James Bond Theme.)

Technical Wizardry
Projecting the title credits on writhing half-naked girls? It’ll never catch on.

Making of
Although Red Grant is presented as a physically-imposing male specimen, including showing off his half-naked physique the first time he appears, in reality actor Robert Shaw had to stand on a box when opposite Sean Connery because he was so much shorter than the Scot. (4 inches shorter, according to CelebHeights.com. Yes, that’s a real website.)

Previously on…
This is the second film about the adventures of James Bond, after the previous year’s Dr. No.

Next time…
The next film, Goldfinger, set the template for much of the rest of the Bond series. To date, that has encompassed a further 22 canonical movies, with the series’ 25th already in development. From Russia with Love was adapted for radio in 2012, the third of (to date) five Bond radio adaptations starring Toby Stephens as 007.

Awards
1 BAFTA nomination (British Cinematography (Colour))

What the Critics Said
“Don’t miss it! This is to say, don’t miss it if you can still get the least bit of fun out of lurid adventure fiction and pseudo-realistic fantasy. For this mad melodramatization of a desperate adventure of Bond with sinister characters in Istanbul and on the Orient Express is fictional exaggeration on a grand scale and in a dashing style, thoroughly illogical and improbable, but with tongue blithely wedged in cheek.” — Bosley Crowther, The New York Times

Score: 96%

What the Public Say
From Russia with Love turned out to be amongst the best of the Bonds. Distinctly low key, and relying on the strength of its cast over the spectacular thrills and gadgetry that would come to define the series, it’s a great couple of hours’ cinema that may delight viewers who come to it expecting the same old nonsense from 007.” — Mike, Films on the Box

Elsewhere on 100 Films
I reviewed From Russia with Love as part of a retrospective on Connery’s Bond back in 2012, when I noted it was “a very faithful rendition of the book. That makes it a Cold War spy thriller, albeit one with fantastical touches […] Mostly, though, it feels remarkably plausible. Sequences like the theft of a decoding machine from the Russian consulate, or the famous confined train carriage fight with Red Grant, have real-world heft rather than typical Bond action sequence fantasticism.”

Verdict

It’s only the second Bond movie, so there’s no template yet, but in retrospect From Russia with Love is an oddity among the Bond flicks of the ’60s and ’70s. Although it has many of the series’ regular trappings — exciting action, exotic locations, beautiful women, grotesque villains, nifty gadgets — it also functions as a straight-up ’60s Cold War spy thriller, with few of the fantastical touches the Bond films would become known for. Such atypicality means anyone looking for a “Bond formula” movie will be disappointed, but otherwise it’s an accomplished thriller, and one of the series’ finest instalments.

The first rule of #29 is… don’t talk about #29.

Casino Royale (2006)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #18

Everyone has a past.
Every legend has its beginning.

Country: UK, USA, Czech Republic & Germany
Language: English
Runtime: 144 minutes
BBFC: 12A (cut, 2006) | 15 (uncut, 2012)
MPAA: PG-13 (cut)

Original Release: 14th November 2006 (Kuwait)
UK Release: 16th November 2006
US Release: 17th November 2006
First Seen: cinema, 16th November 2006

Stars
Daniel Craig (Layer Cake, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
Eva Green (The Dreamers, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For)
Mads Mikkelsen (Valhalla Rising, The Hunt)
Judi Dench (Iris, Philomena)
Jeffrey Wright (Shaft, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire)

Director
Martin Campbell (GoldenEye, Green Lantern)

Screenwriters
Paul Haggis (Crash, The Next Three Days)
Neal Purvis (Die Another Day, Johnny English)
Robert Wade (Stoned, Skyfall)

Based on
Casino Royale, the first James Bond novel by Ian Fleming.

The Story
British agent James Bond, newly promoted to exclusive double-oh status, investigates a terrorist plot that leads him to Le Chiffre. Banker to the world’s terrorists, Le Chiffre has managed to lose a lot of his clients’ money, and intends to win it back in a high-stakes poker game at the eponymous establishment. Bond is charged with joining the game and bankrupting the banker, with treasury employee Vesper Lynd along to keep an eye on the money and off Bond’s perfectly-formed arse.

Our Hero
“James before he was Bond,” as the awful US tagline went. Daniel Craig instantly disproved the not-that-numerous-but-certainly-vocal critics (remember all the “Bond isn’t blond” rubbish?) by being perhaps the most convincing actually-is-a-highly-trained-agent Bond since Connery.

Our Villain
Le Chiffre, a total banker. Fond of poker, bleeds from his eye, brilliantly played by Mads Mikkelsen, who has deservedly gone on to many other things, no doubt some wholly due to this.

Best Supporting Character
Eva Green is Vesper Lynd, a woman so remarkable that Bond names his personal Martini recipe after her. He also falls in love with her. Considering the rest of the Bond canon, that’s not likely to end well.

Memorable Quote
“I’m afraid your friend Mathis is really… my friend Mathis.” — Le Chiffre

Memorable Scene
At dinner on the train to Montenegro, Bond meets Vesper for the first time. They verbally size each other up. She wins. “How was your lamb?” “Skewered. One sympathises.”

Write the Theme Tune…
Easily the best Bond theme of the Craig era (though I like the QoS one more than most, and my main objection to Adele’s is that it’s about a flying baby horse and its receptacle for bread waste), You Know My Name was co-written by the series’ regular composer since the mid ’90s, David Arnold. That meant he could integrate the tune into his score, which was a Good Thing.

Sing the Theme Tune…
Far removed from Bond’s Bassey-imitating default style, the slightly gravelly sound of Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell (the first male vocalist on a Bond theme for nearly 20 years) helped indicate the series’ harder, manlier new direction.

Technical Wizardry
After four films of honing the Maurice Binder “naked silhouettes” style, title designer Daniel Kleinman cuts loose with an array of inventive playing card-based imagery. The most original Bond title sequence since at least Thunderball and, by being so atypical, the most unique of them all.

Truly Special Effect
Chasing after a kidnapped Vesper in the middle of the night, Bond suddenly sees her in his headlights, tied up in the middle of the road. He swerves, his Aston Martin crashes, and barrel rolls… seven times. The stunt team set a world record with that, which (despite Fury Road’s best efforts) is still unbeaten a decade later.

