Monday, April 20, 2015

Quantum of Solace [2008]

By almost any standard of measurement, 2006's Casino Royale put James Bond back in the vanguard of the pop-culture landscape.  It was a big hit worldwide, and immediately launched Daniel Craig into the conversation as regards who the best Bond of them all might be.
  
Hard to live up to a standard like that, and when Quantum of Solace finally appeared two later, the common consensus was that it had failed to do so.  The common consensus maintains so to this very day, and You Only Blog Twice has no intention of arguing against the consensus in this particular case.
  
But does the fact that it isn't as good as Casino Royale mean that Quantum of Solace is a bad movie?
  
Read on, and find out.
  
  

  
Sidebar: I own both of those posters above, and I like how if you place them side-by-side in this fashion, it almost appears as if the shadow on the one poster is being thrown by Craig on the other.  This is almost certainly an accident -- the shadow teaser poster came out way before the other poster did (take my word for it; I work at a theatre) -- but it's a happy accident.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Casino Royale [2006]

The second series of James Bond films began in 2006 with the release of tonight's subject, Casino Royale.
  
Wait...did he say "second series"?
  
He certainly did.  The first series of Bond films ended with Die Another Day, the twentieth entry.  The consensus on that film seemed to be that it had -- like Moonraker before it -- gone much too far into the realm of science fiction; a return to the grounded approach to Bond was in order.  It was a fair assessment, and the series had proven to be capable of recalibrating in that fashion with For Your Eyes Only two decades previously.
  
This time, though, the producers decided to not just tap the reset button, but to go to the breaker box and turn everything off.  All the way off.
  
It is easy to overlook how risky a move this was.  Whatever one's personal opinion of Die Another Day may be (and it is reviled by many Bond fans), it is impossible to deny that that movie had been a massive success.  It was easily the biggest hit of the Pierce Brosnan era, which had begun in strong financial fashion with GoldenEye and then progressed steadily in the seven subsequent years.  Under Brosnan, the series had returned to the heights that it had arguably lost from the mid-eighties to the mid-nineties; the series, and the character, were on top again.  By all rules of common sense, the right move for Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson would have been to make a fifth movie with Brosnan, and then a sixth, and probably a seventh after that.
  
Instead, they sensed that complacency was at hand, and in order to prevent it from taking over and miring the series in hypothetical irrelevance, they decided to start the series over from the ground up.  Brosnan was thanked for his service (one hopes) and shown the door.  The clock was reset to zero, and -- the rights to Ian Fleming's first novel having finally been obtained -- the quasi origin story Casino Royale was undertaken.
  
Allow me to briefly address an idea which has found occasional support among alleged Bond fans: that "James Bond" is a codename, and that the agents played by Connery, Moore, Brosnan, etc. are in fact different men who use the codename in their careers.  In this scenario, Daniel Craig is simply the newest such agent.  (Two films later, Skyfall will make it a literal fact that Bond's birth name is Bond, by the way, but that won't happen for six years from tonight's vantage point.)
  
Bollocks to that.  The credit reads "Daniel Craig as Ian Fleming's James Bond," and Fleming's Bond was just one man.  The only element that makes the scenario tempting is that Casino Royale rehired Judi Dench as M.  This is a different M being played by the same actor; there is no need to read more into it than that, nor is there cause to do so.
  
I mention all that because if you buy into the codename notion, then you might object to the idea that Casino Royale launched a second Bond series.  Eventually, I will write a post that tackles the idea of Bond continuity head-on, but the short version is: if you are one of the codename believers, you are incorrect.  If you object to that assertion on the ground that opinions cannot be incorrect, then allow me to assure you that it is not an opinion you are espousing; it is an incorrect assertion, based on a shallow and imprecise reading of the films specifically and the larger context of Bond generally.  In other words: you are wrong.  We won't have any of your bullshit around here.
  
And on that note of grumpiness, I think we are primed and ready to dive into the Daniel Craig era of Bond films.

  


Sunday, March 1, 2015

Die Another Day [2002]

It's been a dark era for You Only Live Twice lately.  The two movies we covered most recently -- Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough -- scored very poorly indeed, which means that this blog's official stance is that they are two of the worst films in the series.
  
Regardless of my thoughts on the matter, those movies had been big hits, and Brosnan was generally seen as a very successful Bond.  The series was riding high in 2002, when the twentieth entry in the series was released.  Today, we all know that the resultant film -- Die Another Day -- is perhaps THE most reviled in the series, which means that this post is likely to be filled with contempt and snark.
  
Will it actually turn out that way, though?  Ever since I began digging into the Brosnan films, I've been curious as to whether Die Another Day would perform as I expected it to (i.e., rank either last place or very close) or if it would somehow manage to defy all odds and avoid cellar-dweller status.
  
Let's find out.
  
