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Posts Tagged ‘Ian Fleming’

I have written about possible Bond directors on a couple of occasions, but now Sam Mendes has ruled himself out of “Bond 24” it’s a good time to bring the subject up again. While there are lots of names doing the rounds, there is only one that stands out for me: Kathryn Bigelow. There is however a problem, it isn’t what you may think, it isn’t her sex, its her nationality! Born in San Carlos, California, she is too American. Yes that’s right, no director from the home of cinema has ever helmed a movie from cinemas most iconic franchise. The closest was Irvin Kershner, who made Never Say Never Again, but this was not part of the Bond, EON franchise.Kathryn Bigelow

If the producers can overcome fifty years of history and hire Bigelow they need to insist she brings Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker writer Mark Boal with her. They also need to dispense with the intelligence of Mendes, the grit of Marc Forster and the slick of Martin Campbell and produce a simple, dirty and possibly even dumb action movie. Having celebrated the 50 year milestone with gusto and splendour it would be impossible to top it, it would be foolish to try. I am not suggesting Bond becomes a purely action based franchise, but this is the time to make a one-off 90 minute genre movie.Bond

The plot possibilities are endless but a few thoughts on where they should go: stick with the minimal use gadgets, scale back the plot to something simple and personal, keep Moneypenny and M’s role to a minimum. Two possible outlines that would work in the spirit of the character and in line with some of the stories from Ian Flemings novels would involve Bond on his way home from a mission, shown in the obligatory pre credit sequence where he is either, A: distracted by something he sees happening and decides to investigate or B: is called to the aid of a friend who needs Bonds help. A setting for the film is obvious, America. Bond hasn’t spent any significant screen time “stateside” since Licence to Kill in 1989.James Bond Action Movie

I fear none of this will happen, as the filmmakers will fall into the usual trap of trying to make a bigger and bolder movie than what went before. Only time will tell, the one hope, they did listen to me once (in my dreams).

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Yet another Bond/Skyfall post, in my defence as a huge fan I write about James Bond all the time, I‘m not jumping on the bandwagon. In a variation on my recurring Drinks in Movies thread I am going to look at the drinks in Skyfall. There are films that are full of nuanced symbolism and metaphors, in other movies what you see is what you get. I could be cracking open the secrets of the film or reading too much into it you decide. Whatever your thoughts, there are lots of spoilers here so don’t read unless you have seen Skyfall.

As I have mentioned before Bond drinking a vodka martini is a bit of a cliché that is only partly true. In the Ian Fleming novels Bond invents the Vesper in Casino Royale but drinks various different things but favours Scotch Whisky, no great surprise, his farther is from Glen Coe after all. Around the half way point of the movie Silva (Javier Bardem) gives Bond (Daniel Craig) a glass of his favourite Whisky, a Macallan 1962 Fine and Rare Vintage, he describes it as being a 50 year old. Most likely a reference to the 50th anniversary of Bond rather than the drink itself. So what can we read into this? Silva knows everything about Bond, something thay he prides himself on. We also see M (Judi Dench) drinking the same Brand of whisky, something that I am sure hasn’t escaped Silva’s notice. Does it go deeper? Is it also the Writers (Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan) or the director (Sam Mendes) telling us they know there character, they aren’t filmmakers for hire, paid to churn out the next Bond film, they know their character inside out.  Its one of those great little touches that fans will appreciate but many people won’t notice like giving Bond a midnight blue dinner jacket instead of a black one.  

We do see Bond drinking a martini in the Macau casino but we never hear the shaken not stirred line or the Vesper recipe. This is still the Bond we have known for 50 years (longer in the books) and we aren’t going to forget that, but he is moving on. This works in the same way as the exploding pen conversation with Q (Ben Whishaw) being a reminder of the past and a signpost to the future.

There has been a lot of fuss over Bond drinking Heineken, this is unfounded as he is no stranger to beer having drunk it many times in the books and films. As a product placement Heineken has appeared in several films including Craig’s other two outings as Bond. Product placement is certainly nothing new to Bond, in the books he has drunk more champagne than anything favouring Taittinger. In Cassino Royale he remarks that “[1943 Taittinger] is probably the finest champagne in the world” but a long standing placement deal means he has drunk little but Bollinger since Live and Let Die 1973). I wouldn’t read much into beer or the product placement, but it is worth considering when he drinks it. In the scenes where Bond is “dead” he is living away from his spying world as a broken man, an ordinary man and not the supper hero that Bond has become, beer as the great leveller of men, a memento mori.

Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) pours M (Judi Dench) a glass of cognac, Courvoisier VSOP, this is a gesture seen many times in Bond films where M gives Bond a drink. A possible hint towards Mallory being the new M as he does at the end of the film. It actually goes a stage further than that. In GoldenEye Bond (Pierce Brosnan) meets the new M (Judi Dench’s first appearance) for the first time. When she offers him a drink he tells her “Your predecessor kept some cognac in the top drawer of…” she tells him that she prefers bourbon (She actually gives him Jack Daniel’s, a Tennessee Whiskey rather than a bourbon, but a common mistake in England). Later in the movie we see Mallory as M in an office more reminiscent of the one inhabited by previous M’s Robert Brown and Bernard Lee than the modern one Dench uses, the office and the return to Brandy could just be a further reference to Bonds past in his 50th year on screen, but it could also be a suggestion of a return to classic Bond of the 60’s.

As mentioned I am probably reading too much into this, but next time you watch Skyfall take a look and see what you think. And while you are at it look out for the scrabble score mug Q (Ben Wishaw) drinks his Earl Grey in. 

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WARNING CONTAINS SKYFALL PLOT SPOILERS

Okay so the title of this article isn’t true but there are certain elements of Skyfall that are similar to an idea I wrote about three and a half years ago. Following Quantum of Solace and given the state the studio was in the direction and future of the franchise was less than certain, it didn’t stop me giving an idea of a film I would like to see. My basic idea revolved around the un-filmed The Spy Who Loved, the 1977 film only used the title. For those who don’t know, Ian Fleming’s novel The Spy Who Loved Me was like no other Bond book in that Bond isn’t in it very much. Instead, concentrating of the female lead Vivian, a young woman who gets caught up in an arson plot.

The three key ideas I had that feature in Skfall (the middle one is vague at best!) that I wrote about are:

  • A pre credit sequence involving Bond chasing killer on a motorbike to retrieve a stolen McGuffin.
  • A wholly new act designed to get Bond to the final act:
  • A Die Hard style conclusion with Bond taking on a group of bad guys in a remote isolated location.

As a huge fan of James Bond who has not always been happy with the direction the film series has taken, it is fantastic to see the filmmakers so in tune with audiences, well with this audience member at least. I believe the success of the film lies in a perfect blend of the original Bond from Ian Fleming’s novels and a new 21st century character shaped by the modern world and cinema of the last 50 years. You can see my original post HERE.  The other novel that was largely discarded in favour of a new story was Moonraker. You can read about my idea for a film based on the original novel HERE.

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I started writing a review of The Living Daylights (1987) for my Groovers Video Vault, it quickly became clear that I was not writing about the movie but about its star, Timothy Dalton. He probably isn’t the best James Bond, but he is certainly the most underrated, probably the closest to the character Ian Fleming wrote, and possibly the most influential since Sean Connery. The review of The Living Daylights will have to wait for another day.

In 1985 a 58 year old actor played James Bond, the actor Roger Moore was playing the part for the seventh and final time in his twelve year tenure. An older Bond could have made an interesting character as it did when (the younger) Sean Connery reprised the role for the unofficial Never Say Never Again (1983), but thanks to lazy writing, Moore still playing the part as if he were a much younger man. This was exacerbated by the over reliance of silly gadgets and comedy one liners. In essence the small elements that made Bond, Bond had taken over. It was a bit like watching an aging rock star putting all their effort into an extravagant stage show but forgetting to sing the songs. The final nail in the creative coffin was that they had run out of Ian Fleming novels and were writing new stories, bad stories. Bond had become a parody, the result A View to a Kill was a terrible film, the franchise was an unsustainable mess, something had to be done. There was little of merit in the Roger Moore movies after his third outing, The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), the series really needed new direction back then. I suspect that remembering the failure of George Lazenby as Sean Connery’s replacement, the producers were scared of upsetting the status quo and kept Moore in the role for an extra decade. As bad as the films got (Moonraker (1979), Octopussy (1983) and A View to a Kill (1985) being the low points) they still made money.