Making of
James Ferguson, a doctor from Aberdeen, came up with the idea for the scene in which Bond is poisoned and then remotely diagnosed by experts at MI6 HQ in London. Ferguson, a Bond fan, was retained as medical adviser for future Bond films.

Previously on…
Casino Royale was adapted for TV in 1954, starring the great Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre, and its title (and little else) was used for the awful 1967 Bond spoof. This version is the 21st in the canonical James Bond film series, and the first time that series has performed a reboot: the film opens with Bond attaining his famed double-oh status, something we’ve never seen before.

Next time…
Daniel Craig’s second outing, the somewhat misunderstood and underrated Quantum of Solace, was the first direct sequel in the Bond canon, picking up on various plot threads from Casino Royale and even resolving a few of them. After Craig’s third, Skyfall, went off on its own, last year’s Spectre tried to tie together the entirety of Craig’s era, with mixed success. Beyond that, James Bond will return indefinitely, though Craig may not.

Awards
1 BAFTA (Sound)
8 BAFTA nominations (British Film, Actor (Daniel Craig), Adapted Screenplay, Music, Cinematography, Editing, Production Design, Visual Effects)
1 Saturn Award (Action/Adventure/Thriller Film)
4 Saturn nominations (Actor (Daniel Craig), Supporting Actress (Eva Green), Writing, Music)
2 World Stunt Awards (Best High Work, Best Stunt Coordination and/or 2nd Unit Director)
1 World Stunt Awards nomination (Best Fight)

What the Critics Said
“I never thought I would see a Bond movie where I cared, actually cared, about the people. But I care about Bond, and about Vesper Lynd, even though I know that (here it comes) a Martini Vesper is shaken, not stirred. Vesper Lynd, however, is definitely stirring, as she was in Bertolucci’s wonderful The Dreamers. Sometimes shaken, too. Vesper and James have a shower scene that answers, at last, why nobody in a Bond movie ever seems to have any real emotions.” — Roger Ebert

Score: 95%

What the Public Say
“While there is very much a dramatic and sensitive undercurrent to this Bond film, Casino Royale doesn’t shortchange the audience on action. From Bond chasing a skilled free runner enemy to a brutal staircase battle, Casino Royale delivers a harsher and bleaker sense of violence that had been missing from some of the predecessors and not seen since Timothy Dalton’s dark turn in Licence to Kill.” — vinnieh

Elsewhere on 100 Films
Just before Quantum of Solace was released in 2008, I wrote that Casino Royale was “a damn fine Bond film, returning to Fleming and resetting the character without losing anything truly essential about the franchise. […] this one’s up there with the very best, not just of Bond but of action-spy-thrillers in general.”

Verdict

In the early ’00s, it didn’t feel like the Bond series was in need of a reboot. Die Another Day had been a huge hit at the box office and gone down pretty well with critics (no, really, it did), and Brosnan was all set to do a fifth (though, considering his age, likely final) film as Britain’s top secret agent. Then Bourne happened, shifting the playing field of the spy-action genre, at the same time as Bond’s producers finally regained the rights to Fleming’s very first Bond novel. For the first time in the series’ 40-year history, they decided to reboot.

What Casino Royale does skilfully is acknowledge the changes brought by Bourne, but adapt them to Bond’s slightly more classical style (something Quantum of Solace fumbled). At the same time, it acknowledges and frequently subverts that Bond formula (“Shaken or stirred?” “Do I look like I give a damn.”), the antithesis of DAD’s uber-referentiality. In itself, it took Fleming’s relatively slight novel, with its lack of action by modern blockbuster standards, and expanded and modernised it effectively to fit current tastes. The result is arguably the best Bond movie ever made.

#19 will be… the last days of the human race.

Spectre (2015)

2015 #168
Sam Mendes | 148 mins | cinema | 2.35:1 | UK & USA / English | 12A / PG-13

Regular readers will remember I shared my spoiler-free thoughts on Spectre when it came out. Consequently, this review contains major spoilers, of the “if you read this you will know every twist that happens in the movie” variety.

The 24th official James Bond movie had a funny old ride on its cinema release a few months ago. It started well, with near-universal praise from UK critics; audience reaction was more mixed but erred towards the positive; then US critics tore into it, and US audiences (as usual) followed suit. The latter seems to have become the more accepted view, with the consensus seemingly that it’s decent enough, but a definite step down from the high of Skyfall and a middle-of-the-road instalment in the context of the entire series.

Spectre sees Bond (Daniel Craig) charged by dead-M (a Judi Dench cameo) with tracking down an assassin, as a way in to a secretive organisation that Bond’s other recent nemeses seem to have been a part of. While new-M (Ralph Fiennes) is distracted in London dealing with MI5 upstart Denbigh (Andrew Scott) and his dubious information-sharing plan that will make MI6 obsolete, Bond follows a trail of breadcrumbs to Rome, Austria, and Africa as he attempts to track down the organisation’s leader (Christoph Waltz).

That’s the foreshortened version of the plot, because much of Spectre plays like a detective movie: Bond uncovers clues that send him in new directions moving closer and closer to his goal. Where this falls down is there’s no mystery for him to unearth, at least not to the audience. We (and he) know this secret organisation exists, and we also know who’s in charge — it’s pretty hard to have not heard that Christoph Waltz is playing a Bond villain. So what twist does the film wheel out to keep this worthwhile? Is Waltz actually a front for the real villain? No. Perhaps there will be an incredible reveal about who Waltz’s character really is? Well…

