Category Archives: James Bond Films

Dr. No-1962

Dr. No-1962

Director-Terence Young

Starring-Sean Connery, Ursula Andress

Reviewed July 27, 2017

Grade: A-

Watching the 1962 film that launched the James Bond franchise into the legendary status that it has since become, Dr. No is rich in history and is a blueprint of what the Bond films would encompass in the decades to follow. Admittedly more basic in comparison to the more sophisticated and fleshed-out chapters to come, the film is nonetheless a superb entry in the franchise and a chapter to be cherished on its own merits.

Charismatic Sean Connery, soon to forever be identified in the role of James Bond, fills the role with a suave, masculine, confidence oozing from the screen in each and every scene. In fact, his performance in the role is so seamless, one might assume he had been playing Bond for years, rather than being a novice. And who can forget the characters first entrance- in a casino, confidently gambling, and introducing himself to Sylvia Trench, a character originally slated to be his steady girlfriend.

The film version of Dr. No is adapted from the first Ian Fleming spy novel of the same name, which is clever. As the years have gone by, the Bond films were modified a great deal from the original written pages, so it is cool and original to have the film closely mirror the book.

Lacking a hefty budget, the action mainly takes place in both London and Jamaica, and at Crab Key, a fictional island off of Jamaica. When Strangways, a British Intelligence Chief, is killed and his body taken by assassins known as “the Three Blind Mice”, who also steal files related to Crab Key island and a mysterious man named “Dr. No”, Bond is summoned to his superior’s (M) office in London and tasked with determining whether the incident has anything o do with radio interference of missiles launching in Cape Canaveral.  Natural, it does and the adventure sets off  a series of dramatic events involving henchmen, scrapes with death, and  Bond’s bedding more than one beautiful woman, before facing the ultimate showdown with the creepy title character., who is missing both hands.

Notable  and distinguishable to the film are the fabulous, chirpy, child-like songs featured in the film. From the tuneful, harmonic, nursery rhyme, “Three Blind Mice”, sung calypso style, to the sexy and playful, “Under the Mango Tree”, both are light, yet filled with necessary mystery too. The fact that the former is featured in the beginning of the film and implies that the named the same villains are joyfully singing the happy tune, is a good indicator.

Dr. No is also inspired for the introduction of the crime organization, SPECTRE, that any Bond aficionado knows very well is a staple of the franchise. Joseph Wiseman, as Dr. No, is well cast, though sadly, we only see him at the latter part of the film. Much more character potential is left untouched, though the mystique of knowing the man exists, but not what he looks like is worth mentioning.

Admittedly, rather silly is the assumption that the audience will not be witty enough to realize that both  the characters of Dr. No and Miss Taro (a villainous secretary) are  clearly caucasian actors wearing unconvincing makeup. Why the choice was made not to cast authentically ethnic actors is unclear. My guess is the powers that be wanted to go a safer route due to the uncertainty of the franchise at that time.

Still, for a first try, Dr. No gets it just about right. What woman in 1962 was sexier or cast more perfectly than Ursula Andress as the gorgeous and fiery sex kitten, Honey Ryder? This casting was spot on and who can forget her sultry introduction to the film as she emerges from the roaring waves on the beach in a scantily clad bathing suit. The set designs and locales also work well in the film. Contemporary are the set pieces, specifically the spacious prison apartment Bond and Honey briefly reside in. Sleek and sophisticated, the sofa, rug, and tables all exude luxury and class.

Dr. No is a worthy film on its own merits and a fantastic introduction into the world of James Bond and the many trademark elements and nuances that the films contain.

Live and Let Die-1973

Live and Let Die-1973

Director-Guy Hamilton

Starring-Roger Moore, Jane Seymour

Reviewed May 25, 2017

Grade: A-

When Live and Let Die was released in 1973, it began a new chapter in the James Bond film franchise with the introduction of a new Bond. Sean Connery, refusing to do any more Bond pictures, Roger Moore was crowned the new film hero and successfully made the role his own during his tenure. My personal favorite Bond from top to bottom- I enjoyed the wry humor Moore added- he makes Live and Let Die more than it otherwise might have been with a less charismatic actor. The story and the subsequent elements of the film have issues, but this installment holds a soft spot for me as it was one of my first exposures to the mountainous franchise that is Bond, and I adore the time period of the mid 1970’s.

Bond (Moore) is summoned to duty by his leader, M, after three MI6 agents are simultaneously killed in the Caribbean, New Orleans, and at the United Nations in New York City. Bond is then tasked with figuring out who killed these agents and how the deaths are connected. The adventure takes Bond from Harlem to an unnamed island in the Caribbean, and back to the bayous of southern Louisiana as he tangles with heroin drug lord, Dr. Kananda. Bond’s main love interest in the film is the virginal tarot card reader, Solitaire, played by Jane Seymour.