Producers, particularly Cubby Broccoli courted a young little known Irishman Pierce Brosnan who was staring in the TV show Remington Steele. Contractual obligations prevented Brosnan from taking the part so attention turned to Shakespearean actor Timothy Dalton. Dalton had been approached to replace Connery in the late 60’s but felt he was too young, and then again in the early 80’s when Moore’s contract was in dispute. Comments in various interviews have suggested Dalton was not happy with the direction the franchise was going, he also suspected that he and other actors were used force Moore’s hand. When he eventually took the part he did it on his own terms. A fan of Flemings source novels, Dalton insisted on scaling back the sci-fi/fantasy elements of the plot in favour of a grittier more plot driven story. He played Bond as a reluctant hero who like his literary counterpart drank and smoked too much. He was a man clinging to small pleasures while he tried to take away the taste and guilt of the repugnant side of the job. This can be seen early in his first movie, The Living Daylights (1987). It took its name from an Ian Fleming short story that was originally published along with Octopussy.

The story saw a jaded Bond on sniper duty, his mission to take out a KGB sniper and aid an agents escape from East Berlin. On realising the KGB sniper is a beautiful, blonde cellist he had seen on her way to and from practice earlier, he decides to shoot her weapon from her hands rather than killing her. Captain Sender his local contact, explains to Bond that he had to mention Bonds actions in his report stating “You should have killed that sniper whoever it was” Bonds response:

James Bond Said wearily “Okay with any luck it’ll cost me my Double-0 number. But tell Head of Station not to worry. That girl won’t do any more sniping. Probably lost her left hand. Certainly broke her nerve for that kind of work. Scared the living daylights out of her. In my book, that was enough. Let’s go.”

It is with this defiance that Timothy Dalton played the part. Most of the short story makes it to the screen reworked into the plot of the movie. Bond’s words became “STUFF my orders! I only kill professionals. That girl didn’t know one end of her rifle from the other. Go ahead. Tell M what you want. If he fires me, I’ll thank him for it.”

Bonds relationship with Saunders (based on Captain Sender from the short story) is unusual within a Bond film, in that it brings out many emotions in him. Initially the two don’t get on, but they grow to respect each other. When Saunders is killed Bond loses heart in his cover and becomes agitated and on edge. There is nuance in this performance you don’t expect from Bond. This isn’t a new Bond this is a return to the real Bond, the Fleming Bond. We can see this in his interactions with General Pushkin, the new head of the KGB. This the Bond we have seen on screen and read about on the page who has always been more interested in following his instincts than his orders. Dalton’s second and final Bond film Licence to Kill (1989) takes Bond a stage further refusing M’s orders and resigning in order to seek personal revenge. The film was both praised and criticised for darker and more violent tone of the movie taking it away from the family audience and more towards contemporary Hollywood thrillers. Interestingly it wasn’t that well received by American audiences. Receiving a 15 certificate in the UK and Rated PG-13 in America probably didn’t help.

In 1990, MGM/UA was sold, this led to various legal disputes that are too complicated to go into. The legal disputes caused delays and the next film due to go into production in the early 90’s was delayed until early 1994, this again was delayed and Dalton resigned from the role despite originally signing a three picture deal.

The interesting thing about Daltos time as Bond is what happened when he quit, Cubby Broccoli got his man, the actor he always wanted to play Bond, Pierce Brosnan. After a promising start GoldenEye (1995) the series descended into something very similar to the latter Roger Moore films, farces filled with silly gadgets and product placements. Bond as a character was conceived during World War II and was a cold war character, for that reason he lost a little of his relevance after The Living Daylights. While he was away fighting drug dealers and on a brief hiatus, the world was changing, Russia was changing. To their credit this became an underlying plot point in Brosnan’s début film but it was never expanded on or played with in future films. Then in 2006 in the wake of the Jason Bourne movies for the first time ever, Bond wasn’t recast, it was rebooted with Daniel Craig getting the part to the surprise of almost everyone. His début Casino Royale (2006) was a return to form, its sequel Quantum of Solace (2008) (a direct sequel is another Bond first) was less well received. And now the Zenith of what Dalton started, Skyfall (2012) has taken Bond further from Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan than many thought possible. He may have taken it too far to be recognisable as a Bond, but it is proving popular with fans (including me), audiences and critics. Don’t expect the ever humble Dalton to take any credit where Bond is today, but I don’t think he would have got to this point without the new direction he took the character in 1987.

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In 1997 Mike Myers gave us Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, a movie that made a mockery of James Bond. How could Bond continue after this?The simple answer, in the Pierce Brosnan era Bond became as silly as the spoof. Then in 2002 around the time Brosnan was making his last appearance as Bond in Die Another Day the game really changed with The Bourne Identity. Bond took a four year break and returned as a younger rougher Bond in Casino Royale played by Daniel Craig. Despite the reboot, there is still a sense that Bond belongs in the 50’s and 60’s and not in the present day.