Spectre, to put it bluntly, pulls a Star Trek Into Darkness — and considering writer Damon Lindelof recently admitted they’d messed up the reveal that (spoiler!) Benedict Cumberbatch was actually Khan (and J.J. Abrams admitted they’d messed up the film more generally, but that’s another issue), it’s a shame Spectre tried to repeat the same trick. So yes, as everyone predicted since the day he was cast, Waltz is playing Blofeld. The problem is, the film plays this as a twist/reveal, but it’s not a revelation to the characters, only to the viewer. In this interview with Empire magazine, director Sam Mendes says that not revealing Blofeld’s identity to the viewing public in advance was important because it’s a detective story and Bond doesn’t know the identity of the ‘murderer’, and we shouldn’t know before Bond. Which is poppycock, frankly, because the name Blofeld means nothing to Bond — the revelation for him is that his deceased childhood acquaintance is, a) alive, b) has become a super-villain, and c) has spent the last few years deliberately toying with Bond because of some childhood grudge. That’s why it’s just like the Khan ‘twist’: it means absolutely bugger all to the characters, but it does mean something to the audience. I’m certain there were ways to handle it in-film to make it work both ways — to make it a twist that Oberhauser is also Blofeld — but they don’t pursue that option even a little bit. And of course we all knew anyway, so it feels even sillier. If they’d played the “someone else we’re keeping secret might be Blofeld” game — if there’d been some misdirection to make us thing Denbigh would be unmasked as the big man behind it all — maybe it would’ve worked. But they didn’t.

For me, this is the point where the whole film went off the boil. It occurs at the start of a torture scene, which I thought was an over-complicated wannabe-Casino Royale sequence that consequently doesn’t work, and provides the gateway to an underwhelming final section in London. It seems the film’s third act was always a problem — if you read about what was revealed by the Sony leaks (in this coverage, for example), it’s clear the film entered production with the climax still not nailed down, because no one could quite agree on it. From that article, it indeed sounds like most of the film remained the same (or at least near enough), but the third act has definitely been re-worked, albeit retaining the same general thrust. I still don’t think it works. There’s too much of M, Q and Moneypenny sat in an office trying to stop a man typing something into a computer (more on this in a minute), while Bond is busy running around a building and shooting at a helicopter. Personally, I’d’ve thrown it out and started again, but I guess they’d run out of time, and maybe it was better than the alternative.

The leaked draft also ended with Bond executing Blofeld, shooting him in the head at point blank range. The studio thought this callous. In the finished film, he spares him, the movie justifying this as Bond rejecting his former life as a government assassin to go off and be with the woman he’s fallen completely in love with in the last three days. Was it Sony’s note that changed Blofeld’s fate, or a desire to keep Bond’s Moriarty in play for future instalments? I guess we’ll find out once Bond 25 starts ramping up. I wouldn’t mind seeing a good deal more of Waltz in the role. In Spectre he’s almost entirely constrained to the third act, thanks to that attempt at a twist; now he’s been established, surely next time they can let him loose across the entire movie? Reports indicate the return or otherwise of Waltz will hinge on Craig’s decision about returning (despite ‘news’ to the contrary last week, this seems to still be up in the air), so we’ll have to wait and see on both fronts.

Back to the issue of M, Q and Moneypenny. I’ve seen critics of the film assert that it was a mistake to cast actors of the calibre of Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, and Ben Whishaw only to give them so little to do. This tickles me a little, because if anything I thought they played too large a role. All three have their place within a Bond narrative, and that place may have changed somewhat over the years (particularly with regards to Moneypenny), but it feels like we spend as much time with them saving the day as with Bond. This isn’t Mission: Impossible — it isn’t a team effort. Is it realistic that a lone agent goes around saving the world? No, of course it isn’t, and it never was; but the point of Bond has never been realism. And besides, the reason you cast quality actors in minor roles is so they can pop in for a day or two and make their one scene exceptionally good. Bulk their part up if you’ve got a story to tell, by all means, but don’t shoehorn them in just because you’ve got them. For my money, Spectre is too much doing the latter.

I could go on and on about a Bond movie (as anyone who’s read my 5,000 words on Skyfall will know), and obviously there are whole swathes of the film I’ve not touched on (the girls, the gadgets, the titles, that bloody song, the action sequences, the emptiness of Rome’s streets), but for now I’ll finish off with some more thoughts on that Mendes interview. (If you’re interested in “why we did that” behind-the-scenes stuff, do read the whole thing — there’s more interesting stuff there than I’m going to mention.) For starters, he reveals that the memorable opening “single take” is actually four shots stitched together, and challenges you to spot the cuts. It’s a fantastic opener, but, to be frank, I don’t think the transitions are that hard to ascertain. (From memory: there’s definitely one as they enter the building, another before they enter the hotel room, and the third is somewhere around when Bond climbs out the window onto the rooftops).

Despite the Sony leaks, Mendes thinks Bond killing Blofeld was never an option. He says it’s “sewn into the fabric of the film” that the story takes a man who kills for a living (and states as much at one point) to a position where he chooses not to kill. See too: M saying a licence to kill is also a licence not to kill; and the idea that, to Blofeld, being exposed and incarcerated is worse than being killed. This is a thematic thread the film arguably gets right, though sending Bond off to a “happy ending” seems a risky strategy when it comes to luring back a leading man they hope to retain but who may prefer to leave. Or perhaps they’re just planning to go On Her Majesty’s Secret Service on us. Mendes also says the ending was deliberately written as a way for Craig to leave, intending it to be an in-film conclusion that would serve as an exit if he chose not to come back, but which was also open enough that he could return without it being implausible. Time will tell which it will be.

As I mentioned in my ‘initial thoughts’ piece, it takes time and repeated viewings to settle a film into a ranking among the Bond pantheon… but it’s no fun just waiting, so let’s have a crack now. The broadest way of categorising that is, “is Spectre top ten material?” As a widely divisive Bond film, everyone’s going to have a very different opinion (when don’t they?), but when I tried to list my top ten Bond films for the sake of comparison, I got easily into double digits before I began to consider Spectre. Maybe I’m being too harsh now — I did fundamentally like it for most of the running time, but there are niggles throughout and the last couple of reels left a sour taste. For a film that should build on the excellence of Casino Royale and Skyfall, as well as finally fulfil a decade-long promise to restore more “classic Bond” elements to the franchise, it wasn’t all it could’ve been.

4 out of 5

Spectre is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on Monday.

Merry Christmas, Internet

I was going to post my review of The Force Awakens today, but I’ve had a grotty cold and haven’t felt like writing it.

Er, I mean — Merry Christmas! Glad tidings to all! It’s the most wondrous time of the year!