  


Friday, January 16, 2015

The World Is Not Enough [1999]

When last we spoke, it was of Tomorrow Never Dies.  I didn't have very many nice things to say about it, and it ended up ranking very near the bottom of the list.
  
It's important to remember, however, that the movie was a big hit, and that it was well-liked at the time.  I've soured on it, but it remains relatively popular with general audiences to this day.  There's no getting around it: the movie was a success, and arguably remains one two decades later.
  
Which mean that the Bond series was sitting in a comfortable position when the next film, The World Is Not Enough, came out.  It opened in 1999, which had proven to be a terrific year for movie, with now-classic films such as Fight Club, The Matrix, Being John Malkovich, Magnolia, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, The Iron Giant, The Sixth Sense, American Beauty, The Blair Witch Project, and Toy Story 2 all coming out within the year.  Not bad.  Not bad at ALL.
  
You will perhaps be surprised to learn that I enjoyed The World Is Not Enough on a level more or less equal with some of those films.  I distinctly remember proclaiming to my Bond-fan friends as we walked out of the theatre that this was the best movie in the series since On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
  
What was I thinking?  Well, let's put it this way: 1999 was not necessarily a year that found me at my finest.  I committed what might arguably be referred to as "a shitload of mistakes" during that calendar year.
  
Claiming that The World Is Not Enough was on equal footing with On Her Majesty's Secret Service might be top of the list.  Man; what a lunkhead.
  
In any case, those days are over now, so The World Is Not Enough fans, beware: I'm about to give the movie the pillocking I ought to have given it in 1999.  I may as well confess, though, that I didn't do a particularly thorough job with this one.  The fact is, I got to the ninety-minute mark -- about the time Bond and Christmas visit the caviar factory -- and kind of just gave up.
  
So if this post seems a bit lazier than normal, there's a good reason for that.
  
  

Monday, December 29, 2014

Tomorrow Never Dies [1997]

I see no point in burying the lede: Tomorrow Never Dies kind of sucks.
  
Thing is, I remember liking it a lot when it premiered in late 1997.  Bond was back in the culture in a major way, and there were at least three factors that contributed to this renewal of affections:
  
#1 -- Pierce Brosnan's first movie, GoldenEye, had been a big hit in 1995.
  
#2 -- A spy-spoof movie named Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery had opened in May 1997 and had received good reviews as well as strong box-office receipts.


Will this blog eventually review the Austin Powers films?  It sure will.

  
Starring former Saturday Night Live castmember Mike Myers (who also wrote the screenplay), the film lampooned all sorts of '60s culture in addition to the early Bond films.  Myers played the titular hero, but also played the extremely Blofeld-esque Dr. Evil, and the portrayal was so pitch-perfect that it seems unlikely the Bond films will ever again be able to use Blofeld in anything remotely resembling the style of Donald Pleasance's You Only Live Twice portrayal.  My memory of the movie's opening, though, is that it did just as much to reinvigorate interest in the Bond movies as it did to send them up.
  
#3 -- Perhaps most importantly of these three factors, there was GoldenEye 007, a game released in August 1997 on Nintendo's N64 console.


Will this blog eventually cover Goldeneye 007 (and the Bond games which followed it)?  It sure will.

  
The game's Wikipedia page claims that it grossed $250 million worldwide, and assuming that's true then those are figures not too far off from what the movie itself made worldwide (roughly $350 million).  I know little about gaming, but even I know GoldenEye 007 was (and is) a big deal.  No Bond game since has replicated its impact, but that's okay; it established Bond as a big deal in a new medium, and his ability to get a foothold in that arena is undoubtedly part of the reason why the films have continued to be successful ever since.  Doubt it not, my brothers.
  
My memory of the newest Bond film (that's Tomorrow Never Dies) opening is that I went to it with a good friend who was barely (if at all) a Bond fan, and that I loved it and he liked it.  I don't recall hearing negative opinions of it from anybody the entire time it was in release.  The movie was a big hit despite opening against Titanic (which would itself go on to break nearly every box-office record in existence), and cemented Brosnan's status as an excellent new 007.  We saw both movies in a double-feature, and that's a pretty good day of movie viewing, there.
  
Here's the thing: I look back at all of this, and I remember it.  But now, in 2014, looking at the movie again, it seems to me that one of two things has happened.  Either the movie has managed to somehow age itself out of being cool, or it sucked all along and I am simply a savvier viewer in 2014 than I was in 1997.  I tend to think it's a combination of the two, with a 25% to 75% split in favor of the latter.

An alternative option, of course, is that I am a pretentious windbag who is high on his own farts and has no clue what he is talking about.
  
Let's find out.



 
(1)  Bond ... James Bond

I think Pierce Brosnan is great in GoldenEye, and I wish I could say that I think he's great in Tomorrow Never Dies.  But doggone it, I can't.
  
