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 here?  Beats me.  But by this point, 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.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Goldeneye [1989]

And now for something completely different...

Today, I've got a look at Goldeneye, the 1989 television movie in which Charles Dance starred as Ian Fleming.  This, obviously, is not a James Bond movie, and so it is, strictly speaking, somewhat outside the boundaries of this blog.  Nevertheless, I thought it might be fun to have a look at, since it is -- again, obviously -- of tangential relation.

Easier said than done!  The movie -- which you will sometimes see referred to as Goldeneye: The Secret Life of Ian Fleming or Golden Eye (although the on-screen title is merely Goldeneye) -- has never been released on commercial DVD, and is difficult to obtain on VHS.  YouTube will not help, you, either; nor Netflix, nor Hulu, nor Amazon Prime.  There doesn't even appear to be a torrent for the movie...and when the pirates haven't figured out a way to upload it, you know you're talking about some obscure stuff.

In trying to find a copy, however, I did eventually prevail.  At some point, evidently as part of some 14-part series of alleged ACTION THRILLERS, the Daily Mail evidently did a DVD for the film that they included as a supplement for subscribers!  Some kind soul on eBay had one of these up for just a few bucks -- or pounds, technically -- and so I bought it and had it shipped across the Atlantic.  So, one problem down.





Second problem: the DVD is Region 2.  I've got nothing that will play a Region 2 DVD.  So I did a little research to find out how one could rip a different region's DVD, and found that my laptop will allow me to change the region code for a limited number of times.  I changed it to Region 2, ripped the disc in four parts, and that was that.

Except, it wasn't.  Of all the programs I've got, only VLC Media Player will actually play the files that I ripped off the DVD.  And it will only play them spottily.  It's prone to crash every few minutes (especially when pausing and doing the other sorts of things that are a necessity of screencapping images), and the audio occasionally goes glitchy, though rarely in the same place twice.  Very weird.

I say all that as a means to illustrate just how devoted I was to the idea of seeing this movie and passing along knowledge of it to readers of this blog.  In this case, it actually took a bit of doing.

So, the question: was it worth it?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Licence to Kill [1989]

I have, so far, enjoyed the hell out of writing this blog.  However, I have a confession to make: around roughly the third or fourth post, I was already having serious reservations about the format I was using.  Not the conceit itself: I still like the idea of using a funky kind of math to assess the Bond series.

No, my concern is that the breakdown of categories is moderately broken.  Specifically, I think that the current format is a little too restrictive.  I occasionally find myself wanting to write about certain aspects of the filmmaking process that are not represented in my formula: the sound design, for example, or the vehicles and weaponry.  I've occasionally wondered if I ought to take the marketing of the film into consideration: posters, trailers, and so forth.

Eventually, I'll do a 2.0 reboot of the blog, and implement that updated/improved scoring system.  When I do, I think one of the categories I'm going to add is one that assesses big-picture-type production decisions, by which I mean how the producers of the series are handling the series on a picture-by-picture basis.  That's a slippery category to define, and I haven't figured out how to do so.  However, I know the need for it when I see it, and Licence to Kill offers a couple of excellent examples.

Example the first: the original title for the film was Licence Revoked, which, to my way of thinking, is a much better title for this particular movie than Licence to Kill is.  The reason for that is simple: for the majority of the film, Bond does not actually possess a licence to kill.  Or a license to kill, for that matter.  Allegedly, the fear was that American audiences would not be intelligent enough to figure out what "revoked" means.  This is patently ludicrous; American audiences are dumb as hell, but they weren't put off by the fact that none of them knew what a moonraker is, or a thunderball.  Take it from someone who knows: they mostly just ask for a ticket to James Bond anyways.

Example the second: the tone of the movie was a conscious attempt to move into a harder-edged, more realistic vein, such as could be (allegedly) found in the Lethal Weapon and Die Hard movies.  In a sense, that can be judged in the Mission Briefing category, but the screenplay was written in service of the tone mandate, and the tone was mandated by a decision from the producers.
  
I think it would be worthwhile to have a category (or, more likely, a subcategory) devoted to deciding whether decisions like these were good, bad, or somewhere in between, and to have that stand somewhat apart from the question of whether the execution of the decisions worked.

So bear in mind that, at some point in the future (probably while we're enjoying the adventures of the next 007 to take over after Daniel Craig's era has ended), that will be happening.

For now, though, let's soldier on.  It's too late to turn back now.  So using the same old ragged system we've been using so far, what do we think of Licence to Kill?




(1)  Bond ... James Bond

I like Timothy Dalton's take on James Bond a lot, as I made abundantly clear in my review of The Living Daylights.  And I think he's pretty good in Licence to Kill, too, but nowhere near AS good.  The tone of the movie was supposedly tailored to suit his style, i.e., darker and more realistic.  Maybe that's true, but there are numerous scenes in which he seems a bit ill at ease, almost as though he's being weighed down by the material.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Living Daylights [1987]

I've been looking forward to this one.

The Living Daylights has been one of my favorite James Bond movies ever since it came out in 1987.  When I began this blog, and its weirdo scoring system, one of the things I most wanted to find out was how The Living Daylights would fare.

So without further preamble, let's find out.




(1)  Bond ... James Bond

He's been the subject of occasional ribbing over the years from people who feel his era was a sort of 007 Dark Ages, but Timothy Dalton remains one of my favorite James Bonds.  But then, all the James Bonds are on my list of favorites; there isn't a one of them who I don't love.