Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Worst To Best: James Bond Film Scores

Today, we'll be ranking the musical scores of the James Bond films.  This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart; I've been a fan of film music for most of my life, and have a special love for the music of the Bond films.
  
It isn't AS cut-and-dried a topic as it seems, though.  By which I mean this: in assessing and ranking the scores for this post, I had to decide whether or not to include the songs for consideration.  For example, when I assess John Barry's score to Goldfinger, do I include the Shirley Bassey song "Goldfinger" in that assessment?  Any score fan would tell you the answer is a no; anyone who doesn't fit the bill of "score fan" would probably wonder why.
  
It's a question I'm not sure I have the terminology to answer.  So I'm mostly not going to attempt it.  How's that for laziness?  I hope it suits you fine, because it's what we're stuck with.  Jettisoning the songs -- which, after all, have already been ranked in excruciating detail -- simply feels like the right move.  With that in mind, we will consider only the background score (which may in some instances include limited amounts of source music), and proceed from there.
  
Another major point of contention: do I judge the soundtrack albums themselves, or the scores as presented within the films?  Some of you may wonder what the difference is.  Here's a decent answer: soundtrack albums rarely -- and this is especially true in the case of the Bond films --  contain all of the movie's score.  In some instances, it may not even include half of it.  Conversely, the soundtrack album sometimes contains music that never appears in the film; and yet, despite this, there's no denying that such pieces are indeed part of the score as it was written.  These things being the case, I'm not sure it's possible for either a film-only or an album-only approach to adequately serve our purposes.  
  
Therefore, I will use a hybrid method, which, yes, means I'm going to just wing it.  In some cases, I'm sure I'll refer to specific tracks on the album; in other cases, I will likely focus more on the film itself.  We'll figure it out.
  
No winging it is needed to determine what score earns the bottom-most place on this list, however.  I think its legacy is secure, regardless of what approach one uses.
  
  
#27 -- Never Say Never Again (Michel Legrand, 1983)
  
  
  
  
I don't like Never Say Never Again much at all.  A few elements of it work for me; Connery is basically fine (and occasionally inspired), for example.  I even like the theme song pretty well, believe it or not.
  
The score by Michel Legrand, on the other hand, is a complete loser.  In 1983, the Bond sound was still almost entirely defined by John Barry, and by his reworking of Monty Norman's theme; since neither was available for the producers of Never Say Never Again to use for legal reasons (it's not a part of the Broccoli-produced film series), the composer hired for the film was always going to operate at a disadvantage.
  

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Worst To Best: Bond Villains

No need for a preamble here: what follows is my heavily-biased assessment of the major Bond villains (as well as quite a few of the minor ones).

Before we get going, I've got an Honorable Mention pick I wanted to throw out there:
  

Honorable Mention -- General Anatol Gogol (Walter Gotell), The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, A View to a Kill, and The Living Daylights




I've never considered General Gogol to be a villain, and I don't think the series does, either.  He's antagonistic on a few occasions, but the sense you always get watching him is that he is a respectable, highly competent man who is simply doing the best job that he can do on behalf of his nation.  This brings him into opposition with M and M's agents at times, but does that make him evil?  I don't think so.

However, I felt Gogol was well deserving of a mention here; he's not a villain in my estimation, but if he was he'd handily outrank a great many of the lunkheads on this list.

Beginning with this one, who earns my ire as the worst Bond villain of them all:


#119 -- Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Charles Gray), Diamonds Are Forever






I know this movie has fans.  I am not one of them.  Among its chief problems is the bad guy, played here by Charles Gray, who appears at times to have been woken for filming from a deep stupor.  I can't tell if he thinks he's playing the role with an eye toward humor, or if he's instead a genuinely awful actor who thinks he's playing the role seriously.  Probably the former, but would I bet money on it?  Not much.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Worst to Best: Bond Girls

What does "Bond girl" mean?
  
That's a question that I find nearly impossible to answer, but one would be forgiven for assuming I felt that I had answered it, because here I am writing a post about it.
  