100 Films HQ, today.

100 Films HQ, today.

This is what happens when you meet all the family, then all the other family, then go shopping, then to a crowded cinema (i.e. spending time in confined spaces with lots of strangers and their germs), and then stand around in the cold and rain at Longleat for two hours.

Longleat was good, though.

Longleat was good, though.

Anyway, I hope you’re having a nice day. I’m off to debate whether to bother making Christmas lunch or just leave it for tomorrow (because it’s just the two of us and the dog, and precisely none of those people are bothered whether we have The Big Meal today or on another day when I’m feeling more like it).

Marty McFly, in the TARDIS, under our tree, yesterday.

Marty McFly, in the TARDIS, under our tree, yesterday.

Oh, and if you’ve not heard it already, don’t bother with Radiohead’s Spectre theme, it’s rubbish. (But because I know I’d want to hear it even after someone gave me that advice, here’s a link).

Merry Christmas!

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

2015 #184
Christopher McQuarrie | 132 mins | Blu-ray | 2.39:1 | USA, Hong Kong & China / English, Swedish & German | 12 / PG-13

Mission: Impossible - Rogue NationIt’s an overcrowded year for spies on the big screen (as previously discussed), so I imagine Paramount were very glad they were able to make the last-minute decision to pull this fifth Mission: Impossible movie forward from its original post-Spectre release date to a summer debut, before audiences perhaps felt the genre was played out. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered anyway: for my money, Rogue Nation is the best James Bond movie released in 2015.

Beginning a year or two on from the last Mission, we find IMF’s star agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) investigating the Syndicate, a shadowy terrorist organisation that may not even exist. Hunt finds proof when he’s kidnapped by the Syndicate, escaping with the help of one of their operatives, Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson). Unfortunately, this is the moment when Washington politicking by CIA director Hunley (Alec Baldwin) sees the IMF shut down. So, naturally, Hunt goes on the run, determined to find and eliminate the Syndicate.

Rogue Nation has a nicely straightforward yet nuanced espionage-y plot, though its hard to accurately summarise its inciting incidents without giving too much away. Suffice to say, it’s not long before Hunt is reuniting with former IMF teammates Benji (Simon Pegg), Brandt (Jeremy Renner), and Luther (Ving Rhames), as well as forming an off-and-on alliance with double (or triple?) agent Faust. They’re aligned against the Syndicate, led by the excellently named Solomon Lane. He’s played by Sean Harris, on fine form as a very still, very quiet, very bespectacled villain. Even though you know the heroes are going to win, it becomes hard to see how they’re going to manage it, so powerful and threatening is Lane.

Crazy stuntsObviously this uncertainty is also thanks to the story constructed by writer-director Christopher McQuarrie. Some automatically dismiss the plots of the Mission films, saying they’re just an excuse to link some death-defying stunts performed by Mr Cruise. Although there may be an element of truth to that, I don’t think this is a bad storyline by any means. As I said, it’s fairly straightforward (there’s no mole in IMF! Hurrah!), but the intricacies keep it engrossing and keep you guessing. And anyway, the action sequences it ties together are first-rate. You’ve pretty much seen the opening plane stunt in the trailer — heck, you’ve seen it on the poster — but it’s still a thrilling opener. Then there’s the opera sequence, a massive logistical challenge for the filmmakers that they’ve crafted to perfection, making one of the most effective and memorable spy sequences for a long time; arguably, ever. There’s a rich pedigree of such scenes set in theatrical spaces, be they by Hitchcock or even in otherwise-poorly-regarded Bond films, but Rogue Nation’s sits proudly alongside them.

Unsatiated by creating two iconic scenes, McQuarrie and co set about offering even more: there’s an underwater sequence where Hunt has to hold his breath for fully three minutes while diving, replacing an underwater computer chip, and escaping; there’s a crazy car-vs.-bike chase through the backstreets of Casablanca; that’s followed by an equally manic bike chase along the motorways and windy cliff roads of Morocco… If the climax — a runaround through the foggy streets of London — feels a little underwhelming by comparison, it’s through no fault of its own. In my Ghost Protocol review I discussed the Mission films’ consistently lower-key finales, and Rogue Nation is no exception, although I’d contend the sequence works well enough that it’s still one of the franchise’s most effective climaxes.

Team improbableAs alluded to above, this is probably the most globetrotting Mission film yet: it starts in Belarus, before taking in Washington D.C., Cuba, Paris, Vienna, Casablanca, and London. It’s things like this that lead me to describe it as a James Bond film. There’s also the balance of a serious plot line with plenty of humour, the use of outlandish just-ahead-of-reality gadgets, and the fact that the series can’t retain a female cast member for more than one film (though that last one isn’t a positive). For all the effort Spectre made to bring classical Bond elements back into the fold, Rogue Nation arguably feels more like a classically-styled Bond movie. It’s not a faultless like-for-like comparison — one of Rogue Nation’s best points as a Mission movie is that the whole team are necessary to complete the mission, a defining factor of the TV series that many felt went awry in the movies, with their focus on Cruise — but the almost-indefinable sensation of this experience is Bondian. It’s not stealing that style, though: considering Ghost Protocol had it too, and Craig-era Bond has abandoned it for a ‘classier’ action-thriller mode, it’s something the M:I series has come to own.

Indeed, of late the Mission films have come to feel more like a series than they did previously. It’s now quite well known that every Mission film has a different director, a conscious choice on the part of star/producer Tom Cruise to give each film a unique flavour. To be honest, I’m not sure how well that’s worked. M:I-2 drips with John Woo’s personal style (to the distaste of many, as it turned out), and I suppose the first film is pretty Brian De Palma-y, but since M:i:III things have got distinctly less distinctive. That was helmed by J.J. Abrams, whose only stylistic point is “lens flare”; and it was his first feature, so he didn’t even have that yet. The fourth film was by Pixar’s Brad Bird, making his live-action debut. This fifth isn’t McQuarrie’s first film, at least, but it is only his third, and the first was 15 years ago and I’m pretty sure no one remembers it. Now, none of these chaps did a bad job — far from it, as Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation are among the series’ best instalments, perhaps even the two very best — but I think you’d be hard pushed to tell the last three films came from different creative brains.

