Do You Feel Lucky?

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

TOP H JAMES BOND FILMS.

H. From A View To A Kill - this one does not make the list on merit. I'm only putting this on here because I have never seen it, I've seen every one of the others, and it has Christopher Walken. Now if only the excellent theme by Duran Duran had a little more cowbell in it, this could have gone as high as F.

G. Goldeneye - the fun is back. The sex is back. The cool is back. And all without the cloying, winking clownishness that characterized the execrable excesses of the worst Moore films (there were some solid entrants in the Moore series - their absence from this list notwithstanding! The best of Moore's were solid, but not great). Don't fault Dalton for his films, either - he embodied a cold, cool fury and mental toughness that was a revelatory take on the character. Dalton's first film was decent; Dalton himself superb. His second film was a weak Steven Seagal movie. Then: cue darkened theater as the previews roll. Cue sliding rifle's-eye following a striding, sharp-dressed man. Cue gunshot to your head. Cue man walking casually forward, until you see who it is. "You were expecting someone else?"

Cue thunderous cheers.

Man. That was the single most rockin' spontaneous crowd response to a teaser trailer I ever saw, and unless my memory fails me, that was the entire trailer. Brosnan was Bond. No more foreplay.

F. Above The Law - sharp criticism from all critics at the casting of an American in the role, but Seagal's breakout, taciturn turn as 007 silenced just about everyone. I don't see what the big deal was - at that point, there had already been a Scot, an Australian, and an Englishman. Since then, there have been Welsh and Irish Bonds. The role makes the rounds of subjects, commonwealthers and former colonials - I think it's a sweet, inclusive policy! We all of us English-speakers would love to have a chance to send a representative, to step up and defend and so maybe perhaps, pay back a little of the vig on the debt we owe to the Crown and its associated Country for birthing the mother tongue that glides so trippingly from between our lips. Only poor Canada's out in the cold! Perhaps "they got next." Long as he's not French-Canadien.

E. Goldfinger - what? GOLDFINGER comes in at number E?!!?!?! Yes. Deal with it. I love this movie as much as you do, and probably way more than the next guy. It is the Perfect Bond Film. It crystallized the form, and yet...as hard as this is going to be for some of you to take, even given a film that perfectly embodies what a Bond Film is...there are ways to exceed that mark, simply by succeeding in more transcendant, perhaps less-mannered ways, as a film. So. This is more than the perfect Bond film, it is perhaps the ultimate popcorn movie. It set the measure and the mode not just for later Bonds, but really, for all other spectacular rogue(-ish), lone(-ish) hero actioners to follow for a good, long time. Great movie. Certainly if this list were about "influential" - there can be no argument that Goldfinger would be #A with a bullet on that list. For those of you not familiar, "influential" is kind of a pissy little criteria that critics like to concern themselves with, and argue about - it's not important.

D. Tomorrow Never Dies - about the only thing I don't like about this is the title. I make no bones: Brosnan is my favorite Bond. The fact that this is his highest entry on the list is down to the fact that while most of his vehicles are majestically sturdy, and deliver the thrills and the fun, and even the (alternate-universe) believability - they don't quite pierce the celestial heights. This thing, though, is still a knockout. It never stops. The here-­for-­just-­this-­one-­insane-­garage-­car-­chase-­scene supercar gives the greatest entertainment value in film history ever for a paid product placement (backseat driving indeed!). The stakes of the conflict, the trajectory of the story, and the stunts and action are all top-notch. The one-liners suck, but I'll say this once here and for all Bond films: they always suck. Bond's one-liners suck. Part of Bond's character is that he suffers a fit of utterly off-putting goof-dumb humor, as a sort of psychological coping mechanism right after killing someone. It's some sort of fleeting fugue state. It doesn't mar the movie as long as you get that context, and it certainly can't mar one as powerfully constructed as this. Next to Brosnan - always the MVP of his films - top honors in terms of next-most-important-element go to two supporting players: Jonathan Pryce's media ubermogul makes a different kind of supervillain entirely, and his whole plan/scheme/operation - while idiotic - is carried off well enough to pass for genius-idiotic. Are you looking for an actor who can make snivelling arrogance menacing? Pryce's agent is in the book. But the shock and the difference that drives the heart of this film is Michelle Yeoh. Every bit as deadly, every bit as cool and competent as Bond, Yeoh is the sort of foil slash adversary slash love interest that Halle Berry wishes she could have pulled off in Die Another Day. The sparring (literal and otherwise) between Yeoh and Brosnan strikes sparks of charm, exasperation, and ultimately an incredulous sort of respect. Neither can believe the other is that good. Some of Brosnan's double-takes are priceless! This chick is his equal.

