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Review: Gravity

GRAVITY

Let’s start with some one word movie reviews for “Gravity”: Immersive. Intense. Beautiful. Suspenseful. Traumatizing. Inspiring. Tragic. Therapeutic. Brilliant. Masterpiece.

Now some two word movie reviews for “Gravity”: Superbly acted. Agonizingly realistic. Picture window. Instant Classic. New standard. Hyperboles needed.

And finally, three word movie reviews for “Gravity”: See it now. Tell your friends.

Simply put, I have never before experienced anything like Alfonso Curon’s “Gravity” in a theater. It’s a visceral, cerebral experience that will leave you as close to a new person as a survivalist thriller possibly could. Standing somehow feels different, as if one floated and spun in the vacuum of space for 90 minutes. It not only makes the audience feel they are alongside the actors, but due to some nifty video-game-like first person effects, you’ll often feel like you are the actors. This is by design both in the characterizations as well as the expert direction. The man who previously stamped his name on “Children of Men” and “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” set out to make a game-changer, and he quite clearly succeeded. Not to take anything away from “Children of Men,” by the way, which is, critically speaking, probably an even better movie. But where “Children of Men” had more to say in terms of the human condition and humanity’s future, “Gravity” is concerned with now, with the moment, and that experience. Both films are monumental achievements that need to be seen.

One big note: “Gravity” almost certainly requires being seen on the largest IMAX screen possible, and yes, in 3D. To my delight, the same 3D tag I usually deride so much as a money-making gimmick that adds little films has for once been perfectly utilized. Outside of perhaps James Cameron’s Avatar, there’s never before been a film to explore 3D to such great effect, and to add so much to not just the atmosphere but even the central themes. A smaller screen will certainly still provide an impressively intense experience, but if you want to feel like you are in the movie, this one is worth shelling out the cash for.

“Gravity” is incredibly effective from the opening shot, a beautiful moment of silence as the Earth slowly drifts into view to fill up the screen. I swore I was looking through an actual window out in space, never before has an image resonated with such realistic clarity. Not long after the main plot kicks into gear, and it’s almost non-stop intensity until the end. Curon again shows his flair for impossibly lengthy one-takes, where the action seems to unfold in real-time and the camera never cuts away. The first shot of “Gravity” continues for over 17 minutes before ever changing to a different view. Imagine a top-notch amusement park ride done by one of the most talented film-makers to work a camera, add in top-level acting and score, and you have an idea of how effective this is. The camera is a character in itself, floating over and around our astronauts continuously. When it isn’t, its weaving in and out of direct point-of-view, or drifting back to deliver some of the most lush, astounding visuals ever put on a screen.

In the brief moments of calm, we get to know our main characters, portrayed by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Bullock provides the role of her entire career, sure to win over all but her most harsh critics. She’s empathetic, inspiring, and above all a realistic every-man (or at least, as close to one as there could be in the situation). An Oscar nomination is almost guaranteed.  Clooney provides his usual dependable charm, and although not a lot is asked of him for the role, the comic relief is perfectly applied, allowing the audience some much-needed break from the consistent tension and suspense. Although not without moments of obvious fiction, a great effort was made to add realism to the proceedings, resulting in aspects such as explosions making no sound. This adds an element of horror that was very unexpectedly delightful. In place of the usual BOOM! BANG! BLAM! the score by Steven Price is there to guide the audience emotions. He nails it. From the quiet, ambient moments to the rush of adrenaline he pumps into the action-heavy scenes, it’s a fantastic companion right up through the majestic climax.

One might think that will all this focus on providing an immersive experience for the film-goer, that the story and themes would be underdeveloped. The story is fairly simple, yes. It’d be easy to dismiss it at that, but I would argue that making it more complicated would have taken much away from the universal reliability of the situations we find ourselves in. In only brief moments do we feel that Curon’s theme’s are being too forcefully applied (One spot is most obvious. Hint: it features a character talking to themselves). Most of the time, he lets the images do the talking, allowing for subtle but unmistakable moments of levity. There are several images from this film that I haven’t gotten out of my mind, replaying over and over. I was also pleased to find out that the main conflict/disaster in the film is based off of real concerns with space exploration. The metaphors are plenty, and they add up to so much more than you’d expect. The intensity is almost too much to take at times, and that’s surely the most obvious thing anyone will notice, but I was pleased in how much emotion could be stirred up. It’s a deeply effecting film on multiple levels, leading it to be all to easy to forget one is watching a film.

I could go on, but instead I’ll fall back to another one word review for “Gravity”:

Wow.

Rating: 10/10


Ben’s Top Ten Movies of 2012

Another year gone by, another round of movies I feel the need to gush over! This year I did much better at seeing many of the top films in the theater, thus I didn’t miss quite as many as in 2011. For instance, one of my absolute favorite films of 2011 turned out to be “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol“, but I didn’t actually see it until around May, so I feel the need to give it a mention here. With that said, don’t expect to see a few of the more highly regarded 2012 films here, such as “Lincoln” or “Django Unchained“. I simply haven’t seen them, so don’t take offense to them not being included. What follows is the top 10 films I personally saw this year. Enjoy!

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Honorable Mention: 21 Jump Street

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It actually says quite a bit for how well-done this remake of an 80’s Johnny Depp television vehicle is that it ends up on my list. I’m notoriously hard on comedies, but “21 Jump Street” won me over with its ability to skew genre conventions while reveling in them joyously. It’s funny, it’s exciting, and it features likable performances from leads Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum. In the end “21 Jump Street” provided me some big laughs and deserves a mention on this list.

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10. Prometheus

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Prometheus is perhaps the most beautiful, well-made, atmospheric mess I’ve ever seen. There are inherent flaws in the logic of the plot as well as moments when the motivations of the characters are seemingly nonsensical. What saves Prometheus is the absolute masterpiece of direction and cinematography. This is truly a believable world in which the suspense and tension builds up effectively and the engaging story never stops challenging the viewer. A missed opportunity to be one of the best science fiction films of our time, but still 2 hours that will leave you pondering its mysteries long after.