InterrogationSo on the one hand the recent news that McQ (as current regular collaborator Cruise calls him) is returning to write and direct the sixth Mission is a shame, because it breaks a twenty-year rule; but on the other, I’m not sure it matters. Plus, by taking on the dual role of sole writer and director, you could argue McQ’s Missions are the most auteur-y of the lot, even in spite of the lack of a terribly unique visual style. Which is all a very long-winded way of saying that I was a little disappointed when it was announced there wouldn’t be a sixth director for the sixth film, because I always thought that was a neat idea; but as the idea hasn’t actually had much effect, who better to ask back than the man who wrote and directed arguably the best Mission: Impossible film of them all?

Perhaps that’s because (according to Abrams in one of the special features) McQuarrie wanted this to be a sort of “greatest hits” for the M:I franchise. He’s done that pretty subtly — you don’t feel like you’re watching a string of ripoffs from the first four — but he has done it, with sequences and locations that recall the previous films, and some nice hidden Easter eggs for the hardcore, too. Technical attributes are equally up to scratch, with some lovely lensing by Robert Elswit. He shot most of it on 35mm film and it pays off, with an indefinable classy quality. The score is by Joe Kraemer, who I’d not heard of before, probably because the main thing he’s done is score both of McQ’s previous films. No matter, because his work here is top-notch, and certainly the most memorable Mission score I can, er, remember. Wisely, he’s taken the iconic main theme as his starting point, also used Lalo Schifrin’s other beloved M:I piece, The Plot, and mixed recognisable motifs and elements from these throughout his own compositions. It works marvellously, and helps contribute to not one but two of the best title sequences the Mission films have yet had. Yes, two, in one film. It feels kinda greedy, but I enjoyed it — when you’ve got a theme that good, why not highlight it twice?

Obligatory photo of Rebecca Ferguson in that dress with those legsThe cast are liable to get lost among all the grandiose goings-on in a film like this, so its a testament to the skilled team that’s been assembled over the past few movies that they absolutely do not. Cruise is Cruise — surely by now you know whether you like him or not. I always feel like I should dislike him, especially given his crazy real-life religious views, but on screen I find him very entertaining. Rogue Nation is no different. Hunt is on the back foot for a lot of the film, and Cruise is at his best when he’s playing someone who’s almost the underdog. He’s also a more talented comic actor than he’s normally given credit for, and that glimpses through here too. Most of the time comedic duty is handled by Pegg, of course, who provides a good foil as Hunt’s sidekick for much of the film. More surprising, perhaps, is the amount of humour Jeremy Renner brings. It’s much less obvious, dryer and more sarcastic, so the contrasting tone is fun. He’s paired with Ving Rhames for a long stretch, who returns wholesale after sitting out Ghost Protocol but for a cameo. The pairing may come up just short of feeling inspired, but nonetheless makes for an entertaining change. Elsewhere, Baldwin offers a neat, not-too-clichéd turn as the CIA ‘villain’, while Tom Hollander pops in for a funny cameo-level turn as the British Prime Minister.

But the real star of the film is Rebecca Ferguson, marking the second male-led action franchise this year where the movie has been stolen from the male hero by the female ‘support’. (The other, of course, is the much-discussed Furiosa in Fury Road.) Ilsa Faust is a fantastic character, whose allegiances are regularly questioned — every time you think you have her pinned down, something changes. She’s an immensely capable agent, but Ferguson also finds her vulnerable side when needed. She’s no damsel in distress — far from it — but she’s not just a cold man-but-with-boobs action heroine either. (Incidentally, it would’ve been very easy to illustrate this review with half a dozen pictures of Ferguson being awesome. But I resisted. Though I should’ve made room for this.) As an action movie leading man, and a producer who can shape the film how he wants, it’s to Cruise’s credit that he allows everyone else to share so much screen time — and to save him on more than one occasion too — and especially so when one of those characters is pretty much stealing the limelight out from under him.

Mission acceptedAs the fifth film in a franchise that has always carried a slight “pretender to the throne” air, Rogue Nation should feel played out and tired. Instead it seems fresh and invigorated, with a spot-on tone, likeable and fun characters, a real sense of jeopardy and menace (missing in so many modern action films), and some of 2015’s very best action scenes — and in the year of Fury Road, that’s really saying something. McQuarrie has already spoken about learning lessons from this so he can make the next one even better. I find that hard to imagine, but that’s his mission, and I choose to accept it.

5 out of 5

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation placed 1st on my list of The Ten Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2015, which can be read in full here.

This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2015. Read more here.

I saw Spectre days after the eager-beavers but still before some people, so here are my spoiler-free thoughts

It’s been quite the year for spies on the big screen: mega-success for Kingsman, high praise for Mission: Impossible 5, comedy from Spy, the TV-ish thrills of Spooks, and you may’ve missed The Man from U.N.C.L.E. — based on its box office, most people did. But now we come to the biggest of them all: Bond. James Bond.

Chances are, if you’re interested in a review of the 24th Bond movie you’ve already read one. Several, probably. Nonetheless, as both a blogger and a Bond fan who saw the series’ latest instalment this afternoon, I’m compelled to throw some of my initial spoiler-free thoughts out there. Plus, in places, commentary on those other reviews.

For starters, if you have read any other reviews, you’ll know it begins with a helluva pre-titles sequence; perhaps the only part of the film to have attracted unqualified universal praise. A big opening action scene has become one of the series’ most iconic elements, and Spectre contends (against stiff competition) to be considered the best yet. Too stiff, in my view. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic opener, with one of the entire series’ best shots, but the very best of them all? That’s just hyperbole because it’s the newest.

It leads into the title sequence — another of the series’ most famed elements, of course. No details, because I know that I wouldn’t want anyone to spoil it for me, but I thought it had some strong imagery without being amongst Daniel Kleinman’s very best work (GoldenEye, Casino Royale, Skyfall). Sam Smith’s insipid song is slightly less irritating in context.