C. Casino Royale - do you know why they call it a Casino Royale? Because of the metric system. They wouldn't know what a Casino Quarter-Pounder is. This thing is all-different. This one spirals well outside the mold of previous Bond films. It's a great movie. I think it possibly is the best film on this list - I mean as pure film, setting aside the expectations, comforts, and conventions of Bond Film. It does everything you want a Bond movie to do, yet it doesn't feel like the others. You end up enjoying the difference, even if you kind of miss what's missing on some level. Still, there is no knocking this film: not on any level except nostalgia. It's a hell of an action movie. The romance is sweet, tragic and not-quite-overplayed. The concussive succession of endings after endings thrills, leading up to perhaps the single most sangfroid/schadenfreude satisfaction denoument of any Bond film (do the others even have those? This film's whole structure is out the window! To excellent effect!). They called it a reboot, but if so, it was a reboot with a new OS. Craig rewrites the role, making it his own - yet credible, satisfying, true to James Bond. This is, for the first time, a James Bond who is driven to be James Bond. That is itself his goal and his mission. To become what he needs to be to save the day - to save the world, if it should need saving. He's deeply uneasy with the price of some things he sees he'll have to do to get there. His is blinding ambition, yet somehow also utter selflessness: his ambition is all to do what must be done. His cockiness is that he thinks he can do it. Thinks, but not knows. Every other Bond, even Connery in Dr. No, walks into the film secure in it. Swaggering a bit, with a built-in backstory of "Hurm, I've been saving the world for some time now." It's just part of the character. This Bond walks into the flick aching for it, dying (or killing, rather) to prove himself. Essentially, to become himself. He knows what he is, and what he's capable of. He knows he has it in him, and he knows he's going to need it - everything that's in him and more, plus luck, to win out. He may not know for sure he can pull it off, but he knows he's the only one who can. So he does what he has to, he becomes what he has to become: Bond. James Bond. Craig's Bond shows us a man racing his own death to immortality - he practically electrocutes himself with his own performance. Not too fucking bad for a first outing, huh?

B. On Her Majesty's Secret Service - This film, together with the one above and the one below it, are the only Bond films that feature Bond engaged in anything that remotely resembles espionage. But in that regard, this one leaves the other two standing. Check it: Lazenby's Bond goes undercover as a gay Scotsman, to infiltrate the supervillain's mountain fortress. A gay Scotsman. Everybody else's Bond just shows up at the door wearing a tux: "Hi, I'm James Bond, you'll be my supervillain for the evening. Mind if I come in so you can capture me for awhile, before I ultimately defeat the hell out of you?" In the following film (Diamonds Are Forever), Connery returns as Bond, and at one early point pulls a neat switch - killing some thug, but putting his own wallet in the corpse's pants. He needed to pose as the thug to get next to the femme fatale, in order to get next to the villain. Neat trick, but here's the kicker: she pulls out the wallet, checks the ID and turns white - telling Bond: "You just killed JAMES BOND!" (we charitably assume it was not a photo ID). Now, this is not one of your savvier femmes fatales, up on the dossiers of all key British Intelligence field agents. Definitely no. The impression I got was that in this universe, James Bond is a world-famous superspy. A world. famous. spy. That's what I call cognitive dissonance. Even if they do keep his photo out of the papers, he ought to be shot as incompetent for walking up to villians introducing himself all the time. OK! End tangent: On Her Majesty's Secret Service is as far from Diamonds Are Forever as you can get. It stints on none of the first-rate thrills, fights and set-pieces, but as it surges through its motions we see a different sort of Bond: not just human, but mortal. Lazenby's performance is funny, charming and believable enough undercover; laconic, unruffled and iconic cool when the mask drops - but there's blood in his veins. The denoument features the first real moment of believable emotion from Bond that I can recall - the only time I ever nearly* cried for James Bond, might I add - and with Moore coming in, the last real moment of believable emotion for a long time. Not that Moore's a bad actor. I believe the producers told him to act like such a goofy tool. Not his fault. Watch "The Saint" - Moore could have been much better in the role, if the attitude upstairs hadn't gone in the crapper. In a related note, those who've looked closely have observed that Diamonds Are Forever is in fact the first of the Moore-era Bonds, in everything except the lead actor. Although You Only Live Twice showed disturbing signs of incipience.

