Sean Connery as James Bond, Part 2

If everything had gone according to plan, this weekend Americans would’ve been flocking to cinemas to see Daniel Craig’s final performance as Bond, James Bond, secret agent 007, in No Time to Die (us Brits would’ve all been to see it last weekend, of course). As that’s not to be, here’s something both entirely similar and entirely different: my reviews of Sean Connery’s final performance in the role — both of them.

This concludes my coverage of Connery’s time as Bond, the previous instalment of which I posted in, er, 2013. (And you thought No Time to Die had a long delay.) That covered his first stint as James Bond — the five films he starred in from 1962 to 1967. Now, here are his two remaining performances:

Neither of these films is Connery’s finest hour as Bond — they’re his worst hours, in fact — but, I must say, they were both better than I had remembered.

Click through to learn more about…

That may be it for Connery, but — as always — James Bond will return… in Daniel Craig’s case, in November (fingers crossed!)

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #91

Yesterday is a memory. Today is history.
Tomorrow is in the hands of one man.
Bond. You know the rest.

Country: UK & USA
Language: English, German, Danish, Mandarin & Cantonese
Runtime: 119 minutes
BBFC: 12 (cut, 1997) | 12 (cut more, 1998) | 15 (uncut, 2006) | 12 (uncut, 2012)
MPAA: PG-13

Original Release: 12th December 1997 (UK)
US Release: 19th December 1997
First Seen: cinema, December 1997

Stars
Pierce Brosnan (Dante’s Peak, The Ghost)
Jonathan Pryce (Brazil, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl)
Michelle Yeoh (Supercop, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)
Teri Hatcher (Tango & Cash, Coraline)
Judi Dench (Mrs Brown, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel)

Director
Roger Spottiswoode (Turner & Hooch, A Street Cat Named Bob)

Screenwriter
Bruce Feirstein (GoldenEye, The World Is Not Enough)

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

The Story
Secret agent James Bond is deployed to investigate a media baron who is plotting to ignite a war between the UK and China to further his business empire.

Our Hero
The name’s Bond, James Bond. In his second outing as agent 007, Pierce Brosnan has settled comfortably into his interpretation of the hero, a mix of Roger Moore’s eyebrow-raising levity with some of Sean Connery’s slightly harder, man-of-action edge.

Our Villain
Elliot Carver is a megalomaniac media mogul — the owner of the newspaper Tomorrow, who intends to secretly provoke a war in order to boost sales and ratings. James Bond does satire? Kinda.

Best Supporting Character
Wai Lin, a spy who’s investigating Carver for the Chinese. A skilled martial artist, she kicks all kinds of ass. Despite initial mistrust, she and Bond ultimately team up. Lin is arguably one of the first Bond girls who can genuinely claim to be a competent character in her own right. Still ends up sleeping with Bond, though.

Memorable Quote
Admiral Roebuck: “With all due respect, M, sometimes I don’t think you have the balls for this job.”
M: “Perhaps. But the advantage is I don’t have to think with them all the time.”

Memorable Scene
Remote control car, James Bond style: Bond lies in the backseat of his BMW, driving it around a multi-storey car park with his mobile phone, deploying its weapons against a gang of attackers. It was a fun concept back in ’97, but I imagine you could do it yourself with an app now. Apart from the weapons. And the legal implications. So maybe not.

Memorable Music
After the disastrous ‘modern’ score for GoldenEye, music duties were here handed to David Arnold. At the time he had composed the scores for Stargate and Independence Day, but, even more pertinently, he had produced Shaken and Stirred, an album of contemporary-styled covers of great Bond themes. The album was heard by iconic Bond composer John Barry, who then recommended Arnold to producer Barbara Broccoli. Arnold’s score is much more in-keeping with classic Bond music, but given a modern (well, ’90s) flavour. Backseat Driver, the soundtrack to my Memorable Scene pick, is a particularly great action cue. Arnold would become the series’ composer for the next four films, until Sam Mendes chose to use his regular collaborator Thomas Newman for Skyfall and Spectre. With Mendes moving on, perhaps Arnold will be back for Bond 25…

Write the Theme Tune…
Arnold wanted to have a hand in writing the title song and integrate it into his soundtrack, like the great Bond composers of old. To that end he wrote a theme sung by k.d. lang… which plays over the end credits and is titled Surrender, though has a tellingly prominent use of the phrase “tomorrow never dies” in its lyrics.