Live and Let Die is a breakthrough in some ways, though the film admittedly contains both positives and negatives worthy of discussion. Since the film was made in 1973, following a successful run of “Blaxploitation” films like 1971’s Shaft and 1972’s Super Fly, the film is clearly influenced by those in style (for better or worse). This means that all of the villains are black, from the main villain, Kananga, to various henchman and even background criminals growing the massive amounts of heroin shipped to the United States for distribution. Having such representation among a minority group is fantastic and feels cutting edge, but stereotypes such as derogatory racial epithets, a pimp mobile, and the addition of weird voodoo, exist.

Another major flaw to the film, and despite my  overall warmth for Live and Let Die, is the goofiness that the film turns into towards the end of the film. At a certain point, the film feels like a different film from what it starts off as, which becomes quite jarring.-the introduction of Sheriff J.W. Pepper during a Louisiana chase scene turns the film into more of a cheesy Dukes of Hazzard episode , with bumbling law enforcement officials, rather than a quality film, and the southern stereotypes run rampant. Why does a throwaway scene of a speedboat racing through an outdoor wedding feature all high society white folks with nary a black character existing other than as servants? Some diversity in this scene would have been nice considering the film goes out of its way to feature black characters.

Still, many positives  do exist-Live and Let Die has the honor of containing the first ever black Bond girl- the CIA double-agent, Rosie Carver, who sadly meets a grisly ending far too soon. Gloria Hendry’s  chemistry with Roger Moore is readily apparent, though the film chooses to make the character inept rather than a true equal. The smoldering sex scenes between the duo are wonderful and groundbreaking to watch so the film gets major props for pushing the envelope in this way.

Memorable is the terrific title theme song, “Live and Let Die”, by Paul McCartney and Wings. The success of this hit song, especially decades later, does wonders to elevate the film and keep it relevant in pop culture.

Also great to see are the location sequences and good action car chase scenes along the West Side Highway in New York City and into Harlem. A treat for this retro fan is the inclusion of early 1970’s Chevrolet Impalas and Chevy Novas throughout the entire feature film- was Chevy a financial backer? In fact, classic cars are a major inclusion in Live and Let Die, which as a current day viewer is a cool treat and quite retro.

In the way of the primary villain and primary Bond girl, the film misses. Jane Seymour is a dud as Solitaire, a character that really should have been played by a black actress. Seymour and Moore have zero chemistry and her character is weak and simpering, lacking any sort of backbone. Similarly, Yaphet Kotto as Dr. Kananga seems miscast and lacks any real qualities that make him neither devious nor dangerous and his inevitable swan song underwhelms.

Live and Let Die is certainly not the greatest in the Bond collection and suffers from some problematic, now dated aspects, racial issues, and a silly overtone, but, perhaps more so as a terrific childhood memory,  I hold a particular fondness toward this film despite many negatives.

The Spy Who Loved Me-1977

The Spy Who Loved Me-1977

Director-Lewis Gilbert

Starring-Roger Moore, Barbara Bach

Reviewed April 27, 2017

Grade: A-

The Spy Who Loved Me is pure James Bond- an installment of the franchise that successfully contains all of the elements of an exceptional Bond film- and then some. By this time Roger Moore was firing on all cylinders and had clearly made the character of James Bond his own- Sean Connery who? With his third appearance in the role, Bond exudes charisma and wry wit, combined with a fabulous story, sexy Bond girls, and a villain worthy of his role, The Spy Who Loved Me achieves near perfection, save for too drawn out of an ending- otherwise, an excellent, memorable film that does not feel dated in the least.

When Soviet and British submarines begin to vanish, the two sides team up and send their best agents forward to uncover the circumstances surrounding the disappearances. Barbara Bach plays Major Anya Amasova, also known as Agent Triple X, a Soviet agent, and naturally Bond becomes enamored with her beauty and intelligence. Together they face off against a megalomaniac named Karl Stromberg, who is intent on destroying the world with nuclear missiles and creating his own underwater world. Stromberg’s sidekicks are Jaws, a giant with steel teeth, and a deadly vixen named Naomi.

Interestingly, if watched as a companion piece to a Bond film of the 1960’s, as I did this time around (You Only Live Twice), the viewer will notice the change in how Bond female characters are treated. No longer servile and obedient to the male characters (Bond specifically) Bond women are now his equals in every way, matching him in career success and intelligence. The main “Bond girl”, (Anya), is a shining example of this, which the film immediately offers. In one of my favorite scenes, Anya is in bed with a handsome man- when “Agent Triple X” is paged, we assume the agent is the man, until Anya slyly responds to the message- it is a nonchalant, yet brazen way to make the point that women have emerged as powerful and sexy figures in the modern Bond world.