A. From Russia With Love - The second of the Connery Bonds. Sandwiched between the highly-entertaining but uneven exercise in over-the top supervillainry that was Dr. No, and the no-looking-back, paradigm-defining extravaganza of Goldfinger, this film stands out for a different reason: it is recognizably set on Earth. James Bond's mission - to get his hands on a critical Soviet decoding machine - actually sounds like something a spy might do. The gadgets are for the most part all within the achievable edge of then-modern technology, and most of them are really neat spy gear (as opposed to ho-hum sci-fi superspy gear). The way Bond builds his relationship with his local contacts, and his wary circling with the female double-agent who set the whole plot rolling, are well done, believable. This is my favorite Bond film for all sorts of reasons - how the realistic elements go so well with the emergence of some of the later classic Bondisms (this film is where SPECTRE first steps into the light) but mostly because it's my favorite Connery performance. He had it down pretty much already in Dr. No, sure, but here he really hits his stride and all the right notes. He's a man doing a job, a pretty grim and awful job really, but it needs to be done, and...well, you might as well enjoy your work! Connery sells you on Bond's genuine fondness for, if not perhaps attachment to, his bluff, chummy confederate - a Turkish intelligence chief who's turned his section into a thriving family business - and to his beguiling accomplice-of-dubious-loyalties (played by Daniela Bianchi who, by the way, gives us the most beautiful, smoldering and winsome of all Bond's femmes, fatale or otherwise). Top-assist honors must go to Robert Shaw as Bond's main adversary: not a supervillain! But a cold-blooded thug. A brutal killing tool, a blunt instrument but by no means a dull one, sent by shadowy evil powers to not only kill Bond, but to steal the code-breaking machine, and frame British intelligence for it in a deliberate attempt to precipitate a cataclysmic global showdown of East vs. West. Shaw is murderous, devious, and frighteningly competent. There is no doubt he is insane, but he's definitely one of the high-functioning kinds. A believable threat who sets nary a foot wrong on his crooked path, Shaw is the closest thing Bond gets to an "opposite number" until 006 comes along, decades later. Well...eventually Shaw's super-thug does set a foot wrong, because: SPOILER!

Bond kills his ass.

Hm. Observant Bond watchers will note that the above SPOILER! applies just about every time out of the box, vis-a-vis each film's main antagonist. With two conspicuous exceptions, that I can think of! Both of them falling within the Top C of this list. Coincidence? Yes.

Once would have been happenstance.

Thrice would have to be enemy action.

11 comments:

limom said...

I think Jaws was in two films? Moonraker and one other.
Oh, and the actress who played No.2? Does she count?

dogimo said...

I'm not sure who you mean by No.2? I think SPECTRE's No.2 was a dude.

Jaws was, but in each of those films he was presented more as muscle (a la Odd Job), not really the main adversary.

Of course, arguably the character of Blofeld is behind most of the menaces right up to Diamonds Are Forever - but mostly he's way behind, and there's an antagonist front-and-center who is more Bond's main threat to deal with.