It's a logical assumption, and I guess that I have answered the question, if only for myself.  That said, during the process of compiling my list, ranking the "girls" in question, and then writing this post, I've consciously steered clear of setting firm boundaries for what I think the category means.  Here are a few common motifs one finds in discussions of Bond girls:
  
  • Bond girls are females who have sex with James Bond
  • Bond girls are females who are sufficiently sexualized and attractive that James Bond probably would have sex with them if given a chance
  • Bond girls are females whom the audience is expected to find sexually alluring

Of those, I'd say that the third is the one closest to my own thought process for this post.  But if one used that as a guideline, one could end up with a list of Bond girls probably five times longer than this one will be.
  
Would you count every poolside bathing-beauty separately?  How would one even begin to decide who did and didn't count?  Is a beautiful woman working at an airline ticketing counter fair game, or is that not quite sufficiently sexualized for her to count?  If so, why?  If not, why not?  If one finds Rosa Klebb to be hot -- and let's not rule that out, because Lotte Lenya was a right looker in her day (though arguably much less so in the day of From Russia With Love) -- must she be included?  Wouldn't Sheena Easton have to be included -- AS HERSELF -- as a result of starring in the opening credits to For Eyes Only?

It's an impossible situation, folks.  I can't set firm guidelines, and you probably couldn't, either.

So here's what we're going to do: we're going to wing it.  What criteria am I using?  I'm making it up as I go along.  Some decisions will be based on how I value the character's physical attractiveness; others will be based on how I value her intelligence, cunning, resolve, wherewithal, etc.  Still others will almost certainly be strongly influenced by my thoughts and feelings about the actress playing the role.

All of this is highly subjective, and you're possibly going to disagree with the vast majority of it.  It's opinionated, inconsistent (even with the already-expressed opinions you'll find within some of my posts about the individual movies), and maybe even hypocritical.

That's what it's like in my brain, though, especially when it's being bombarded with the mind-numbingly awesome collection of desirable women that is what I'm referring to as "Bond girls."  And for better or worse, mapping the contents of my brain is what I'm here for.  Might not be what you're here for, but them's the breaks, o reader of blogs.

So if one of your favorite minor Bond girls -- Virginia Hey's character from The Living Daylights, for example, or Dink from Goldfinger, or the wrestling Gypsies of From Russia With Love, for example -- has been left off of this list, don't take it as a personal slight against you OR against the lady in question.  I had to leave some people off, and I let intuition be my guide in that process.

With all the prevarication in mind, let's now turn our attentions to the bottom of the list.

Except I don't want to start at the bottom!  Let's have some positivity first:
  

Honorable Mention -- Rosika Miklos (Julie T. Wallace), The Living Daylights




I like the idea that James Bond has a worldwide network of women of all shapes, sizes, and inclinations, ready at a moment's notice to put their bosoms to use in order to aid both him and the cause of Western politics.  It's a goofy notion, really; but a cheerful one nonetheless.
  
Back in the day, I'd have described Rosika as "fat," and I can remember thinking it was funny -- by which I mean humorous -- that such an ugly woman would appear in a James Bond movie.  Ugly women don't exist in James Bond's world unless they're baddies!  How silly.  And hilarious.

Well, what can I say?  I was 13.

I'm 42 now, and not only does Rosika not seem to be particularly fat to me, she seems a long way from ugly.  In fact, I find her to be quite alluring.  Yes sir, works for me.

I honestly don't know whether Rosika belongs on a list of Bond girls, but I figure 42-year-old me owes her an apology on behalf of 13-year-old me.  Cultivating a list of babes is an invitation to exclude those who ought not be excluded, not merely in James Bond fandom, but in life.  And from my current vantage point, I'd say that a life would likely be enhanced considerably by a Rosika Miklos.

So welcome to the party, darlin'!  You never deserved to not be invited.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Worst to Best: James Bond Songs

Making ranked lists is tool used by exceptionally lazy bloggers.  I know that, and wanted to acknowledge it right up front, lest anyone accuse me of feeling as though I'm reinventing the wheel with this particular post.
  
I'm under no such illusions.  The fact is that I just like making a list every once in a while, and if it's a ranked list, all the better.  
  