Sing the Theme Tune…
The producers went with a more marketable proposition for the final opening credits song, however, in the shape of Sheryl Crow, famous for her pop-rock-y hits like All I Wanna Do, A Change Would Do You Good, and Everyday is a Winding Road. In the pantheon of Bond title themes, her Tomorrow Never Dies sits firmly in the middle — it’s not a GoldenEye, but it’s not a Die Another Day either.

Making of
The film was originally called Tomorrow Never Lies, referencing Carver’s newspaper, Tomorrow. Some kind of production mix-up (a typo, a smudged fax — pick your story) led to it being misread as Tomorrow Never Dies, and the new, less meaningful title stuck.

This Category Sponsored By BMW
Apparently Tomorrow Never Dies was the first movie in history to have its entire budget covered by product placement endorsements — that’s over $100 million in advertising. Featured companies include BMW, L’Oréal, Heineken, Dunhill, Ericsson, Omega, Smirnoff, Brioni, Bollinger, and Avis, plus a tie-in game from Electronic Arts.

Previously on…
17 previous Bond films (which are all technically in the same continuity). The previous one, GoldenEye, was the first to star Pierce Brosnan and relaunched the series to mass popularity after a fallow period.

Next time…
Two more Brosnan Bonds, before he was unceremoniously dumped to reboot the series for the first time. With a 25th film now in the works, the series is set to continue indefinitely.

Awards
1 Saturn Award (Best Actor (Pierce Brosnan))
3 Saturn nominations (Action/Adventure/Thriller Film, Supporting Actress (Teri Hatcher), Music)
2 MTV Movie Awards nominations (Action Sequence for the motorcycle/helicopter chase (somehow it lost to Face/Off), Best Fight for “the fight between Michelle Yeoh and some ‘bad guys’.”)

What the Critics Said
“East meets West, yin meets yang and chop-socky meets kiss-kiss bang-bang in Tomorrow Never Dies, a zippy 007 romp that draws as heavily from the Asian action genre as from the formula that has served the series so well for 35 years. Goldeneye and Pierce Brosnan’s debonair Bond resuscitated the creaky franchise in 1995, but […] Tomorrow, jazzier, wittier and more costly than its predecessor, also comes closer to catching up with ’90s style and politics. […] Hong Kong kung-pow chick Michelle Yeoh, as the cool-headed Chinese agent Wai Lin, proves 007’s equal at kicking post-Cold War butt. The two take on craven communications baron Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce), a deliciously exaggerated — or is it? — composite of Ted Turner, Rupert Murdoch and the late Robert Maxwell. Carver’s not only the most plausible Bond nemesis ever but the perfect one for the current global villain shortage.” — Rita Kempley, The Washington Post

Score: 57%

What the Public Say
TND is somewhat underrated. Jonathan Pryce plays a villain who is essentially Rupert Murdoch smooshed together with Ted Turner. His plan isn’t to take over the world so much as it is getting rich by starting a war and then covering it on his news outlets. This just may be the most plausible Bond villain scheme of all times – which admittedly isn’t saying much. […] TND may not be among the best Bonds, but it’s got more going for it than I think it gets credit for.” — Lebeau, Lebeau’s Le Blog

Verdict

I know some of you will be thinking, “how can you leave out Goldfinger / Thunderball / The Spy Who Loved Me / For Your Eyes Only / The Living Daylights / Licence to Kill [delete according to personal preference] but include Tomorrow Never Dies?!” It’s true, TND is far from the most popular Bond film, but it was the first I saw on the big screen, and that gives me a certain soft spot for it. It’s not just that, though.

Here’s a thing: one of the criticisms levelled at the film is that it’s just an action movie, lacking the peculiarly Bondian thrills a Bond adventure should have. But if it is “just an action movie” then it’s the best action movie in the Bond series. The pre-titles gunfight at the arms meet, the ‘backseat driver’ sequence, and the motorbike-vs-helicopter chase are three of the finest action scenes in the entire franchise, and that’s without even touching on Michelle Yeoh kicking ass. Couple that with Brosnan still new and confident in the lead role, and Jonathan Pryce nibbling the scenery as a lightly satirical villain, and I think you have a Bond film that is pretty entertaining, even if it’s mainly on an adrenaline-pumping level.

#92 has… a friend in me.

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.

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.

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?