See my full review of Prometheus here: https://lifexinxrewind.wordpress.com/2012/06/10/review-prometheus/

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9. Wreck-It Ralph

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It may strike some as a little too much “Disney does the Pixar formula”, but there are so many clever ideas and subtle moments of greatness that “Wreck-It Ralph” was by far my favorite animated film of the year. The story, moral, and formula are easy enough for most children to have a great time, but the details are nailed perfectly. There are enough brilliant references to gaming lore to please the older crowd, but much of the fun comes from the ways that the writers clearly had a great time being creative with the material. A joy from start to finish and one of the best Disney movies in years.

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8. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

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While I found “The Hobbit” to be inferior to the masterworks that are The Lord of the Rings movies, there’s still a lot to like in the tale of Bilbo Baggins joining a group of Dwarves (and our old friend Gandalf the Grey) for an epic adventure. The action was a little too familiar, and the story definitely cuts out just as it gets going (part of the problem of making one book into three films), but there’s more than enough moments of wonder and excitement to make the extended running time breeze by. Wise choices were made in how to use previous (or is that future?) characters in small but effective chunks, and once again Andy Serkis steals the show as Gollum, providing one of the most effectively chilling scenes in the entire series. It also benefits at times from being a less serious, more whimsical affair. It will be easier to judge once the entire trilogy once it’s over, but this first entry is still sure to please fans of middle-earth and is a strong blockbuster.

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7. Safety Not Guaranteed

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“Safety Not Guaranteed” came out of nowhere as the best independent film I saw in 2012. It features some familiar faces but is driven by the smart, interesting, often hilarious screenplay which manages to be emotionally resonant as well. The characters feel real and their interactions are genuine, and it contains some of the off-beat wit that the freedom from major studios can provide. The plot, which involves an ad placed in the classifieds looking for a time-travel partner, could have easily gotten silly, but it’s all grounded in real world people and emotions. The most unique feel-good film of the year is easily “Safety Not Guaranteed”.

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6. Dredd

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A huge flop that itself is a remake of the Sylvester Stallone 90’s cheese-fest, it would be natural to not expect much from “Dredd”, the 2012 film that stars Karl Urban as the title character. Much to my delight, it delivers as both an exhilarating action roller coaster and a fascinating piece of movie-making. The heavily stylized violence is both brutal and uncompromising , with some incredible visuals a distinct knack for an intense, anything-could-happen atmosphere. Very smart decisions were made to avoid the issues that doomed the original, giving lovers of the comic a proper representation of the anti-hero. Typical action tropes are woven in without feeling forced, allowing the audience to identify with situations while still feeling like a unique take on the genre. While I could have done with a bit more thematic exploration of this future, I cannot fault the result. “Dredd” is not for the faint of heart, but takes the straight-forward action hero and injects a wonderful visual style that begs to be viewed in the best quality.

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5. The Hunger Games

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Having never read the source novel, nor having seen “Battle Royale”, the foreign film in which many point to spawning the original concept, I found The Hunger Games surprisingly thought-provoking and containing more depth than we are used to getting from a summer blockbuster. I have since seen (and loved) “Battle Royale”, but my opinion remains unchanged. “The Hunger Games” might have toned down the violence, but it features excellent pacing, an interesting story, and great performances. Sold to audiences as the next big series for the “Harry Potter” crowd, I can’t complain if this is what we can expect. I personally cannot wait to experience the rest of the series.

See my full review of The Hunger Games here:
https://lifexinxrewind.wordpress.com/2012/03/27/review-the-hunger-games/

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4. The Cabin in the Woods

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Let Joss Whedon loose on a horror script and the result is apparently “The Cabin in the Woods”, simultaneously the most unique horror film I’ve perhaps ever seen and the greatest homage to the conventions of the genre. It puts four teens in said creepy cabin in the middle of nowhere, but if you think you know how this story goes, think again. The most fun I had at the theater this year was “The Cabin in the Woods”, the funniest and most kick-ass movie you would ever expect from the tired premise.

See my full review of The Cabin in the Woods here: https://lifexinxrewind.wordpress.com/2012/04/18/review-the-cabin-in-the-woods/

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3. Skyfall

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“Skyfall” is easily one of the very best James Bond pictures. It is filled with enough fun and wit to please general audiences but also features plenty of clever references to the series as a whole, done in a tasteful way as to not be tacky or overbearing. It continues the more serious and emotionally involved storytelling that marks the Daniel Craig films while still making sure to feel like a genuine Bond picture. This is not only a great homage to 50 years of Bond, it is a fantastic action flick in its own right.

See my in-depth look at all 22 previous James Bond films in my countdown post here: https://lifexinxrewind.wordpress.com/2012/11/05/james-bond-ranking-50-years-of-the-worlds-most-famous-spy/

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2. The Dark Knight Rises

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One of the most anticipated films of our time did not disappoint, as Christopher Nolan did it again and kept his track record basically perfect. Although this entry has a lot more in common with “The Dark Knight” than the original “Batman Begins”, welcome efforts were made to tie all three films together into a cohesive trilogy. The new villain Bane manages to be a menacing success without making us yearn for Heath Ledger’s Joker, and new additions Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt steal their scenes by providing fantastic performances. “The Dark Knight Rises” not only ups the stakes with some exhilarating action, but also hits the right notes to be the most emotionally affecting entry to the universe and ends the trilogy on a superb high. This has easily been one of the best trilogies ever made.

See my full review of The Dark Knight Rises here:
https://lifexinxrewind.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/review-the-dark-knight-rises/

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1. Looper

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Surprisingly, “Looper” was an easy choice for my favorite film of the year. Essentially unheard of when the year began, it blew me away on multiple levels. The always reliable Joseph Gordon Levitt is convincing even under an odd makeup job, and Bruce Willis is fantastic in one of the best performances of his career. The details are absolutely nailed, from the believable futuristic world to the subtle details of the character moments sprinkled throughout. The greatness of “Looper” lies in how easily these moments are to miss because the plot and characters are so fascinating, and the world-building so inventive. I had much to ponder even days later, the mark of a production with enough depth to practically require additional viewings. Even if you find yourself not caring about any of that, the action scenes will keep you hooked with their often brutally realistic depictions. “Looper” is not only my favorite film of 2012, but ranks with the best of science fiction.