Powers Bond Bourne Reacher

As good as the Jason Bourne trilogy was, it was always just that a trilogy. The critical, financial and artistic failure of the Bourne Legacy proved that. Largely plot driven it couldn’t adapt and evolve the way Bond has, but then no other film series has. Bruce Willis is John McClane, and there couldn’t be a Die Hard movie without him. The same goes for Riggs and Murtaugh/Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon and Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry. Next year, Chris Pine will be the fourth actor in five films to play Jack Ryan but they have always felt like separate films and not a coherent series. Mission: Impossible has the scope to be rebooted and is set up in such a way that other characters can be introduced without the need to recast existing ones. There has been a suggestion that William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) introduced in the latest film Ghost Protocol has been suggested as a replacement for Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) but is it the new Bond? Probably not but it does lead on nicely to Jack Reacher, a film franchise that could be the James Bond for a new generation. I am not talking about a replacement for Bond.

Dirty Harry Jack Ryan John McClane Riggs and Murtaugh

Bond as a character is showing no sign of going anywhere but that doesn’t mean there isn’t space for a new action hero franchise. The screen incarnation of Bond has been with us for fifty years, longer than most people who read this article have been alive. It has always updated itself in an effort to stay relevant but is at its best when it has one foot in the past as M said in Golden eye “I think you’re a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War”. This is why there is room for a new hero one who, one conceived in a world after Vietnam, the cold war and 9/11. I’m not totally convinced that that character is Jack Reacher but it stands a chance. The controversy over the casting of Tom Cruise who is too old and too short (by ten inches) and worst of all too famous to play Reacher may just work in its favour. If cruise can establish the character over three or four movies it will have the chance to be recast and reinvented in future the way Bond has been.

Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher

Who is Jack Reacher? Starting with Killing Floor in 1997 Lee Child has already written more novels than Ian Fleming. Unlike Bond, Reacher isn’t a spy with the backup of the British movement and the “Q” branch. Reacher is a former military policeman who has taken to drifting around America. Along the way he gets into various scrapes and ultimately ends up helping people in a sort of Kwai Chang Caine way. Totally lacking any sense of remorse but with a strong sense of morality and a compulsion to help people the character is very clichéd, this isn’t a criticism.

Lee Child’s cameo in the new Jack Reacher movie

So will Reacher be the new Bond? No, and if the filmmakers try to turn him into the new Bond it will be a missed opportunity for a new franchise. Since its reboot a few years ago Bond took a step towards Bourne but always kept its own identity and that’s that Jack Reacher needs to do, forge its own identity in a crowded movie schedule.

  • Skyfall is released on 26th October 2012 in the UK and two weeks later in North America.
  • Jack Reacher is released on 21st December 2012 in the USA and on Boxing Day in the UK

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Talking about James Bond in last weeks Radio Times, film critic Barry Norman made the statement: Ask anybody: who is your favourite James bond? I guarantee the answer will be the first one they ever saw”. I’m not sure if I am more discerning or just awkward, but it isn’t true of me. To the best of my knowledge and memory the first Bond I saw was Roger Moore in Live and Let Die. Moore is far from my favourite Bond, but I have recently come to the conclusion that I don’t know who my favourite Bond is! For years I have always claimed it is Sean Connery with the caveat that Timothy Dalton is the closest to the character from Ian Fleming’s novels.

I hold with the popular opinion that George Lazenby was the worst Bond, and this is a great shame as On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is one of the best Bond films despite him. He is closely followed by Roger Moore whose comic version of Bond just doesn’t work for me. He did however make some decent movies, Live and Let Die and The Spy Who Loved Me were both really good films. The Man with the Golden Gun isn’t as good but does benefit from a fantastic performance from Christopher Lee as the villian Scaramanga.

So Back to who is my favourite Bond, Sean Connery certainly had the best stories with relatively faithful adaptations of Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball. You Only Live Twice is the point where the franchise started to get silly and even became a parody of itself, it was however still a good film in its own right. Connery’s only misstep was Diamonds Are Forever that was both silly and dull.