Most reviews will also contain a version of one of these two comments: either, “they’ve finally brought back the classic Bond formula, but integrated into the Craig-era style — how wonderful”; or, “they’ve merely brought back the classic Bond formula, albeit in the Craig-era style — what a regression”. You only have to look at the Rotten Tomatoes pull quotes (at the time of writing — these will surely change once US critics oust UK ones from the front page) to see this played out. It’s true that Spectre is much more like one’s idea of a “classic Bond film” than any of Craig’s previous films were, but it didn’t strike me quite so much as it clearly struck others. As to whether that’s a deliberate filmmaking choice which has succeeded beautifully, or a case of lazily falling back on (or being unable to escape) the series’ tropes… well, your mileage — and appreciation — will vary. Considering both Craig and Mendes have mentioned in multiple interviews that they were deliberately bringing back more of the familiar Bond elements (something Craig had been hoping to do gradually ever since Casino Royale jettisoned most of them; indeed, I believe he’s mentioned it regularly since that time, too), I think we must conclude it was a deliberate decision. So the question becomes: do you approve of that decision? If you didn’t like Bond pre-Craig, or think the time for such things has passed, then probably not; if you’re a fan of the series as a whole, however, it may be a welcome return for some recently-absent familiarities.

For all its modernism, there’s one aspect which the Craig era has always had in keeping with earlier Bonds: the casting of the villain. After the Brosnan era gave us Brit Sean Bean, Brit Jonathan Pryce, Brit Robert Carlyle, and Brit Toby Stephens (even if some of them were playing foreigners), Craig’s films have stuck to the older formula of casting a respected/famous European: Dane Mads Mikkelsen, Frenchman Mathieu Amalric, Spaniard Javier Bardem, and now German “European actor du jour” Christoph Waltz. The double Oscar winner is on fine form at times, but there aren’t quite enough of those times. Again, without aiming to spoil anything, I’d say he’s not so much underused as misused.

Action sequences are naturally fantastic, the best coming in the alps. Thomas Newman’s score is as bland and unmemorable as his work last time, while Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography is strong, but not quite as striking as Roger Deakins’ in Skyfall. According to most reviews, M has the best line and biggest laugh. I have to say, I’m forced to guess which that line is, because neither of the two contenders I’d put forward provoked much response in my screening.

The real downside comes in a muddled third act, which suggests the Sony leaks were right: either this is the one they criticised for not being good enough, or it’s the written-during-production replacement. Either way, it feels off the ball. Further discussion next time…

I must also mention that Madeleine Swann’s name is a reference to Proust, because I believe it’s beholden on every reviewer to point this out to make sure you know they got the reference. Well, I did too. Now I want a cake. And if you’d like to watch someone eat a Madeleine, check out Blue is the Warmest Colour. (Too far?)

Oh, and I must get in a pun along the lines of, “what were you exSpectreing?”, or “we’ve been exSpectreing you, Mr Bond”. I guess mine should be, “I exSpectred something more.”

My spoilersome full review of Spectre is available here.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

2015 #76
Matthew Vaughn | 129 mins | Blu-ray | 2.39:1 | UK / English | 15* / R

Kingsman: The Secret ServiceThe team behind Kick-Ass bring that same reverent irreverence to the spy genre in this comedy-action-thriller that aims to bring the fun of ’60s/’70s spy-fi back to a genre that’s become oh so serious.

Developed alongside the Mark Millar/Dave Gibbons comic book The Secret Service, Matthew Vaughn’s film casts Colin Firth as Harry Hart, an agent for an independent intelligence operation, Kingsman, who recruits council estate kid Eggsy (Taron Egerton), the son of a fallen comrade, into the group’s elite training programme. As Eggsy battles tough training challenges and the snobbery of his Oxbridge-sourced competitors, Harry investigates suspicious tech mogul Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), who is secretly kidnapping people of importance and publicly giving away free SIM cards to everyone on the planet, but for what nefarious purpose?

There are several things going on in Kingsman that make it a uniquely entertaining proposition, especially in the current blockbuster climate. Part of the setup is “My Fair Lady with gentlemen spies”, as chavvy Eggsy is reshaped to be an old-fashioned besuited gent, inspired by the story of how Dr. No director Terence Young took a rough young Scottish chap called Sean Connery under his wing and taught him how to dress and behave as a gentlemen in preparation for his star-making role as the original superspy. It’s one of those ideas that you wonder why no one thought of developing into a fiction sooner. It could have come across as datedly classist, but Vaughn and co-screenwriter Jane Goldman nail it as a 21st Century character arc: being a gentlemen is not about speaking correctly or lording it over the lower classes, but about a universal level of good behaviour, politeness, and doing the right thing. It successfully and acutely dodges any potential accusations of classism.

Classy mealAn even bigger part of the film’s triumph, and what likely led it to over $400 million worldwide in spite of its higher-than-PG-13 classifications (it’s Vaughn’s highest-grossing film to date, incidentally; even more so than his X-Men instalment), is that it takes the ever-popular James Bond formula and brings it up to date. However much you might love Casino Royale and Skyfall (and I do), the Bourne influence is undeniable. They’re not Bond movies in the same mould as the Connery and Moore movies that established the franchise’s enduring popularity around the globe; they’re modern thrillers, faithful in their way to Ian Fleming’s creation, but also zeitgeisty. Vaughn and co have looked at the DNA of those ’60s and ’70s Bond classics and given them a fresh lick of paint. So we have just-beyond-possible gadgets, a megalomaniacal supervillain, complete with epic mountain base, his own personal army, a physical tic, a uniquely-gifted almost-superhuman henchwoman, and a tongue-in-cheek tone that isn’t all-out spoof but lets you know no one believes any of this could actually happen and that’s OK.

Despite the overall tone of modern blockbusters, I don’t think the appetite for movies like this ever went away; or if it did, it quite quickly made a resurgence: a similar itch has been scratched in recent years by superhero movies, especially the Marvel ones. Audiences — or, perhaps, studio execs — seem currently more ready to accept outlandish action sequences, melodramatic stakes, and an occasionally-humorous tone if they were dressed up in colourful suits and pitched in the realm of sci-fi/fantasy, A little swimrather than the supposed real-world universe of spy movies. What the worldwide success of Kingsman proves is that audiences don’t need the set-dressing of superpowers to accept an action movie that’s less than deadly serious. It’s a place I don’t think the Bond movies could go anymore — not without accusations of returning to the disliked Moore or late-Brosnan films — but it’s one many people clearly like, and Kingsman fulfils it.

