Thursday, September 17, 2015

Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond [2014]

In 2014, BBC America debuted a four-part miniseries called Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond that starred Dominic Cooper as Ian Fleming, the man created Bond.
This marks the fourth time that Ian Fleming's life has been portrayed in a biopic feature or series.  The first two were 1989's Goldeneye and 1990's Spymaker: The Secret Life of Ian Fleming.  I've previously given both the You Only Blog Twice treatment, and if you want to read about them, follow those links.
In those previews reviews, I included an extensive plot summary complete with copious screencaps; this was so as to enable people to be familiar with the movies without actually having to watch them (which, in the case of Gioldeneye, is not exactly easy to do due to limited availability).
I'd intended to do the same with the four hours of Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond, but it's not going to happen.  I simply can't stomach the idea of watching it again that extensively.  If you expected better of me, then I offer my deepest apologies; but the fact is that I mostly disliked this miniseries, and the thought of spending the time it would require to competently recap and screencap it is not an attractive one.
So I'll make you a deal: I'll come back to this miniseries some day.  Once Spectre is released and I've reviewed it, I plan to begin tackling the Ian Fleming novels one at a time.  Once I've finished those, I'd like to consider the several major Fleming biographies; and that seems like an optimal time to turn my attentions to Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond once more.  Will this be for the express purpose of ripping it to shreds based on what I perceive to be major inaccuracies on its part?  Oh yes.
The title is Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond, but it might just as well be Fleming: The Miniseries That Would Be Bond To The Extent It Is Legally Allowed To Be.  You might recall that I levied a similar accusation at Spymaker: The Secret Life of Ian Fleming.  I think Fleming is a bit less offensive in that regard than was Spymaker, but only marginally.  It is by this point clear that we're never going to get a proper biopic of Fleming's life, because producers and writers are inexplicably hung up on the idea that Fleming was Bond.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Skyfall [2012]

At long last, here we are, on the verge of being caught up!  Very exciting.  I wish I'd been able to find a way to get these reviews out in a more expedient fashion, but, alas, I failed to do so.  Be that as it may, the time to shout Skyfall is here at last.
When last we visited the Bond series, it was via Quantum of Solace, a film that divides Bond fans to this day.  A great many people consider it to be woefully inadequate when standing side-to-side with its predecessor, Casino Royale.  I can't claim to be entirely exempt from those feelings; I don't think Quantum is as good as Casino Royale.  Despite that, I think Quantum of Solace is a very good Bond film.
And whether it is or it isn't, here's an important fact to keep in mind: it was just as big a hit as Casino Royale was.  It made about three million dollars less at the worldwide box-office, which is so slim a dropoff as to be statistically nonexistent.  
You Only Blog Twice is not focused on the commercial aspects of the series, necessarily; but I do think it's important to remind people that Quantum was a worldwide success.  As such, it set Skyfall up for even greater success, as did the release date: late in the year 2012, which just so happened to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Bond film series.  The occasion was marked with a great deal of hullabaloo, and why not?  No series of films -- somebody correct me if I'm wrong about this -- had ever gotten to be fifty before.
One big part of that celebration was James Bond's appearance in a short film that was broadcast to the world as part of the 2012 Summer Olympics, held in London.  In this short film, Bond escorts his most notable leading lady ever to the event:

It isn't just any character who is chosen to appear on film with the Queen of England.  This was an enormous moment for both Daniel Craig the actor and James Bond the character, and if one was of a mind to do so, I think one could make a persuasive argument that this was the single most important moment in the history of the series.
None of that has anything to do with Skyfall, of course, except as one bit of explanation for why it went on to become the top-grossing film in the entire history of the series.  It seemed well worth a mention, though, and if anyone wants to have a conversation about whether this short film is canon within the Bond series, I'll happy to oblige in the comments.
This US one-sheet is not one of the more inspired posters in the franchise's history.
Skyfall, in some ways even moreso than Quantum of Solace, is a film that tends to make old-school Bond fans turn up their noses.  Let's find out what You Only Blog Twice makes of it.

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.


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