I have already said Timothy Dalton most closely resembles the character from the books in his portrayal, but there is another actor who probably looks most like Bond, Pierce Brosnan. This may be a bit of a stretch as there is little description of Bonds appearance beyond his short black hair and a resemblance to Hoagy Carmichael. Pierce Brosnan isn’t my favourite Bond either. He is perfect for the films he made and the time they were made, but sadly most of them weren’t actually very good. After a strong opening with GoldenEye the rest of his films got progressively worse culminating with the car crash of a movie, Die Another Day that was as bad as anything Moore did.

This leaves us with two contenders: Timothy Dalton who was hamstrung by only making two appearances both of them being good but not great films, The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill. Had he made more films he could well have been my favourite Bond but for reasons to long winded and complicated to go into today he didn’t. And finally Daniel Craig, Casino Royale is certainly one of my favourite Bond films and Quantum of Solace is underrated and will probably age well, but is he my favourite? Not yet but he may well be in future, with three more movies including Skyfall due out next month, he will certainly have a chance before handing his Aston Martin and Walther PPK to Michael Fassbender, my choice for the next James Bond.

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With all the buzz surrounding Skyfall I recently re-watched Casino Royale and enjoyed it so much I immediately watched Quantum of Solace. It was the first time I have seen the two movies back to back, I don’t know if it benefited from this or if it is just a better movie than I (and many others) have given it credit for, but something has caused me to re evaluate the underrated movie. While Ian Fleming’s books often followed on from each other, there has never before been a Bond movie that was a direct sequel.

Following Casino Royale was always a seemingly impossible task and just about any sequel would have suffered by comparison. It is easy to look back on Casino Royale as the benchmark for Bond, but back in 2006 it was a risky proposition. Daniel Craig wasn’t the first actor to take over the mantle of Bond, and it wasn’t the first time the character was taken in a new direction, but it was the first time the story had been completely rebooted. But it worked, what we got was a modern Bond, that fitted with the modern world, a post Jason Bourne world but who retained the characteristics of what had gone before in the previous movies, but more importantly the original books. It would have been very easy to walk away from the plot threads left by Casino Royale and create an entirely new movie, but that would have been a waste.

The Bond of Quantum of Solace is an emotionally broken man following the death of Vesper Lynd having made her a more sympathetic character than the one in the book. The Bond of the novels is a cold hard bastard, here we are seeing the creation of that character more like the Bond of You Only Live Twice (1964 novel) following the death of Bonds wife Contessa Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. In his quest for revenge Bond forms an alliance with a similar goal Camille (Olga Kurylenko) whose quest for vengeance overlaps with his. Given the two characters and the place they find themselves in, there is a completely new dynamic to the Bond/“Bond Girl” relationship. This leaves Gemma Arterton’s Agent Fields (read the credits to discover her first name) to fulfil the more traditional Bond Girl role. It would be easy to dismiss her small role, but it is significant to the plot and has a telling nod to the earlier Bond films. The globetrotting nature of the movie is in line with what you would expect but is less important than it was in the earlier films. The problem with Bond in the modern day is how to work around the existence of modern communications technology, contrivances of the plot and the setting make great use of this and it really works. I would however say that this can not work every time and sooner or later it will have to find its place in the world again.

As movies become more bloated it was a brave decision to make a Bond movie lasting little more than a hundred minutes, but it really works. As a direct sequel Bond hit’s the ground running, or driving to be more precise. To the credit of the short running time and the tight concise plot the pre credit sequence is directly relevant to the plot (they aren’t always). Beginning where Casino Royale’s epilogue ended sees Bond’s Aston Martin is chassed along perilous mountain roads between Lake Como and Siena with Mr White (Jesper Christensen) locked in the boot. Many of the less positive reviews criticise the plot, this is unfair, the plot is sound if a little simple. Bent on revenge but also investigating the Quantum organisation (a modern day SPECTRE) Bond’s part in the plot works. The villains, Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) and General Medrano (Joaquín Cosio) are suitably menacing and loathsome and walk the fine line between caricatures and believable characters. Their intentions, the control of water supplies seems a little low key in comparison to megalomaniacs set on word domination or destruction but is actually both a most timely and realistic one. The one thing that seems to have been overlooked, it is possibly the best looking Bond film. The design and photography is nothing short of stunning, from the old DC-3 plane to the desert landscapes. They also make great use of the Palio di Siena horse race and a performance of Tosca on the floating opera stage at Bregenz, Austria. You don’t watch Bond for the production design but it certainly does no harm to the overall movie.

An underrated and under-appreciated movie that its detractors really should give a second chance. Like me I would recommend you watch it back to back with Casino Royale to best appreciate it in context.

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