The chemistry between Moore and Bach is immeasurably important to the success of the film and their romance is dynamic- they simply have “it” and their scenes smolder with sensuality. To complicate matters, Bond has killed an agent whom Anya was in love with and she plans to kill Bond as soon as their mission is victorious. Director, Gilbert, also adds in a slice of Bond back story- giving truth and rich history to the story-Anya mentions Bond’s deceased wife (married and killed in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), a subject Bond deems off limits. This ode to the past only enhances the connection between these two characters.

Villains play an important part in the success of The Spy Who Loved Me. Take Stromberg- he is sophisticated, mature, worldly, and rich- and quietly insane. He also has a lavish dining room in his underwater submarine with exotic fish swimming about through visible tanks- a gorgeous element to this film.

Through a trap door,  victims meet their demise by a vicious killer shark swimming about. One unlucky female assistant, who has double-crossed Stromberg, meets her maker in bloody fashion. Later, Bond sees a severed hand floating about in one of the tanks. This is great creative writing and adds nuances to the film.

Hulking henchman, Jaws, who would return in the next installment, Moonraker, dazzles and impresses with his deadly, steel teeth. A great scene, aboard a high-speed train, and a throwback to 1963’s From Russia With Love, is action packed. Naomi, meets her demise after an ill-fated helicopter chase scene. I would have liked to have gotten more screen time and gotten to know this character. Her brief, but obvious flirtation with Bond is all too short- and he never even gets to share a bed with her!

Not to be outdone, the locales in the film are lavish and gorgeous- Egypt and Italy are countries explored and scenes are shot on location in each country in grand fashion. The Egyptian pyramids are features as a chase and a murder occur during a night time exhibit- also fantastic are the gorgeous shots of Sardinia- a beautiful region in Italy, where Stromberg’s hideout is set.

A mini gripe is the lengthy conclusion to the film. As Bond struggles to recalculate the two nuclear missiles set to destroy New York and Moscow, Bond must rush to make sure they do not hit their intended target. The “final act” of the film just goes on too long with way too many soldiers and men running around in a panic. The action is great, but enough is enough by the end.

Roger Moore once commented that The Spy Who Loved Me was his favorite of all the Bond films to make- it is easy to see why he felt this way. The film contains all of the necessary elements to make it one of the top entries in all of the film franchise and has a magnificent feel to it.

You Only Live Twice-1967

You Only Live Twice-1967

Director-Lewis Gilbert

Starring-Sean Connery, Akiko Wakabayashi

Reviewed April 23, 2017

Grade: B+

You Only Live Twice is the fifth in the James Bond film series franchise and also the fifth to star iconic Bond, Sean Connery, in the starring role. Reportedly growing bored with the role and eager to move on to meatier acting challenges, Sean Connery is not quite as mesmerizing in the role this time around, but is still indisputably charismatic and sexy with his delivery of one-liners and various affairs with women. You Only Live Twice is the last to feature Connery until he would be coaxed into returning to the role four years later with 1971’s Diamond Are Forever.

The film is not tops on my favorite Bond films of all time nor is it even top ten for that matter, but nonetheless still quite an enjoyable watch, and certainly the Japanese locales are the highlight. The film as a whole suffers from a silly story, dated special effects, and a completely lackluster villain, but it does have Connery to rescue it and a nice little romance between Bond and main girl, Aki, played by Japanese actress, Akiko Wakabayashi- that is until she is unceremoniously poisoned.

The plot involves the hijacking of an American NASA spacecraft by another mystery spacecraft. The Americans suspect the Russians of the action and the British suspect the Japanese since the aircraft landed in the Sea of Japan. MI6 (Bond) fakes his own death in Hong Kong and subsequently begins to investigate who is responsible. His search brings him to Tokyo where he investigates Osato Chemicals and stumbles upon evidence. He is aided by both Aki and Tiger Tanaka, Japanese Secret Service leader. Soon it is revealed that the mastermind is SPECTRE villain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld-in this installment played by Donald Pleasence. Bond must destroy his enemy and inevitably save the world from a global nuclear war.

Though a timely story-line since 1967 was in the midst of the Cold War, the plot seems somewhat forced and a bit uninteresting. The countries blame each other for the hijacked ship, but this comes across as extremely plot driven and secondary. The “swallowing” of the aircraft seems cheesy and preposterous even considering the year that the film was made and the writing is not as rich as some of the proceeding Bond films like From Russia With Love or Thunderball. The film also has an overall “cheap” look to it.

However, the film does have plenty of positives worth mentioning. The gadgets that James Bond fixture, Q (the MI6 technical wizard) creates are state of the art and fun. The mini flying helicopter that Bond uses is creative and allows for even more views to enjoy. Bond faking his death in the opening sequence is a treat (albeit having been done before) and ceremoniously being cast off into the sea in a coffin only to be wearing a suit and an oxygen mask inside the casket is clever and light.