See my full review of Looper here:
https://lifexinxrewind.wordpress.com/2012/10/10/review-looper/

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As usual, I also wanted to take the time to mention two other categories.

Most underrated movie of the year: John Carter

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I considered putting the Liam Neeson vehicle “The Grey” here, as I have seen a ton of scorn for a film which I found to be quite well-made and affecting. But considering I may be one of the only people on the planet that didn’t hate John Carter, there was really no other option.

And that’s totally okay. I have heard all the complaints and criticisms of “John Carter”, and I can’t really disagree with most of them. The pacing is odd, the plot reveals take place at moments that undermine their effect, and the whole thing feels too similar to other popular films. What can I say? I found it a consistently entertaining mash-up of many of the best tropes of the science-fiction adventure genre, providing a good story with a character I grew to care for and just the right amount of comic relief. By no means did I find this a fantastic film (I only gave it a 7/10), but it’s far from the complete waste of time most would have you believe. The big thing that set the production apart from most misfires is that the creators genuinely cared about what they were doing, and the sense of fun and adventure they had for the project comes across on screen. With realistic expectations, it’s well worth the watch.

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Most overrated movie of the year: The Avengers

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Disclaimer: I LIKED THE AVENGERS. Let me repeat that. I liked the Avengers. It’s place in this entry right after I just spend a paragraph praising the universally panned “John Carter” is sure to set off some fuses. So to hammer it home, I did enjoy this movie, and “The Avengers” only narrowly finds itself left off my original list. But it must be said, after the countless glowing reviews, ridiculously high Rotten Tomato rating, and endless social media hype, that The Avengers is not the crowning achievement of the super hero genre, nor was it close to being one of the best films of the year. Did it fit in with the other Marvel productions? Absolutely! It was enjoyable, sure, at times managing to be very funny and featuring some breathtaking spectacle. Alas, there are simply too many nagging issues to place it in my top 10 or giving it anything more than a moderate thumbs up. The numerous plot holes (or cop outs) bugged me a bit, as did the less original decisions (such as the big bad enemy invasion looking like they came right out of Michael Bay’s “Transformers” series, or said army being dispatched ala “Star Wars: Episode One”). The running time also made the film feel stretched too thin, spending too much time with blatant fan service. I’m at least very happy to say that this years most overrated movie was at least a good flick. The overwhelming hype and its place as the #3 grossing movie of all time may have doomed “The Avengers” to be thought of this way, but to say it’s that much better than the other Marvel films that led up to it? A bit a stretch. Alas, an enjoyable stretch.

see my full review of The Avengers here:
https://lifexinxrewind.wordpress.com/2012/05/07/review-the-avengers/

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Thanks for reading as always, and I can’t wait to see what 2013 has in store!


Best of Bond continued

Sorry for the delay! (To the 5 of you that read my original Bond post last month)

In the first part of my James Bond retrospective, I gave my thoughts on each movie in the series and ranked them in my order of worst to best. Be sure to check it out if you haven’t! In this entry, we will cover the best of the best in the most famous Bond tropes. These are the categories that every recognizes due to them appearing in all but one or two Bond films.  Everyone has their favorites, of course, and these are merely mine:

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Best Bond Song/Credits:

“You Know My Name” – Chris Cornell, Casino Royale

It was a tough decision, but the instant classic that is “You Know My Name”, coupled with the perfectly done credits sequence, won me over. In addition to being my favorite Bond film, it’s on another level in the opening credits. The new gun barrel shot is transitioned into brilliantly, and the song rocks. It gets you pumped for the film to follow, and this just seems to be the most appropriate opener to accompany the new Bond himself. The way the film uses the melody as the main motif in its score just solidifies its importance.
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Runner Up:

“Live and Let Die” – Paul McCartney & Wings, Live and Let Die

A close runner up, “Live and Let Die” is a classic that is still a ton of fun to listen to. Although I pretty much hated the film it appeared in, the song and credits were a highlight of the franchise.

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Best Bond Girl:

Natalya Simonova (GoldenEye)

There’s been many Bond girls. Many beautiful ones. Some useful to the plot, some absolutely pointless. Some that can match Bond in combat, some that serve as the damsel that needs rescuing. In addition to appearing in one of my favorite Bond films, Natalya is probably my favorite love interest. She’s one of the very few to call Bond out for his misogynistic shenanigans but still has fun and believable chemistry with Brosnan. She relies on a little bit of luck (bet she’s glad she got that caffeine craving), a smart sense of wit, and is happy to help out Bond in action when she needs to. She provides her damsel moment too, but without being helpless or annoying, and gets it out of the way early enough to not affect the big climax. As one of the few girls with a personality of her own, she would be a welcome addition to any Bond film. Her only flaw? Come on Natalya, the passcode was clearly “chair”.
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Runner Up:

Vesper Lynd (Casino Royale)

In addition to the clever way the writers had her inspire Bond’s favorite drink, Vesper is probably the only Bond girl to ever get us to see the untapped emotional side of James. She’s a strong woman, quick with the wit, willing to do what needs to be done to complete the job. She succeeds in making Bond do what has only happened to one other woman: truly fall in love. It’s no coincidence that my two favorite Bond girls appear in my two favorite Bond films, but Vesper is fantastic the moment she comes onscreen until the moment she exits. Deliciously complicated, beautiful, smart, and essential to the plot, this is what all Bond girls should aspire to.