I do think he's good, but his performance is not as seamless as it was in his first outing.  This is hardly a surprise, given how much weaker the material is.  If we were grading on a curve and taking into account how many more obstacles Brosnan faced here than on GoldenEye, then I might be inclined to think that he did a better job the second time, in relative terms.
  

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

GoldenEye [1995]

Welcome back, fellow Bond fans.  It's been a while, huh?  Over a year -- a friggin' YEAR!!! -- since I last reviewed a Bond movie.  Somebody should take away my Licence to Blog.

Lamentable though the gap may have been, its placement is at least somewhat resonant: when last we spoke of the series, we discussed Licence to Kill, and today we're back to business with GoldenEye.  It's worth bearing in mind that there was a significant gap between the releases of those two films: six years, in fact.  And during those six years, the fate of the Bond franchise was very much in doubt, not as much due to the somewhat-underwhelming box-office receipts for Licence to Kill as due to various legal wranglings undertaken by enemies of the Bond films.

Things obviously worked out for the best in the end, but no Bond fan should forget that those years very nearly saw the demise of the series.  So, in a way, the fact that this blog went (except for a few reviews of Ian Fleming biopics and an overview of the ridiculous animated spinoff series James Bond Jr) dormant for some fifteen months . . . well, that's merely the tiniest reflection of what the agony of 1990-1994 was like for a Bond aficionado.

Let's try to return ourselves to 1995.  The last time we'd seen a Bond film, it was the oppressive Licence to Kill, starring the dour Timothy Dalton as a sourpuss of a double-0 agent.  The world had shrugged at his latest adventure, and the consensus was clear: if the next 007 didn't get the job done, that might spell the end of the series.  The stakes had never been so high for James Bond, and in that sense, one might reasonably make the argument that with the sole exception of the first one (Dr. No), this was and is THE most crucial Bond movie of them all.
  
  


Today, we know how it turned out: Pierce Brosnan was immediately accepted by audiences worldwide, and the movie turned into a significant hit.  The series stepped out of the shadow of extinction, and earned the right of continuance.

Let's turn our attention now to the movie itself and ask another question: is it any good?

Monday, August 25, 2014

James Bond Jr [1991]: Episodes 41-65

Well, kiddies, we're a wee bit shy of being two-thirds of the way through with James Bond Jr.  Will your humble blogger make it through the remainder of the experience unscathed?  Will anyone read these posts to even find out?

Time, and time alone, will tell.  And much like poor Tracy Bond, we do not have all the time in the world, so let's get this train a-rollin'.

Episode 41: "There But for Ms. Fortune"

airdate:  November 11, 1991
written by:  Alan Templeton and Mary Crawford

Well, luckily, our first episode back from the hiatus is pretty damn wackadoo.  First up, this:




"Die Eisformel" is evidently the title this episode had during its German release.  But the video I found on YouTube was demonstrably an English-language episode, so what gives?  Beats me, but by now I kind of enjoy being confused by James Bond Jr, and "There But for Ms. Fortune" / "Die Eisformel" gave me plenty of opportunities for that.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

James Bond Jr [1991]: Episodes 21-40

And now, I recite -- from memory! -- the lyrics to the James Bond Jr theme song.  Apologies if I fluff a word or two.

Bond . . . James Bond, Junior . . . no one can stop him (though S.C.U.M. always tries).  Young Bond breaks through each web of spies!  He learned the game from his Uncle James; now he's heir to the name . . . JAMES BOND!  Look out, he's comin' through; he's got a job to do.  While he rescues the girl, James Bond Junior chases S.C.U.M. . . . around the world!

Let's see how I did:






That makes it official: I've got the theme song memorized.

Jeez.

Let's agree to be glum about that, but let's also agree that the best way to cope is to keep pressing forward.


Episode 21: "A Race Against Disaster"

airdate:  October 14, 1991
written by:  Jeffrey Scott

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

James Bond Jr [1991]: Episodes 1-20

Without a doubt, one of the most curious curios in all of the James Bond canon is James Bond Jr, an animated cartoon television series aimed at children for one season during the early nineties.

My personal history with the series has been, until now, nonexistent.  I was beginning my senior year of high school when this series started airing, and had no interest in kiddie toons.  Even if I had possessed such an interest, I was only dimly aware of the existence of James Bond Jr.  I cannot even be certain that it aired in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

What I am certain of is that I spent years and years and years laboring under the illusion that the series was in no way connected to the James Bond movies or books.  I assumed that the title was permissible on the grounds of being a parody or something, and that the cartoon was, in essence, a ripoff that somebody had managed to slip through the cracks.  That is, those were my assumptions merely to whatever extent I gave the cartoon's existence any thought at all; but since that was nearly nil, I'm not sure you can even call them full-fledged assumptions.  Really, they are 2014-era assumptions of what my 1991-era assumptions would have been.