Donald Pleasence, a storied, fantastic actor, is not well cast in the role of main villain Stavros and I am not entirely sure why. The fact that his face is not shown until the last act is not helpful and the character (though seen in other Bond films) is not compelling and is underutilized. I would have liked to have the character be a bit more visible, though surprisingly the character was highly influential in the 1990’s spoof Austin Powers films. Adorable yet creepy is Stavros only being seen clutching and stroking a gorgeous white cat.

As for the Bond women, the aforementioned Aki is the best of the bunch. Gone too soon in the story, she is replaced by Kissy Suzuki, who is rather unappealing. Mostly clad in a skimpy white bikini and heels, and appearing to wear a black wig, the character is forgettable and serves no purpose. Conversely, villainous Helga Brandt, SPECTRE assassin, is very well cast and shares good chemistry with Connery. After an unsuccessful attempt to kill Bond, she is fated with a date with killer piranhas as payment for her failure.

You Only Live Twice has a myriad of ups and downs, but is worth watching for fans of the franchise, and specifically, fans of the classic Bond films featuring Sean Connery. Some will argue that the film feels dated and is chauvinistic, and to some degree they are correct, but the film is a large part of a treasured franchise and a fun experience.

From Russia with Love-1963

From Russia with Love-1963

Director-Terence Young

Starring-Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi

Reviewed February 5, 2017

Grade: A

From Russia with Love (1963), only the second in the storied James Bond film franchise, is a sequel to the debut installment, Dr. No, and received twice the budget that its predecessor did. This is evident as the cinematography and the look of the film are exquisite with chase and battle scenes galore. The film is lavish and grand and what a Bond film ought to be- consisting of adventures through countries, gorgeous location sequences, and a nice romance between Bond (Sean Connery) and Bond girl, Tatiana (Daniela Bianchi), though she is not in my top Bond girls of all time. Terence Young returned to direct the film with successful results.

Vowing revenge on James Bond for killing villainous Dr. No, SPECTRE’s Number 1 (seen only speaking and holding a cat) recruits evil Number 3, Rosa Klebb, a Russian director and defector, and Kronsteen, SPECTRE’s expert planner, to devise a plot to steal a Lektor cryptographic device from the Soviets and kill Bond in the process.  Klebb recruits expert killer Donald “Red” Grant, and manipulates Tatiana into assisting. The story takes Bond mostly through Istanbul, Turkey, into a gypsy camp, and via the Orient Express through Yugoslavia to the ultimate climax.

The villains in From Russia with Love are outstanding and a major draw to the film. Both Klebb (Lotte Lenya) and Grant (Robert Shaw) are perfectly cast. Klebb, militant and severe with her short cropped red hair, has a penchant for deadly footwear (she has a spike that shoots out from her boot containing venom that kills in seconds) and casually flaunts her lesbianism in front of Tatiana. I admire this level of diversity in early Bond films from a sexuality perspective- it was 1963 and this was extremely rare to see in film.

Grant, on the other hand, is handsome and charismatic and has a chest of steel. With his good looks and beached blonde hair he is a perfect opponent for Bond as the final battle between he and Bond aboard the Orient Express is a spectacular fight scene and a satisfactory conclusion to the film.

The action sequences are aplenty and compelling especially the aforementioned, and lengthy Orient Express train sequence finale, which is grand. As Bond and Tatiana, along with their ally Ali Kerim Bey, a British Intelligence chief from Istanbul, embark on a journey, they are stalked by Grant, who waits for an opportunity to pounce on his foes. This sequence is the best part of the film for me- Grant, posing as a sophisticated British agent, has a cat and mouse style conversation with Bond and Tatiana over a delicious dinner of sole. Grant drugs Tatiana by placing capsules in her white wine- the fact that he orders Chianti with sole- a culinary faux pas- gives him away.

Other notable aspects of From Russia with Love are the soon to be familiar cohorts of Bond who will be featured in Bond films for years to come: M, Q, and Miss Moneypenny become treasured supporting characters that audiences know and love. Mere novices in this film, it is fun to see their scenes- especially lovelorn Moneypenny.

An odd scene of sparring female gypsies is both erotic and comical as the two women wrestle and fight over a gypsy chief, only to soon forget their rivalry and both bed Bond- falling madly in love with him as the two women suddenly become the best of friends.

The chemistry between Connery and Bianchi is good, but nothing spectacular and not the real highlight of this Bond entry. Don’t get me wrong- they make a gorgeous couple- his dark, suave looks, and her statuesque blonde figure look great, but I found the pairing just decent rather than spectacular.

The action sequences, especially the Orient Express scenes are a spectacle and the many locations shots in and around Istanbul are ravishing. From Russia with Love is a top entry in the Bond series and a film that really got the ball rolling with fantastic Bond features- it is an expensively produced film and this shows.