Another clever move by Vaughn and co was to aim it at adults. Every blockbuster is PG-13 these days to keep the box office high, but Kingsman shows you can cut loose and still make good money. By specifically setting out to make an R-rated version of the classic Bond formula, everything gets ramped up to 11. On the one hand, that earns the controversy of That Joke in the final act (as Vaughn has said, not wrongly, it’s a variation on the classic Bond film finale; Mark Strong’s Merlin even closes his videoscreen, Q-style), but on the other it allows for crazed action sequences. The (faked-)single-take church massacre has to be seen to be believed; a highly-choreographed orgy of violence that is a marvellous assault on the senses, demonstrating the benefits of clear camerawork and highly-trained professional stunt- and effects-people over fast-cut close-up ShakyCam handwavery. Later on, a certain sequence set to Land of Hope and Glory would be inconceivable in any other movie. Things like this perfectly demonstrate why the world needs these less-than-serious kinds of film: they let creativity loose, crafting moments and sequences that are exciting, funny, unique, and memorable.

The first rule of Fight Church...Criticisms of the film tend to pan out to nought, in my opinion. Is there too much violence? There’s a lot, certainly, but part of the point of that church sequence (for instance) is just how long it goes on. Other excellent action sequences (the pub fight you might’ve seen in clips; the car chase in reverse gear; the skydiving) aren’t predicated on killing. Similarly, Samuel L. Jackson’s baseball-capped lisping billionaire is a perfect modern riff on the traditional Bond villain, not some kind of attack on Americans or people with speech impediments. Some have even attempted a political reading of the film, arguing it’s fundamentally conservative and right-wing because the villain is an environmentalist. Again, I don’t think the film really supports such an interpretation. In fact, I think it’s completely apolitical — just like its titular organisation, in fact — and such perspectives are being entirely read into it by the kind of people who read too much of this kind of thing into everything.

If there’s any fault, it’s perhaps in an overabundance of ideas. One fewer training sequence might’ve been better — but then, which would you lose? Based on the trailer, some scenes were cut as it is (sadly there’s no deleted scenes section on the Blu-ray), and the film doesn’t really outstay its welcome. For me, it wasn’t as balls-to-the-wall revolutionary as Kick-Ass and, when we have actually had lighter-toned action films in the past few years, it doesn’t reconstruct its genre quite as much as Vaughn and Goldman’s adaptation of Stardust did for fantasy.

Secret SocietyNot everything hinges on being wall-to-wall groundbreaking, though, and Kingsman has so much to recommend it. It ticks all the requisite boxes of being exciting and funny, and some of its sequences are executed breathtakingly. The plot may move along familiar tracks — deliberately so — but it pulls out a few mysteries and surprises along the way. There’s an array of likeable performances, particularly from Firth, Egerton (sure to get a lot of work off the back of this), Jackson and Strong, and Sofia Boutella’s blade-legged henchwoman is yet another why-has-no-one-done-that great idea.

I’m more than happy for the Bond series to carry on down its current, serious-minded path, but I’m ever so glad Kingsman has come along to provide the level of pure entertainment and unabashed fun that series used to do so well. If they can keep this quality up, may there be many sequels.

5 out of 5

Kingsman: The Secret Service is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK today, and the US tomorrow.

It placed 13th on my list of The 20 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2015, which can be read in full here.

* During editing, the BBFC advised the film would receive an 18 certificate unless changes were made. The submitted version was classified 15. Normally such edits are applied globally (despite what some websites like to claim), but this has been a less clear case: vastly different running times were posted by the BBFC and their German equivalent, but Vaughn stated in an interview that nothing was cut for the UK. Now, the UK and US Blu-rays have identical running times, so it seems likely he was (unsurprisingly) telling the truth. Another “the UK version is cut!” storm in a teacup? Yessir. ^

March 2015 + Best Bond Beginnings

We’re a quarter of the way through the year — but with the #25 milestone passed last month, how far ahead have I forged?

Also this month: some quick thoughts on the best James Bond pre-titles sequences. Which is your favourite?


March’s films
Grosse Pointe Blank
#30 Alois Nebel (2011)
#31 Godzilla (2014)
#32 Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)
#33 Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997)
#34 Violet & Daisy (2011)
#35 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
#35a The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Extended Edition) (2013/2014)
Mad Max 2#36 The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)
#37 God Bless America (2011)
#38 Videodrome (1983)
#39 Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)
#40 Looper (2012)
#41 Valkyrie (2008)
#42 Mad Max 2 (1981), aka The Road Warrior
#43 Tarzan (1999)
#44 Empire of the Sun (1987)


Viewing Notes

  • This is the third month in a row where I’ve watched 16 films, all in. Weird.
  • Several I’ve been meaning to get round to for years were ticked off this month: Alois Nebel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Looper. All thanks to TV premieres.
  • It’s a complete accident that I left it a year to the month between watching Mad Max and Mad Max 2. Both were on Now TV, which I’m ending my subscription to imminently, so the third may crop up among April’s films.
  • No WDYMYHS film this month. Two in April, then.


Analysis

A grand total of 15 new films watched this month brings with it a few interesting observations. For one, this is the first time (since such records began) that January is the largest of a year’s first three months. That doesn’t really signify anything, just one of those random correlations (which has now been broken).

2015’s is the second largest March ever, and the fifth month in a row to improve on the same period from the year before. Plus it’s the tenth month in a row to have a final tally over ten. Regular readers will know my goal for this year is to have a run of 12 months that each exceed that figure, so I’m 25% of the way there. Meanwhile, the average total for January and February was 14.5, so by just tipping over that in March, the year-to-date average rises to 14.67.

2015 is clearly shaping up well on the whole. #44 is the furthest I’ve ever reached by the end of March, with second place being a three-way tie between 2010, 2011 and 2013 at #38. As ever, all indicators must be taken with a pinch of salt: last year (my highest year ever, lest we forget) I was actually running behind schedule until the last day of March; conversely, in 2012 I’d made it to #34 by the end of March, a full ten ahead of schedule, but still finished the year with just 97 films viewed.