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Best Bond Villain:

Alec Trevelyan (GoldenEye)

Sean Bean has a history of playing awesome villains, so it’s no surprise his turn as Agent 006 in 1995’s “Goldeneye” was a hit. He added so much to the film in subtle ways. The opening scene effectively convinces us that Bond and Alec are old friends, and the eerie middle scene where the big reveal takes place is simply awesome. Trevelyan has a number of fantastic lines and some great quips at the expense of Bond. He also manages to be one of the smarter Bond villain. He has a smart enough plan that you feel Brosnan is outsmarting him more than just taking advantage of Alec’s stupidity. Sean Bean brings a great prescence to the role, with a unique backstory that makes him a more empathetic villain. He’s a great counter to Bond in most ways, and is a big reason “Goldeneye” is so popular.

Best line:  “I might as well ask you if all those vodka martinis ever silence the screams of all the men you’ve killed… or if you find forgiveness in the arms of all those willing women…for all the dead ones you failed to protect.”
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Runner Up:

Francisco Scaramanga (The Man With The Golden Gun)

Odd plot point of the 3rd nipple aside, Christopher Lee is another actor that seems like a perfect fit for a Bond villain, and he delivered. Even though the film he is in is spectacularly mediocre, Lee is by far the best aspect. He brings his distinguished class to the character, showing his intelligence and cunning in only a few short minutes early on. One of the best scenes of the film is when Scaramanga and Bond share a drink before their climactic duel. The class of Lee actually helps rub off on Moore, and it serves to give legitimacy to the Bond character in that regard. And the duel itself is thrilling considering the slow pace. Lee is such a good villain that I found myself rooting for him instead of Bond, one of the few times that has happened. His fun house is one of the most unique sets in the entire franchise, a dash of bizarre that served the film well and helped it overcome the parts where Lee is nowhere to be found.

Best line: “You see, Mr Bond, like all great artists I want to create one indisputable masterpiece: the death of 007.”

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Best Bond henchman:

Oddjob (Goldfinger)

Oddjob was our first look at the great James Bond Henchmen formula. He provided the muscle for the main villain, but he also had a great gimmick that gave him a personality without so much as saying a word. He is a formidable foe for Bond without being too over the top or unbelievable. His famous razor sharp hat combined with impeccable marksmanship was a great way to make an impression on the audience. He also only is beaten by Bond through Bond’s intellect, showing that he is no throwaway character. Oddjob is one of the top iconic characters from the franchise, and set the standard which was never truly outdone.
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Runner-up:

Jaws (The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker)

Gimmicky? Over the top? Unbelievable? Forget everything I just said about Oddjob, because all the things that made him a great henchman were thrown about with Jaws. And yet, somehow, it just works. Nailing a perfect balance between loony fun and dangerous foe, Jaws was a big part of why “The Spy Who Loved Me” was Roger Moore’s most acclaimed turn as Bond, and more than made up for the main villain (you know, ol’ whats-his-name) not being as memorable. Featuring superhuman strength in the form of his giant metal teeth, Jaws could overpower Bond physically and also overcome some tricky situation due to his unique gimmick. Although he was brought back with diminishing returns in “Moonraker”, Jaws still stands as one of the very best Bond henchmen.

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Best James Bond:

So here we go. So much to consider when asking the question “Who was the best actor to play Bond?” For my choice, I did not take into account the quality of films to a huge extent. After all, it’s not the actor’s fault if they were handed a bad script or if the supporting cast under-performed  So number one, likability is a huge part of it. On the flip side, how the actor portrayed Bond, how he made the character his own, and how he fit into the intent of the character were important aspects as well. In the end, I just had to go with who I enjoyed watching as Bond the most, separate from how the movies overall ended up being. I know there will be plenty of disagreements here, so without anymore stalling:

6. George Lazenby (1969)

Although I still like Lazenby, and he probably got an unfair shake at things, it’s clear to me that he was least effective in the role. “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” was a serviceable Bond flick that tried some new things, but Lazenby was often forgettable in the role. The good news is that there was never a terrible actor to play Bond. Someone has to be last, though, and that’s where George lands.

Best Film: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Best Quip: “He had a lot of guts.”
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5. Timothy Dalton (1987-1989)

Dalton was another example of an actor that probably didn’t get a fair shake with playing Bond. The two films he appeared in were both transitional and unique and didn’t fit the Bond formula like most of the others, and were therefore not as well received. Dalton played the spy/action side of Bond brilliantly, creating an intense and effective on-screen presence  He didn’t do as well in the love department, however, which holds him back.

Best film: License To Kill

Best Quip: “I hope you don’t snore, Q.”
4. Roger Moore (1973-1985)

Best film: The Spy Who Loved Me

Best Quip: “I hope you don’t snore, Q.”

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3. Daniel Craig (2006-Present)

Best film: Casino Royale

Best Quip: “Now the whole world’s gonna know that you died scratching my balls!”
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2. Sean Connery (1962-1971)

The original actor to play James Bond definitely set the standard for the character. Although he played things a bit different than the source material, he was an iconic presence for the film world. Although a product of his time, he was likable, tough, and provided many of the series best and most memorable moments, making him a hugely recognizable worldwide star.

Best film: Goldfinger

Best Quip:

Honey Ryder: Looking for shells?

Bond: No. I’m just looking.
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Winner:

Pierce Brosnan (1995-2002)

Was Pierce in the best Bond movies? Outside of Goldeneye, absolutely not. Because of this, it’s relatively rare to see someone put him as #1. But despite the lack of overall quality for Bond in the Brosnan era, I’ve always felt Pierce best combines the best parts of the Bond character. He is capable of convincing action and ass-kickery, yet completely nails the womanizing, suave side of Bond. He also exudes the distinguished, classy demeanor and taste that really sell the character. When it’s time for one-liners or comic relief, Brosnan made it work, even when saddled with some of the dumbest dialogue of the series. This is someone you could see saving the world from the baddies while still having any woman he wanted. Brosnan showed a great knack for the character through his time, even when the scripts let him down. “Die Another Day”, for instance, was terrible overall, yet the intro in which Brosnan is kept in a room and tortured for a year is surprisingly effective. Bond’s interplay with the villain in “Goldeneye” is another strong example of riding that line between a serious Bond but still find time for fun.

Best film: Goldeneye

Best Quip: “That depends on your definition of safe sex.”