A View to a Kill-1985

A View to a Kill-1985

Director-John Glen

Starring-Roger Moore, Christopher Walken, Grace Jones

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Reviewed September 21, 2016

Grade: A

Not exactly deemed a masterpiece, or even a treasured favorite, among the masses of James Bond lovers, A View to a Kill holds a soft spot for me personally. It is one of the first Bond films that I was fortunate enough to see in the movie theater and it has continued to enamor me all these decades later. Yes, it has flaws (to be mentioned later), but it is a classic, fun, exciting, mid 1980’s Bond offering. It contains Roger Moore- in his final Bond appearance, the exotic Grace Jones, a great villain, and on location treats such as Paris and Iceland- who could ask for anything more?

We are re-introduced to MI-6 agent James Bond on the snowy slopes of Siberia as he discovers the body of 003, along with a Soviet microchip believed to belong to the wealthy Max Zorin (Christopher Walken). Bond attends a horse sale hosted by Zorin and discovers he is drugging the horses to make them perform better. It is also revealed that he intends to destroy Silicon Valley in order to rule the microchip industry. In Zorin’s camp is a mysterious woman named May Day and an odd Nazi scientist named Dr. Carl Mortner. Events conclude in San Francisco as the action packed finale takes place in a mine and overlooking (via blimp) the historic Golden Gate bridge.

I completely get the criticisms hurled at this film- both Roger Moore and, as a secondary character, Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny, had gotten quite long in the tooth by this point in the franchise (1985), which is a shame because both are favorites of mine. Most glaring in the “bad” department is Tanya Roberts as the main Bond girl, Stacy Sutten- almost rivaling Halle Berry (Die Another Day) as screamingly awful. Not appearing as a major character until quite late in the film, Stacey is a wealthy heir, who Zorin is attempting to pay five million dollars to in order to relinquish her shares in Silicon Valley (she refuses). Robert’s acting is quite poor if I am being honest- she has no chemistry with Moore, and comes across as a bit of a dimwit, despite being written as a doctor or scientist of some sort. Regardless, she does not work as a Bond girl. Yes, the cartoon-like chase around San Francisco with the brooding police chief is unintentionally funny- another negative to the film.

But here are some strengths- Fantastic is Walken as the main villain role of Zorin. Psychotic, loony tunes, and such a pleasure to watch. With his bleached blonde hair and grimacing sneer, a particularly controversial, and favorite scene of mine is when Zorin, machine gun in hand, sprays bullets from left to right, undoubtedly killing dozens, as he gleefully laughs. This was unprecedented in Bond films up to this point as most villains contained a safer personality- Zorin is positively monstrous and to be feared.

Also worth mentioning is Jones as May Day, simply mesmerizing in the role- although sadly her character is weakened  toward the end- did she really believe Zorin was capable of love?? Countering with the anemic chemistry between Bond and Roberts, the chemistry between Jones and Moore sizzles. Interesting to note is that this is not the first time Bond has explored an interracial (white and black) romance- far from it. Live and Let Die- circa 1973 takes this honor. I would have enjoyed much more exploration on an emotional level between Bond and May Day instead of the animalistic physical attraction.

One may wonder with all the recognizable flaws with the film, why the A-rating? Because simply put this film is fun and contains all the elements a Bond film ought to. The action is plentiful- who can forget the nail-biting Eifel tower chase or the Paris car chase- sans car roof?

Certainly not high art, but a grand favorite of mine, A View to a Kill is entertainment personified. The pop title-theme song, performed by Duran Duran, which became a #1 hit in the summer of 1985, is a wonderful aspect of the film and immediately takes me back to a different time- I suppose the film does as well and that is a great part of my fondness for it.

Spectre-2015

Spectre-2015

Director-Sam Mendes

Starring-Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz

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Reviewed May 5, 2016

Grade: B+

A modern treat for James Bond fans, Spectre is a slick, very expensive production sure to please die-hard aficionados of the storied franchise. It contains rich history and nods to recent installments, wrapping the story-arc up, a fantastic villain, and fast-paced, compelling story-telling. What it does lack is an interesting lead Bond girl, a quality that detracts from the film, and what is a must for the cherished franchise. This is the only major flaw in an otherwise fantastic film.  In typical Bond fashion, his adventures take him to London, Rome, Mexico City, Austria, and Morocco.

Speeding along in what is now the twenty-fourth Bond film, and still feeling fresh and relevant, Spectre commences where its predecessor, Skyfall, left off- mainly hot on the heels of M’s (Judi Dench’s) shocking death. How wonderful to see her again, albeit in a videotape message- that turns out to be crucial to the central plot. The new M is a male character again and portrayed by Ralph Fiennes. In the films sub-plot, a new character, C, comes into play as the head of  Joint Intelligence Service, who deems the 00 section outdated. The focal point of the story is Bond’s avenging of the former M’s death by taking down Spectre, an organization not seen in a Bond film since 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, but once again a strong presence.