Now, having finished reviewing all of the Bond movies, I think I will turn my attentions to doing a series of Worst-to-Best lists.  Seems like fun, right?  Yeah, sure it does!  We're going to start with one examining the Bond-movie songs, and I mean ALL of them; hopefully, I've not managed to somehow forget one.
  
In deciding what counted as a "Bond song," I used a set of loose criteria, and I thought it might be worthwhile to comment on that a bit before we proceed.
  
  • Non-EON productions -- Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again -- are included.  How could they not be?  Those are Bond movies, and they have original songs in them.  End of story.
  • There are a few "official" cover versions of theme songs, including the source-music version of "Live and Let Die" performed by B.J. Arnau and the demo version of "Goldfinger" performed by Anthony Newley.  I included both, because they received official Bond-soundtrack releases, and also because they are individuated sufficiently to be worth my time to treat them individually.  With Dr. No, I both did and didn't do the same thing.  The charge: inconsistency.  My plea: guilty.
  • As many Bond fans know, there are a great many rejected would-be Bond songs out there, ranging from Johnny Cash's "Thunderball" to Radiohead's "Spectre."  I have included a small handful of these, but only when they were composed and/or performed by artists whose other Bond credentials are sufficient to make these rejected songs the genuine article in a de facto sense.  I'll speak about my thought process when we get to each, but if you wonder why I've included them and not the Cash and Radiohead songs (or Alice Cooper, Blondie, Ace Of Base, etc.), know that it isn't because I'm unaware of them; it's because I've determined they don't belong on this particular list.
  • No instrumentals have been included.  So whereas the James Bond Theme is unquestionably the pinnacle of Bond music, if not the pinnacle of culture in the entirety of the Virgo supercluster, you won't see it at #1 on this list: I don't consider it to be a song.  Nor do the credit-sequence themes for From Russia With Love or On Her Majesty's Secret Service have spots here.  There will be a later list that deals with the scores, and rest assured that those pieces WILL be present there.
  • There are a decent number of minor songs on the list, and in some cases they were barely used in the movie.  However, if they (A) were in the movie, no matter how briefly, (B) were written expressly for the film, and (C) appeared on the soundtrack albums, then they are included here.
  • Songs not written for the movie -- "California Girls" and "London Calling," for example -- are not included.  For this reason, "Kingston Calypso" from Dr. No -- which relies heavily on "Three Blind Mice" -- has been omitted.
  • Cover versions -- such as the ones recorded for the David Arnold album Shaken & Stirred -- have not been included unless (as previously mentioned) they were performed expressly for one of the movies.
  • Songs written for Bond video games and books were not considered.  I considered considering them, but opted to not to.
  
By the time all of those thoughts were thinked, I had a list of 47 songs.  We will start at the bottom and work our way forward, but first, I present to you some images I stole after Googling "James Bond songs."




What?


Well, there's ONE way for Spectre to have been worse...

And now...

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Spectre [2015]

First things first: do you suppose the official spelling should be Spectre or SPECTRE?  I've seen it listed in all caps in various official Bond places, but I've also seen ALL the titles listed that way; so that's no answer.
  
My feeling is that it's the former, but if you'd care to mount a vigorous defense in argument of the latter, go for it in the comments.  
  


I won't bury the lede: I hated this movie.  It's my new least-favorite Bond movie, and by a wide margin.  I don't think the scores will be entirely reflective of that, which may indicate once and for all that the experiment that was/is the Double-0 Rating System is a failure.  It's only a partial failure, maybe; but a failure nonetheless.  Or perhaps it's a success, one that permits for math to overrule me in some regards.  Maybe it's both a failure AND a success.

You could say the same about Spectre, although I'd argue that it's not merely a failure, but a betrayal.  I know there were some Bond fans who felt the same about Skyfall.  I didn't -- and still don't (I think) -- agree with them, but now, I believe I understand how they felt.  Part of me thinks that when I return to Skyfall, I'm going to like it substantially less; Spectre has infected it, and has weakened it in retrospect.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond [2014]

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

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Skyfall [2012]

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

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

Monday, April 20, 2015

Quantum of Solace [2008]

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

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

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Casino Royale [2006]

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

  


Sunday, March 1, 2015

Die Another Day [2002]

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