Truth be told, I essentially knew nothing of James Bond Jr.  For example, I certainly did not know that the show was -- as its Wikipedia article puts it -- produced "in association with" (and, therefore, sanctioned by) the various companies who held the rights to produce the Bond films, i.e., Danjaq and United Artists.  Or that it was seemingly based, at least in part, on 003½: The Adventures of James Bond Junior, a 1967 spinoff from Glidrose written by the pseudonymous "R.D. Mascott" (whose identity remains a mystery).  It featured a character named James Bond Junior who was the nephew of the real 007, but is otherwise unrelated to the cartoon.

I've done a small-ish amount of digging on the Internet for information about the specifics of the show's genesis.  Not enough so that I feel I've scoured the Internet, mind you; but enough so that I do feel secure in saying that information is, at best, hard to come by.  At worst, it is nonexistent, which has so far been my experience of it.

What I can tell you is this: the series seems perhaps to have been produced as a stopgap measure designed to bring in a modicum of money during the legal disputes that prevented a film from being produced between 1989's Licence to Kill and 1995's GoldenEye.  Michael G. Wilson may or may not have had an active hand in its creation (he IS credited as a developer); the show may or may not have been made merely to prevent Kevin McClory from producing his own animated Bond series; the show may or may not have been intended to prepare/indoctrinate a new generation of Bond fans for the eventual return of the series.  None of that is certain.

What we DO know is that information is hard to come by, as are episodes of the series.  (I found them all via either YouTube or, um, some other site whose name I cannot seem to remember; a handful are in German-dubbed form and therefore incomprehensible to my 'murican ears.)  The series has seemingly never been released on home video; a few episodes trickled out via VHS releases years ago, but are long out of print.  All signs point to the idea that the rights-holders are successfully attempting to suppress as much knowledge of the show as is humanly possible, and that makes it seem even more likely that everyone involved wishes it had never happened.

So . . . does that mean that the series was purely a cash-grab during lean times?  Or, instead, a preventative action taken against a potential competitor?  Both, even?  I wouldn't be the least bit surprised.

I'm positive that there is a behind-the-scenes story here, just waiting to be told.  I hope to hear it someday.  Until then, though, I can only speculate with a shrug.

I wrote all of the foregoing prior to launching into the actual watching of the series, which I am going to begin in a matter of minutes.  I do not know what awaits me.  I suspect the series sucks the high hard one; I suspect further that watching all 65 episodes is going to be brutal, agonizing, and odious.  But for blog and country, I am determined to watch every single one of them.  I am going to split the viewing up into four different posts: three covering the episodes themselves, and a final one wherein I foolishly attempt to apply to Double-0 Rating system to the series.

Pray for me as I begin this quest.


Well, THAT should give us all a pretty good indication of what we're in for.

Episode 1: "The Beginning"

airdate:  September 16, 1991
written by:  Francis Moss and Ted Perdersen


Jaws


(Before we proceed, a book-keeping issue needs to be mentioned, regarding the airdates: I am basing  these on the listings I found here at TV.com.  I have no earthly idea if they are accurate or not, but since TV.com is using them, I'm going to use them, too.)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Spymaker: The Secret Life of Ian Fleming [1990]

On today's agenda: the 1990 television film Spymaker: The Secret Life of Ian Fleming, which was the second such biopic in as many years.  The Internet seems to be lacking when it comes to details on the film's production, place of initial airing, and so forth.  From what I recall, I saw the movie on TNT -- under the title The Secret Life of Ian Fleming (no Spymaker in evidence) -- and since the back of the DVD claims it was a TNT Original, I suppose that clears up at least that much of the origins.


Here is a vintage VHS cover.  Note the busty Bond-girl-esque figure on the left.


Here is the cover art for the Warner Archives DVD release.  You will note that the busty Bond-girl-esque figure has gone missing, which is, one supposes, the difference between 1990 and 2013.


I'd like to draw your attention to the way Spymaker is being sold in that artwork.  "All the excitement of a Bond movie," claims the blurb on the back of the DVD.  "CONNERY," trumpets the front.  (I especially enjoy how much smaller the word "Jason" is than "Connery."  I choose to read that as "Jason CONNERY," for the record. It's fun.  Try it at home!)

I mention this as a means of illustrating a point: in terms of its marketing, if not in terms of the actual content of the film, Spymaker was sold as a quasi-Bond film.  It comes close to outright pandering.

We're going to do this the same way we did the 1989 biopic Goldeneye, i.e., I'm going to offer up a plot summary with extensive screencaps, and then hastily score the film on the Double-0 Rating system, just for a larf.  Because I won't be forgetting that blurb; "all the excitement of a Bond movie," it promises.

We shall see.