The opening sequence in Mexico City really kicks off the energy of the film. Fast paced, and with an awesome helicopter chase/fight sequence, it is a long sequence that thrills. We watch, engaged, as the helicopter swirls and tumbles mid-air, while hundreds of spectators in a large outdoor square flee for safety. The film then forays into the inevitable Bond song- “Writing’s On The Wall”, this time written and performed by Sam Smith.  This particular song has received mixed reviews, but I am fond of it. This leaves the audience geared up for a wild adventure to come.

The return of the crime organization, Spectre, to the story, brings rich history and is the strongest, most interesting part of the film. We have a rooting value since it is a familiarity. Even more pleasing is the return of Bond’s arch-enemy Ernst Stavro Blofeld, known more forcefully as “Number 1”, has been played by such legendary actors as Donald Pleasance, Telly Savalas, and Max Von Sydow.  In Spectre, Christoph Waltz takes over the role and this is a major win. Waltz, a tremendous actor, plays Blofeld in a sly, wicked manner- taunting, yet with some comedic elements mixed in. In a compelling scene (and the first one containing Waltz), James Bond appears, hidden, at a Spectre summit.  He recoils as he recognized the shadowed Blofeld, realizing the detrimental repercussions this will mean. I only hope that in subsequent Bond films, Waltz will return.

Let’s discuss the Bond girls in the film- Ironically, the small role featuring the oldest Bond girl in franchise history (aged fifty and played by the gorgeous Monica Bellucci) is more compelling than the lead Bond girl, Dr. Madeleine Swann, played by Lea Seydoux. As Lucia Sciarra, widow of the Italian crime lord, Sciarra, there is more chemistry between Daniel Craig and Bellucci than Craig and Seydoux. I would have much rather seen Sciarra as the primary focus, but she is shamefully underused, appearing in two scenes only. Seydoux seems to lack energy and I noticed zero chemistry between she and Craig.

I am not sold on the new Moneypenny either- Bond’s labored sidekick and always suggested one-sided love interest, in earlier films it used to be a fun dynamic. She was a secretary, older, and their flirtation was charming, light, and fun- she was almost a mother figure to him. Now, there really is no flirtation or romantic hints at all as the character has clearly been modernized to fit the twenty-first century.

Despite these character misses, the film is exceptionally well-made with tons of action. Sometimes Bond films hold up well, other times they do not. Time will tell what fate holds for Spectre, but my hunch is that it will age well.

Thunderball-1965

Thunderball-1965

Director-Terence Young

Starring-Sean Connery, Claudine Auger

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Reviewed January 15, 2017

Grade: A

By 1965, the James Bond franchise was embarking on it’s fourth in the series, and the budget certainly reflected the success of the preceding films. Thunderball has the luxury of reaping the benefits of an enormous budget and as a result is a grand, epic film. The sheer lavish nature of the film make it one of my favorite Bond films simply for the look of it. The special effects are a marvel.

By this time Sean Connery had comfortably immersed himself into the role of bond with his charms and his ability to exude charisma into the role. In this story, two NATO atomic bombs have been stolen by SPECTRE and holds the world to ransom for millions in diamonds. They are threatening to detonate one of the bombs in a major city in either the United States or England. Bond must race against time to deter this from happening.

For starters, the opening sequence is one of my favorite. Bond attends the funeral of deceased SPECTRE agent (number 6) at a lavish chateau in France. The agent is disguised as his own widow, but Bond is not fooled. This sets the tone of the film as a dramatic fight scene ensues between the two “men”.

The main villain of Thunderball is Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi), a handsome, suave, SPECTRE agent (number 2). He is rich and sophisticated which mirrors the whole of the film. His grand estate is set and filmed in the Bahamas giving most of the film a steamy, posh, look, with blueish-green waters, and white crispy sand the most gorgeous of backdrops. Largo is a great Bond villain and on par with Bond. He also has charm, good looks, and charisma.

The main Bond girl is Domino, played by Claudine Auger, and she is Largo’s mistress. She is typically clad in black and/or white, hence her name. Auger has the perfect balance of beautiful looks, sophistication, and intelligence, and is a perfect match for Bond. The chemistry between Connery and Auger is apparent and a major part of the success of the film.

What sets Thunderball apart from some other Bond films is the major portion of the film, mostly in the second half, taking place underwater. In a clear example of showing off modern technology of the time (1965), some complained that these sequences went on too long and did not further the plot. These points may contain some validity, but oh are they so gorgeous to look at. The exotic underwater world is majestic.

Thunderball really has it all and is one of the most gorgeous of films. The film is big, bombastic, and filled with bright colors. It contains all of the elements of a great Bond film and why it holds up incredibly well all these years later.

The Man with the Golden Gun-1974

The Man with the Golden Gun-1974

Director-Guy Hamilton

Starring-Roger Moore, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland

Top 100 Films-#77

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Reviewed February 7, 2017

Grade: A

Though not typically regarded as one of the more appealing of James Bond films, and the second chapter to feature Roger Moore, Sean Connery’s replacement, The Man with the Golden Gun is one of my favorites, firmly placed in my top 5 of 007 offerings. This could be the result of the film being one of my first introductions to the world of 007 as a child. Moore seems more comfortable in the role than he did in the uneven Live and Let Die, released in 1973.