I suppose designating a "main antagonist" can be a bit arbitrary, for some of these films. In my top example From Russia With Love, to me, Shaw is Bond's main antagonist. I suppose a good case could be made for the evil Rosa Klebb, who is after all pulling his strings. But to me she seems more of a schemer than a real threat. Her main motive throughout the film appears to be Fear of Own Boss. Shaw's motive is Thorough Enjoyment of Evil.

But I could see the argument the other way, too.

Elliott said...

Ernst Stavro Blofeld, played by three different actors over the course of films, was a brilliant villain. Jaws was in 'The Spy Who Loved Me' before 'Moonraker'.

Lazenby rocked, brilliant Bond. Sad to see Thunderball didn't make the list, especially since you put 'A View to a Kill' in its place. I'll even take 'Never Say Never Again' over 'Kill', though it isn't exactly part of the 'official' series.

I could wax nauseatingly about Bond films all day...forgive me.

No T.W.I.N.E.?

Elliott said...

Sorry, forgot to stalk.

dogimo said...

Thunderball was damn good, as I recall. The sped-up death-boat finale doesn't help it much, but should anything hinge on something so minor? It's funny what sticks and what slides.

Well, I figure in theory, if I decide to "serious it up" a bit, there's probably two full spots on the list I could oust to free up room for more.

But in that case, some of the older ones, especially - I'd need to re-watch. To be fair.

The World Is Not Enough, I'd say, probably hits the top or close to it, on the fave-title list. I should re-watch that one too. Heck, I should re-watch Die Another Day as well. My recollection seems tainted by some sort of curse, some kind of a hex or jinx of some sort. Which could perhaps be dispelled on further viewings!

dogimo said...

I suspect Live And Let Die could sneak on there - unless that damn comedy-relief sheriff's in it!!

I swear, when he turned up in Egypt...

Yeah, I'd probably need to re-watch half of the Moores. If I was going to be doing re-watchings on the behalf of fairness.

Dang.

It could be worse, though. SHIT.

I probably need to go do Top H Godzilla Films now!

dogimo said...

Ha, I just realized what 'forgot to stalk' meant - the comment-follow clicky box! Right?

Shoot dude, I'm warning you, I will happily talk Bond all day. My favorite Bond movies are...

uh, short-term memory alert to self. They're in the post.

Ok. I'm going back for that last sweet hour of sleep...damn stormy weather.

The Vegetable Assassin said...

Goldfinger is the gold standard of Bond movies. It has everything. Evil Asians with devious hats, mustache twirling villains, nude ladies painted gold and that scene where they have Bond on a table and they're shooting a cutting laser up between his legs about to incinerate his knackers. I always want it to go a little further. Just roast them a LITTLE. Just a scorch...

dogimo said...

You said it, V.A.! It's hard for me to put my finger on why that big bad sonofa is sitting pretty at #E instead of #A on the list. The gap separating each item in the top E of the list is razor-fine.

I guess if I had to name off what got each higher-ranked film ranked higher than GF on my top (i.e. "favorite") scale, it would be: D. dual/duel lead byplay, C. TUFF NESS, B. Lazenby's Brute Smoothness, and A. Connery is even better in this one than in GF.

And of course, each of the higher-fave films is less gimmicky than GF. Even though DAMN - I and I love every damn gimmick in it! But it makes it a little more of an amusement park rather than a runaway train.

Make no mistake: I do love me an amusement park. I do love me some Goldfinger.

The Vegetable Assassin said...

Sean Connery is one of my countrymen therefore I support his Bondness more than the others. In fact I was once in a store in NYC and a very nice young gay gentlemen said to me "Are you Scottish? Can I just say thank you for Sean Connery?" I mean wasn't that nice! I don't even KNOW Sean or anything but I'm happy to take credit for him. Not the Proclaimers though. They're not my doing.

dogimo said...

See, I thought the Proclaimers were Irish.

Well damn then! I'm glad to be rid of them! Heritage-wise.

I did like that one song. They sang it like mad, clap-happy fools.