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So there you have it. 50 years of Bond completed! See ya next time.


Bond, James Bond: Ranking 50 years of the world’s most famous spy.

The November release of “Skyfall” will mark the 23rd official James Bond production, so I’m taking a look back at the history of the gargantuan series. It spans 5 lead actors, some truly great films, some truly terrible ones, but through it all has provided countless memorable scenes, villains, henchmen, girls, and other universally recognized tropes.

I recently went back and watched all 22 films as part of the “Bond 50” blu-ray set, some for the first time. It was fun seeing how the series has changed, and how the entries I hadn’t caught seen influenced the ones I knew well. Above all else, it’s interesting how the films fit together as products of their time and with the series as a whole. It seems that whenever things start veering off into a point of no return, a strong reboot ensures some stability.

How long with the Bond franchise live on for? It doesn’t seem like audiences will tire of it anytime soon. Yes, they often feature meaningless macguffin’s, plot for plot’s sake, ridiculous physics defying stunts, and more than a few head slappers. They also are routinely hugely entertaining thrill rides that entertain and delight, providing humor along with explosive action. I highly recommend the “Bond 50” set, by the way, as the films have never looked or sounded better.

What follows is my own person ranking of the series with a short blurb reviewing the title. I’ve included the rotten tomato scores for each as well. I found their scores interesting, as it gives us a look into how it was received initially. Of course, when I ranked the movies I had the benefit of having seen all of them first, and also taking into account how they’ve aged.

After we’re done with the movies, we will cover my picks for favorite Song/Credits, Girl, Villain, Henchmen, and finally, my pick for favorite Bond himself. This will come in my next blog entry.

If you want, comment with your personal ranking (for as many as you’ve seen)! Now, without anything further, let’s hit the movies! Starting with my least favorite (which may surprise you)….

RANKING THE BOND MOVIES:

22. Diamonds are Forever

Year: 1971

Bond Film #:  7

Rotten Tomato Score: 64%

Sean Connery was, simply put, way too old to play Bond by the time he agreed to come back for “Diamonds are Forever” (a theme that reared its head again later on in the series). After the George Lazenby experiment was pulled, the thought was an old Connery is still better than another new actor. However, the age issue is even worse here than with Moore in “A View to a Kill”. This is partially because Connery was more well known as an actor, and partially because the tone of the Moore films at least fits those kind of goofy situations a bit better. Then there’s the leading lady. No offense to Tiffany Case, but this film features the least appealing Bond girl in the entire series, which hurts it quite a bit. The face-palming silliness the movies would become more and more known for rears its ugly head in one of the worst scenes in the series, in which an Elephant actually gambles on a slot machine, wins, then screams in excitement. The moon buggy chase is similarly misguided, if less offensively dumb.

After 5 other films with Connery, everything here just feels horribly tired and uninteresting. Our Bond girl turns from a semi-decent partner into a bumbling damsel in distress for no reason other than to provide some filler moments. The laser satellite plot is done here, like it is in a lot of Bond films, but the ending is shockingly anti-climactic. Worst of all, the plot line for our main villain, whom Bond has been dueling with for 6 movies at this point, doesn’t even get a proper resolution, and never would. If you’re going to drag something out for that long (to the point that I don’t even care anymore), it’s insult to injury to finish it off in such a way.

It’s not that Diamond are Forever is such a horrible film, but I find it agonizingly boring and inconsequential  At least in the critically worse Bond films, they could be exciting  (or at least entertaining) with their misfires and bad decisions. Diamonds are Forever is mediocre Bond, but much less so. It’s an entry that is easily forgotten, and that makes it the least likely for me to watch again.

21. Die Another Day

Year: 2002

Bond Film #: 20

Rotten Tomato Score: 57%

The real tragedy of the Pierce Brosnan-era of Bond is that its failures seemed to become bigger due to trying too hard, rather than simply being lazy (as had been the case in the Moore years). Never was this more evident than in 2002’s “Die Another Day”. Much like with the previous entry “The World is not Enough”, this one starts off fairly strong and earns credit for attempting new ideas with the Bond character. In this case, Bond is actually captured and tortured for over a year following a solid opening action sequence. Since it came out as the 20th Bond film and it commemorated the 40th anniversary of Bond, a lot of effort was made to make references to the previous movies. Some of these instances work very well (such as the secret collection of old Bond gadgets), but some are just too “wink-wink” to take seriously (the line about Bond’s 20th watch comes to mind). All in all, though, the first hour is a solid movie with not a lot to complain about other than the miscast of Halle Berry as “Jinx”, Bonds supposed equal from the CIA. Her performance is simply awful, but alone it would have been forgivable. Sadly, this is not the case.

It’s not too often that you can pinpoint the exact moment a film goes off the rails, but here it’s right around the hour mark when Bond is given his new invisible car (For those that haven’t seen it, you read that correctly). From this moment on, it feels like an entirely different movie, as the camp and ridiculousness snowballs into a mess so bad it boggles the mind. You will wonder how this made it onto theater screens at some point, whether it’s during a sequence involving CGI lasers shooting around a room amidst a fist-fight, or perhaps when an all CGI-Bond rides an all-CGI tidal wave to safety. It’s about as bad as special effects have ever looked in a properly budgeted blockbuster franchise, and just flat-out embarrassing. Let’s not even talk about our villains apparent sith-lightning powers. All of this is an unfortunate side effect of the time it was made, as most movies had been hopping on the CGI-bandwagon and the producers clearly decided to emulate it instead of sticking to what wasn’t broken. As a result, “Die Another Day” comes off as a bad rip-off of other generic action flicks of the 2000’s that just happens to have James Bond in it. What’s worse is that Brosnan is doing everything he can in the role, but is acting in a film that wouldn’t be appropriate for Roger Moore in his worst years. The solid first hour keeps this from being the absolute worst Bond movie, but only just barely. I do also have to take a moment to mention that I place just as much blame on the direction as on the script. The director fills the movie with an abundance of distracting “speed-ramping” (slowing down or speeding up the action randomly and suddenly, then returning to normal speed) and circle shots that try transparently to be hip and modern, but just come off as desperate.