Qualities that make The Man with the Golden Gun a success in my view is the wonderful casting of Christopher Lee, a famed horror film icon, in the central role of Francisco Scaramanga, the title character, and nemesis of Bond. Who cannot think of Count Dracula while watching Lee act- his dark, swarthy looks, angular face, and his deep baritone voice make for a perfect villain. Known in large part for participation in Hammer Horror films opposite another legend, Peter Cushing, this is casting at its finest and a true high point of the film.

To summarize the story, MI6 receives a golden bullet with “007” sketched in the side, a clear threat to the life of James Bond. It is assumed to have been sent by famed assassin, Scaramanga, who’s trademark is a deadly golden gun. Bond is ordered to remove himself from his current mission, but he pays no mind and sets out to find Scaramanga on his own, leading him into a mystery involving a stolen solar energy weapon feared to destroy the world. The adventure takes Bond to a bevy of gorgeous locales such as Hong Kong, Thailand, Macau, and the South China Sea where our villain resides on a private island reached only by helicopter.

I found the main locale of the sunny deserted island and Scaramanga’s dwarf sidekick, Nick Nack, great aspects of the film. Majestic caves, sandy beaches, and a gorgeous array of water sets the tone with gorgeous fantasy elements. Servant Nick Nack is sinister, but with a sweet smile, one almost trusts him as he serves lunch or expensive champagne to guests sure to be killed afterwards. The secret maze of mirrors that Bond finds himself in is made perfect by Nick Nack’s taunting and cackling. And the flying car that Scaramanga and Nick Nack drive in, though gimmicky, is a real hoot.

A demerit to The Man with the Golden Gun that I have always been able to look past since other factors usurp the importance of her, is the miscasting of Britt Eklund as Bond’s assistant, Mary Goodnight. The writers pen Goodnight as simpering, silly, and a big goof. An attempt at comic relief falls flat as the character epitomizes a blonde bubble head- constantly screwing up everything. Scaramanga’s girlfriend and co-Bond girl, Andrea Anders, played by Maud Adams is much better, though we do not get to know the character very well before she is offed. Fortunately, Adams would return to star in Octopussy in 1983.

Perhaps middling at times and suffering from some negative characteristics, The Man with the Golden Gun is a love of  mine, a trip down memory lane to a time as a child when I was first discovering my love and zest for James Bond films. This offering cemented my love of Roger Moore in the central role and I still adore watching this film.

Goldfinger-1964

Goldfinger-1964

Director-Guy Hamilton

Starring-Sean Connery, Gert Frobe

Top 100 Films-#72

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Reviewed February 16, 2017

Grade: A

By the time Goldfinger was released, the third in the James Bond franchise, the films were huge successes and the budget was not to be spared a dime. The lavish sets are proof of this and Goldfinger is one of the best of all the Bond films- containing all of the necessary elements to make it successful- interesting villains, Bond girls, gadgets, and locales. By 1964’s Goldfinger, Ian Fleming’s franchise had clearly hit its stride and was achieving runaway success.

The intriguing premise immediately sets the tone- 007 is assigned to investigate a massive gold smuggling scheme. The conspirator is Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe), who hatches a plot to contaminate the United States Bullion Depository at Fort Knox.  His goal, naturally, is to control the world.! The adventure takes Bond from the United Kingdom, to Switzerland, and finally to the United States in  Kentucky and Florida. The main Bond girl, a villain, is the uniquely named, Pussy Galore. The film implies that the character is bisexual and she is very tough. Bond becomes intrigued by and smitten with her.

Goldfinger has the honor of containing one of the greatest Bond villains of all time- the title character of Goldfinger. Big and burly, he is menacing looking and actor Frobe is perfectly cast. We first meet the man, cheating at gin rummy, poolside at a lavish Miami Beach hotel, whilst Bond looks on from dozens of floors up, with the assistance of Goldfinger’s moll, Jill Masterson. In one of the greatest scenes in Bond history, a knocked out Bond awakens to find Jill dead- and completely covered in gold paint! The fact that this scene occurs early on sets up the Bond/Goldfinger rivalry in outstanding fashion.

Goldfinger’s henchman, Oddjob, is also a grand Bond villain- Asian, menacing, and wearing a trademark steel-rimmed hat, which he uses to kill his victims. Jill’s sister, Tilly, seeks revenge on Goldfinger only to find herself a victim of Oddjob’s infamous bowler hat as she flees for her life.

On the heels of an exceptional Bond film, 1962’s From Russia With Love, a stellar film itself with nary a flaw, Goldfinger excels slightly because it has got all the right ingredients for a perfect film, and was firing on all cylinders by this time in the franchise. Everything simply flows with precision.