Nonetheless, it’s prediction time! Never say never, but with the halfway point already looming next month, I feel 100 films is a fairly comfortable expectation this year (famous last words…) So, if I ‘merely’ manage to maintain my monthly ambition of ten-a-time from here on out, 2015 would make it to #134. That’d be my second-best year ever, so not to be sniffed at. If the current average (14.67, in case you forgot) holds, that would see me reach #176. Considering my previous best is 136, that’d be quite extraordinary. I live in hope.


This month’s archive reviews

Continuing apace, with 28 reposts this month.


Best James Bond Pre-titles

The past week has brought us both the first trailer for October’s 24th James Bond film, Spectre, as well as the news that it will feature the largest pre-titles sequence the 53-year-old franchise has ever staged. What better time to revive my “list of 5” format and look back at the finest examples of one of 007’s defining features, then?

Keeping the British end upExcept, goodness, I couldn’t get it down to just five! From Connery alone you’ve got ‘Bond’ being bested in From Russia with Love, the iconic jetpack in Thunderball, and the trend-setting mini-adventure from Goldfinger. As the series rolls on there’s The Spy Who Loved Me and its parachute, Moonraker’s free-fall fistfight (you couldn’t do that today — everyone would assume it was CGI and it’d have no magic), and the perfectly staged training-exercise-gone-wrong from The Living Daylights. The Brosnan era really kicks in the action, first with another peerless mini-adventure in GoldenEye (and the bungee jump…!), then increasingly expansive and suitably witty openers to both Tomorrow Never Dies and The World is Not Enough. Finally, the Craig era tipped the whole shebang on its head with Casino Royale’s moody black-and-white quickie, and Quantum of Solace’s attention-demanding car battle. Skyfall may have moved back towards the Brosnan mould, but it’s an exceptionally well done one.

That’s 12 and I don’t even know where to start paring back, at least as far as my personal favourites go.

We can all agree A View to a Kill and its use of California Girls is the worst, though, right?


Next month on 100 Films in a Year…

A third of the way through the year… but halfway to my goal?

Sean Connery as James Bond, Part 1

Preface
or: how I learned to stop worrying and post these damn reviews

(jump to Introduction)

My recent Week of the Living Dead has been the cause of a bit of personal reflection here at 100 Films Towers (I don’t know where I acquired a tower, but let’s just go with it). While I enjoyed all the films individually, I found the actual experience of watching one every night, reviewing it the next day, posting it that evening (you’d be surprised how much time I put into those photos), then repeat — times six — to be quite wearing. I know I didn’t have to do it — I could have delayed or spread out the viewing, and the same with the reviews, because it’s not as if anyone was depending or even anticipating them — but there’s an element of personal pride in setting out to do something and then doing it well… or if not well, then at least doing it right.

It’s a personal thing, too — I’m not one of those people who merrily watches a film every single day (or more, some people). I can barely stomach a double bill, unless it’s a not-very-long or single-story duology/trilogy watched back-to-back for good reason. That’s why watching 100 films in a year is a challenge to me. The fact I’ve not even managed it a third of the time attests to that. When I first started I got a few comments along the lines of, “but that’s only two a week? Not hard!” Well, clearly it is, so ner.

Anyway, one thing this means is I’m unlikely to attempt another Week of the Living Dead-style week of viewing and reviewing. I’ve managed them before (Silent Lubitsch; David Fincher), and part of the key is variety — for all that Romero pumps into his films, they’re still one zombie film after another; and I actually got a bit sick of silent films by the end of that Lubitsch week, so it’s not unprecedented. Watching one type of thing so intensively makes you want a change.

And that’s how we arrive at Bond. When the Bond 50 Blu-ray set came out, I set about watching them all from the start. The aim was one or two a week, then post reviews in decade-long clumps, in part to see the Bond films in a different way than sorted by actor (in reality, that’s not that great an idea: it’s the change of leading man that sparks changes in the series, not the change of decade; and actually, when you do cut it up by decade, you more or less get Connery in the ’60s, Moore in the ’70s and ’80s, Brosnan in the ’90s, and Craig in the ’00s, with only the odd scrap crossing over or other guy jumping in). This isn’t the first time I’ve tried it, but I always run out of steam at some point. I love Bond, but they get samey if you pack them too close together… and also, as we’ve seen, I’m just not cut out for that kind of scheduled viewing (I don’t even watch TV on schedule anymore — yay PVRs and iPlayer and box sets and piracy!)

But what I did manage during the viewing I did do was to write reviews; and because I happened to falter just before On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (no fault of that film, it’s one of my favourites), I have a neat Connery-shaped load to share. And because they’ve been sat on my hard drive for (in some cases) over a year now, I thought I’d share them. They were meant to be very short pieces that I’d share in one big long post (like, say, my Batman one), but they’re actually quite a bit longer and the whole thing seemed massively unwieldily (I think the Batman one’s awkward, and these reviews total about 1,000 words more), so I’ve separated them off.

With all that waffled through, let’s begin:


Introduction

Sean Connery was, of course, the first actor to play James Bond. Except he wasn’t: there was Barry Nelson on the telly (technically playing American agent Jimmy Bond), Bob Holness on the radio (in a live South African production), and stuntman Bob Simmons in the gun barrel opening sequence of the first Bond movie (the one pictured above is Connery, though). But Connery was the first to be noticed — and he really was noticed. With him as the star, what were a couple of relatively low-budget British spy movies somehow transformed into a global-box-office-dominating, decades-spanning, culture-influencing, mega-franchise. (It used to be the highest-grossing film series of all time. It’s been surpassed by the likes of Harry Potter now, but that will change: other series end, Bond keeps on going, probably forever.)

Connery starred in a total of five Bond films before he’d had enough… well, he starred in four before he’d had enough, but then he had to do a fifth anyway. He was recast, but when the new guy got too big for his boots, Connery was lured back… for one more film. Twelve years after that, he was lured back again, this time for an ‘unofficial’ rival Bond movie series… which managed one film.

Leaving those later returns to (possible) future reviews, here are the five initial Connery Bonds…





James Bond will return.