The decision to counter the traditional formula for a while only makes the second half that much more painful, as it’s a generic, by-the-numbers modern action flick combining a nonsensical plot, horrible effects, predictable twists, and characters that lose any depth or promise they showed earlier. On the plus side, the result of the increasingly diminishing returns forced the producers to once-again try the more serious, gritty route with “Casino Royale”, and for that we can thank DAD.

20. Live and Let Die

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Year: 1973

Bond Film #: 8

Rotten Tomato Score: 65%

The first Bond entry for Roger Moore had the tall task of replacing Sean Connery once and for all. What’s unfortunate is that Moore is actually pretty solid here, it’s just the movie around him that is severely lacking. It fails largely due to the obsession with making this a “Blaxploitation” Bond film, dating it considerably and adding unnecessary racial undertones. The evil plot revealed towards the end is rather lame, and the action is poorly done (a staple of the Moore era), with clumsy stunts and unimaginative gadgets. One of the worst moments is the laughably bad way the main villain is taken out during the climax by literally being blown up like a balloon.

The biggest issue with the film itself  is the change in tone, as the Moore-era would frequently derail with tasteless comedy, often worrying more about giving him horrible puns to deliver with a wink than a credible world to inhabit. And that damn JW Pepper, wow, does he ruin this movie every time he appears onscreen. He features prominently as the “comic relief  during an agonizing boat chase that features some neat stunts but is far too long to be worth the time we spend with it. Elsewhere, the secondary Bond girl is grating on the nerves and even ironically states how pointless she is to the story. One of the worst offenders of the “leave Bond to die and don’t bother sticking around to make sure the plan succeeds” trope happens towards the end when Bond is left on a tiny island surrounded by crocodiles. I did somehow enjoy the “frogger” part that ensues, but I feel sort of bad about it. I also really hate the henchmen with the robotic arm. The catchy title tune ends up being the best part of “Live and Let Die”, sadly. Roger Moore is a likable James Bond, but the movie itself is too clumsy, boring, obnoxious and dated to recommend. It sits near the bottom of the Bond barrel.

19. A View to a Kill

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Year: 1985

Bond Film #: 14

Rotten Tomato Score: 36%

The issues I had with Moore’s previous outing in “Octopussy” are compounded here by the fact that he is worse in the role, and even more unable to provide any convincing action due to his age. The lame plot is also frequently cited as a reason why this entry sits towards the bottom of the list. When your big bad villain’s plan is to cause earthquakes in California in order to take over the technology industry, it’s a bit hard to take seriously. It’s not a total loss though. Christopher Walken is mishandled but not completely uninteresting, as is his “henchwoman” May Day. They have their moments, and there are indeed some fun stunts involved in the film. The opening scene would be great if not for “California Girls” playing over it so randomly. The excessively 80’s feel serves to date the film about as much as you’d expect, and too much of the plot seems to happen because it has to, not because there’s any good reason for it (This happens a lot in the Moore and Brosnan films). The series had been narrowly avoiding self-parody in its quest to stay relevant, and this was one of the weaker efforts. Scenes like Moore desperately trying hide being not fit enough to do action scenes on the Eiffel Tower come to mind, as well that whole fire truck sequence, the worst sequence in a very mediocre film.

18. Moonraker

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Year: 1979

Bond Film #: 11

Rotten Tomato Score: 62%

The Roger Moore-era relied heavily on stunt work to avoid putting him in many action scenes that showed his face, so it’s no surprise that as a response to the success of “Star Wars” the producers went with this “Bond in space” entry. What’s funny, though, is that the vast majority of the film is pretty much like every other Bond, with him snooping around and engaging in various chase scenes (And who could forget the “double-take pigeon”?). This one loses points for the big cheesy space action climax, a lackluster “evil plan” for the villain, and the unceremonious way in which famous villain “Jaws” is reduced to comic relief. I still can’t explain who thought the love story with Jaws and a random “nerdy” girl was a good idea. It’s not a total loss though, and though I can’t quite explain it, “Moonraker” is more fun to watch than it should have been given its premise. The villain himself provides some effective moments of monologue and there are a few fun scenes that don’t take themselves too seriously. There’s even an objectively well-directed sequence when Bond first enters outer space that serves as a nod to “2001: A Space Odyssey”, and who’d have expected that? Although “Moonraker” ends up on the bottom of many of these lists, I’m inclined to give it a bit of a break.

17. The Man With The Golden Gun

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Year: 1974

Bond Film #: 9

Rotten Tomato Score: 46%

So much about TMWTGG works well that it’s a shame it has to be so far down on the list. Unfortunately, although it’s bookended by some great scenes featuring Christopher Lee as the villain, there is a lot of lame filler. This includes bringing back JW Pepper, one of the absolute worst characters from any Bond film. His presence makes all around him seem that much worse. Also, a special shout out to the absolutely dreadful decision to put a comical sound effect to a “Dukes of Hazzard”-esque car stunt. Points must be added back for the innovative “fun house” of a villain’s lair, unlike anything in other Bond pictures that provides some bizarre entertainment. Despite having one of the strongest villains in the series, the film is hurt considerably by the middle section. There’s random ninjas, some nonsensical plot turns, and to put it bluntly, Bond just seems to be more of a dick than usual in this one. In the end, TMWTGG is just too inconsistent and at-times annoying to rank any higher, which is a shame.

 

 

16.  On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Year: 1969

Bond Film #: 6

Rotten Tomato Score: 81%

This was the first Bond film to use a different actor other than Sean Connery, and unfortunately for George Lazenby he never got another chance. Luckily, his one film isn’t a disaster, though it’s not one of my favorites either. There’s some issues (read: plot holes) due to the filmmakers following the book and not taking into account events from the previous movies, which bothers me because at this point in the series there had always been recurring characters and references to previous events. OHMSS does feature a strong climactic sequence in the snow and ice and a truly unique ending which involves Bond getting married. Ironically, it ends up being the opposite of most of the Brosnan films, in that the leading actor is weaker than the film surrounding him.