Unforgettable is the climax of Goldfinger at the legendary Fort Knox itself. Goldfinger’s private army, an atomic device, a countdown to destruction, and Oddjob, all make for a satisfying and riveting conclusion to one exceptional Bond entry.

Diamonds Are Forever-1971

Diamonds Are Forever-1971

Director-Guy Hamilton

Starring-Sean Connery, Jill St. John

Top 100 Films-#57

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Reviewed May 16, 2013

Grade: A

Despite this being one of the lower rated James Bond films, this is actually one of my favorite films of all time and many would disagree with me. Some say Sean Connery phoned this performance in, some say there was little chemistry between him and Jill St. John, and tension filled the sets leading to a sub-par offering, but I think this is a great film.

I love the Las Vegas locale, the bright lights, flashy costumes, and a ritzy underbelly- and the Vegas car chase is amazing. A bright, shiny Ford Mustang takes center stage throughout the sequence, and if one looks closely, they will realize that nearly all the cars are Fords- fun fact!

The title song by Shirley Bassey is great- sultry and stylish only enhanced by the glitzy setting. One immediately imagines the film oozing with diamonds as it does.

The villains are interesting and Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd were the first openly gay Bond villains, which, in 1971 was groundbreaking. Yes, they are evil and slightly baffoonish, but what a risky and surprising blatant scene to see the gentlemen holding hands.

St. John is a sophisticated and intelligent Bond girl and the action in this film is plenty. It contains all the elements for an enjoyable Bond experience.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service-1969

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service-1969

Director-Peter Hunt

Starring-George Lazenby, Diana Rigg 

Top 100 Films-#25

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Reviewed August 19, 2014

Grade: A

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is often shamefully derided by fans of the James Bond franchise, which is sad since artistically and story-wise it is top of the heap and is my personal favorite from the series.

Bond, now played by George Lazenby, is on the hunt for arch nemesis Blofeld, played by Telly Savalas. Blofeld is intent on securing amnesty for his past deeds and is threatening to ruin the world’s food supply if his demands are not met. Often known among Bond historians as “the one with George Lazenby”, who, if not for Sean Connery returning to the series in the next film, could have lasted much longer in the role, is a breath of fresh air and wonderfully cast. Lazenby brings his own form of charisma, great looks and charm to the role and Sean Connery is a tough act to follow, but Lazenby succeeds in spades.

Diana Rigg is one of the best Bond girls of all time as she is intelligent, sophisticated, confident, and beautiful, a great counterpart to Bond- she is more his equal, rather than simply just a conquest for him and the two actors have real chemistry. Telly Savalas is effective as the Blofeld, though not my all-time favorite Bond villain by any stretch- there is something missing in his performance.

In typical Bond fashion, the film begins in sunny Portugal, side steps to London, and finishes in cold Switzerland. I love the icy, snowy Switzerland locales in the film and the ski chase, downhill bobsled chase, and car chase on ice, and subsequent blizzard, which are brilliantly atmospheric.- a perfect film to view on a cold winter’s night!

I love the inside quips in this one especially when Lazenby says “I bet this never happened to the other fellow” and “He had lots of guts” both are laugh out loud clever.

The shocking and tragic ending is uncharacteristic for a Bond film and a brilliant change from many of the films as Bond is humanized.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is more character driven then the other films in the franchise while still providing lots of adventure, and should be revered as a more layered Bond offering.

Skyfall-2012

Skyfall-2012

Director-Sam Mendes

Starring-Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem

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Reviewed May 29, 2013

Grade: B+

Skyfall is the latest (23rd!) installment in the decades long running James Bond franchise (1962- Dr. No) and this one receives major kudos from me. When one looks back upon all of the Bond films, they have had to adjust to keep up with the times and Skyfall does this very successfully. In addition, Skyfall brings a good, old fashioned, compelling story to the table.

An attack on MI6 is initiated by former agent, Raoul Silva, beautifully portrayed by Javier Bardem, who has a personal vendetta against M, played by Judi Dench. Bardem gives a complex, powerful representation of the villain and is not overly cartoonish. He really appears crazy! James Bond, of course, must come to the rescue and save the day. The story finally gives M. a chance to shine as the main plot revolves around her. The relationship between M. and Raoul is interesting and layered with history, which makes for compelling story.

Standard with Bond films, exotic locales are used- this time we get Shanghai, London, Scotland, and Macau. James Bond’s past is also explored- He grew up in Scotland? The Bond family estate is a major backdrop for the action. The reintroduction of two famous Bond characters- Moneypenny and Q are like a breath of fresh air added to the franchise, although I was not crazy about the casting choice of Q.  Also, one minor flaw with this film is there is no clear “Bond girl” to root for.

Skyfall provides a successful return to its Bond roots and will hopefully allow the Bond franchise to continue for many films to come.