15. You Only Live Twice

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Year: 1967

Bond Film #: 5

Rotten Tomato Score: 70%

“You Only Live Twice” is the least worthy of the original run of Connery films, but still boasts their most memorable villain finally being promoted to a more starring role. It also gets credit for the huge sets which provide some of the biggest scaled action sequences up to that point. On the flip side: This is the entry, more than any other, where the gadgets/vehicles started to overshadow the plot and sometimes Bond himself. The Bond girl this time around is pretty uninteresting, and his Japanese makeup job is just laughably bad, but that volcano lair kind-of sort-of makes up for it. I also didn’t care for a lot of the clumsy action (although this was a staple of a lot of the Bond films). On the bright side, Connery is the definitive Bond for a reason, and this film has some of the same charm as the others, even if it follows the routine a too blatantly.

14. The World Is Not Enough

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Year: 1999

Bond Film #: 19

Rotten Tomato Score: 51%

“The World is not Enough” is disappointing film for a few different reasons. For one, the producers clearly put effort into this one, and you can tell when watching that they intended to make a strong film. They weren’t content with making another “Tomorrow Never Dies” and some risks were taken, which I will usually applaud. There is a plot that attempts to provide new avenues for the James Bond character as well as “M”, and it actually features a plot twist for the villain instead of revealing all in the first act. It was also the 3rd film for Brosnan, typically when the previous actors achieved their best outings as Bond.

Things start off well with one of the best and most exciting openings in the series, but the film falls apart as it goes on. Not only do the internal logic of the scenes not hold up at all even on face value, but the action consistently commits the unforgivable sin of being boring. The direction does not suit these scenes in the slightest, with little urgency and no sense of danger when there’s no reason for this to have happened. The biggest mistake, however, is the character of Dr. Christmas Jones (Nuclear Scientist Barbie, as I call her), who drags the film down in horrible puns and pathetic line readings. There is an enjoyable quality to the cheesiness on some level, which thankfully propels this one out of the depths of the worst Bonds. And there are some positive aspects in the form of said development for Bond himself, along with an interesting villain, and of course that opening sequence. It’s too bad this is the home of perhaps the single worst pun in the history of cinema, made all the worse because you know it’s coming, and that the character was named just to throw it in at the end. Overall, this isn’t the worst of Bond, but it’s undoubtedly one of the biggest missed opportunities of the series.

13. Octopussy

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Year: 1983

Bond Film #: 13

Rotten Tomato Score: 43%

“Octopussy” finds Roger Moore becoming too old to play the part effectively (not that his action scenes were very believable to begin with). Luckily the actual film is much better than the unfortunate title would imply. It features a solid plot and some memorable “gadgets'” (I have to admit enjoying the fake crocodile). This is also another example of a strong Bond girl that’s not completely useless and holds her own. The opening scene featuring Moore’s tiny plane blowing up the bad guys, then pulling up to a gas station with a smile and a cheerful “fill her up!” is pretty much all you need to know about the Moore years. You either like the camp, or you learn to live with it.

12. For Your Eyes Only

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Year: 1981

Bond Film #: 12

Rotten Tomato Score: 73%

As a result of the excesses displayed in “Moonraker”, the decision was wisely made to tone things down, bringing Bond back to earth both literally and figuratively.  This makes “For Your Eyes Only” very enjoyable as a departure from the over-the-top silliness that marked most of the Moore films. It features a low key plot with a stronger Bond girl than usual, as she actually gets a back-story and character motivations of her own. There is some genuine suspense achieved, particularly after the skiing set-piece when Bond engages in a battle of wits with a sniper. The film is paced rather well, but yes there is some Moore-era silliness. It is brought down by the often terrible disco-influenced score and the awkward opening sequence. That opening scene has quite an interesting behind-the-scenes story to it, but regardless it’s still overtly silly and doesn’t hold the same tone as the rest of the film. The recurring parrot can be annoying and there’s a plot point early on involving a girl wanting to be a famous figure skater who tries desperately to get with Bond, even though she is too young even by Bond girl standards. I did appreciate the nod to continuity in the opening shot when Bond is visiting the graveyard, and I enjoyed the location of the villain’s base and the ensuing travel up the mountain. Moore’s version of Bond even shows some signs of bad-assery when he kicks a car off a cliff in one of the film’s finest moments. This isn’t one of the best Bond films, but it’s one of the better entries of the Moore era and holds up well, unfortunately the very beginning and end are the worst parts.

11. Tomorrow Never Dies

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Year:  1997

Bond Film #: 18

Rotten Tomato Score: 57%

Although “Tomorrow Never Dies” was a  let down compared to the strong start “Goldeneye” gave the Brosnan era, this is a decent Bond picture and a fun action flick. The action scenes are generally thrilling and well done, and the Bond girl is one of the best of the series. Michelle Yoaw provides a character that can match and sometimes even better Bond, saving him more times than he saves her. The dialogue is also consistently amusing with only a few missteps  So while this isn’t in the elite Bond camp, it’s a worthwhile entry. The biggest issue with these middle-of-the-road Bond pictures is typically playing it too safe and routine, and if nothing else, “Tomorrow Never Dies” is the definition of the average Bond film.

10. Quantum of Solace

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Year: 2008

Bond Film #: 22

Rotten Tomato Score: 64%

Much like the drop between “The Spy Who Loved Me” and “Moonraker” or the one between “Goldeneye” and “Tomorrow Never Dies”, the second Daniel Craig outing was definitely not as strong as the first. However, it has developed somewhat of an unfair reputation. For starters, Daniel Craig is still in fine form and gives his all to the role. He definitely doesn’t come off as playing a character, he has truly become this new version of Bond. The plot is a bit over complicated, and it will be a turnoff to many, but there are still plenty of great action scenes as the emotional weight is naturally progressed. The biggest issues with Solace start with the fact that it is a lot of set-up as this series continues to reboot. Its goal is essentially two-fold: to close the emotional arc for Bond started in “Casino Royale”, and to put in place the pieces that will shape the following entries. Most of this is involving the secret organization Quantum, though we aren’t given many answers here, only hints and references. This film does require knowledge and a good memory of the previous one to follow along with the plot developments and twists, which makes this the first true Bond sequel. This is not something the franchise was known for, and coupled with the subdued ending, many fans felt left out. Where “Casino Royale” left on a “I can’t wait for more!”, Solace ends with a “that’s it?”

Which leads me into the other biggest issue with the film: if Casino Royale didn’t feel like a traditional Bond film, Quantum of Solace doesn’t feel like a Bond film at all. It is not hard to understand why this entry comes off more like it was meant for Jason Bourne: the only sex happens completely offscreen, gadgets are nowhere to be seen, and there are virtually no after-kill quips. The action is gritty, frenetic, and grounded in (attempted) realistic physics, which makes it exciting but definitely not lightweight fun. Indeed, this is a dark movie, darker than Casino Royale especially because there aren’t many moments to breathe, laugh, and ease the tension. The intensity is kept up from beginning to end, with little variety in tone or style. As for the other Bond traditions, the opening song is a huge disappointment after the excellent “You Know My Name”. A reference to “Goldfinger” is made, that, while I personally loved it, does have the unfortunate side effect of pointing out just how different this movie is than that well-loved classic. The main Bond girl doesn’t even end up with Bond, and the villain, while convincing and well portrayed, lacks the memorable moments that a classic villain needs. So while this is a great action movie, it fails to deliver many of the things a Bond movie used to promise.

As good as it can be at times, “Quantum of Solace” ends up feeling like less than the sum of its parts. All the pieces are competent successes: the dialogue sharp, the action thrilling, the emotional scenes moving. But due to the nature of the plot, it seems somewhat inconsequential for now. I have a feeling it will pay off much more in future installments, but that kind of patience is not something to expect from an audience that just paid a full price ticket. So while I understand some of the backlash against “Quantum of Solace”, I must defend it to that end, for it is an entertaining and solid bridge between chapters for this new, darker, emotionally charged Bond.

9. The Spy Who Loved Me

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Year: 1977

Bond Film #: 11

Rotten Tomato Score: 78%

Widely considered Roger Moore’s best Bond picture, “The Spy Who Loved Me” featured a great balance of campiness and seriousness, good action and a lack of annoying side characters. The villain is lacking too much intensity to consider this one of the best Bond pictures, and the plot motivations are a little too unclear, however everything else consistently clicks, including the memorable henchman “Jaws” and some exciting sequences. The direction made a big difference in this one, nailing the tone and providing some beautiful shots that the series had no been known for. And the opening ski chase remains one of the most iconic of the franchise.

8. Dr. No

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Year: 1962

Bond Film #: 1

Rotten Tomato Score: 98%

The first Bond picture did a great job of introducing us to the character and establishing a great tone, with a fun plot and featuring the charismatic Connery Bond that is still most popular today. One interesting thing to note is it’s basically gadget free and much more of a standard spy thriller than the series would become. Although it can’t avoid being a bit dated after 50 years (especially in regards to the limited action, and that spider scene), it’s all in all a great start to the series with an effective performances. Also note that the villain doesn’t appear until well into the movie, different from most of the Bond series.

 

7. The Living Daylights

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Year: 1987

Bond Film #: 15

Rotten Tomato Score: 75%

After Roger Moore was replaced with Timothy Dalton, the response after the cartoony camp tone of the series went overboard to ground things a little more in reality. The only problem here was the film was written without knowing who would play Bond. As a result, there are moments of Moore-era quips and silly gags, but there’s also a distinctly more serious side, with a plot that eschews the excesses of the past and Dalton playing a far more ruthless and less womanizing Bond. One disappointing change is the new version of Moneypenny, whom is essentially degraded to desperate schoolgirl with a crush. Regardless, it’s one of the stronger Bond pictures and usually overlooked. Dalton is finding his footing, but this is an effective spy thriller.

6. Thunderball

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Year: 1965

Bond Film #: 4

Rotten Tomato Score: 85%

Although the Bond formula had been effectively put in stone with the previous entry, “Thunderball” still had things clicking. Connery is at his most fun to watch and the adventure features some new variety with the underwater sequences. Some aren’t a fan of it, but I found the underwater action well choreographed and believable enough. “Thunderball” is another great example of why people love the original Bond, although signs of the series getting too gadget friendly were seen here, particularly the  jet-pack.

 

5. From Russia With Love

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Year: 1963

Bond Film #: 2

Rotten Tomato Score: 96%

FSWL is a lot like “Dr. No”, in that the early years didn’t feature the gadgets and huge stunts the series would later become known for. This is still Bond in his lower-key, spying best, featuring suspense, a solid story and Connery with another iconic performance. This film does  introduce his famous briefcase, which provides some of the best moments. The successful prop led to more gadgets being introduced in later entries. The multiple villains are very effective and make up for the lack of big action, including a scene that blatantly rips off “North by Northwest” (but oh well). This is still a great Bond film and a very strong picture for its era, with some excellent performances that stand the test of time.

4. Licence To Kill

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Year: 1989

Bond Film #: 16

Rotten Tomato Score: 74%

My easy choice for most underrated Bond movie, Licence to Kill finds Timothy Dalton continuing to channel a darker, more serious Bond. The plot is typically 80’s, but the action and characters resonate like few Bond’s have even attempted. While this is far from the lightweight popcorn fare the series is known for, it wins many points for delivering a more adult Bond way ahead of its time. The pacing is excellent, the action scenes are smart and avoid cheesy cliches, and the villain is effective (if unspectacular). I appreciated the storyline of a rogue Bond on the run, as it had not been done to this point. The foreshadowing works well here and does not beat the audience over the head like in other Bond films. The biggest knock on “Licence to Kill” is that it really doesn’t feel like a Bond movie, which is why it is typically so under-appreciated. Timothy Dalton doesn’t give the best performance, but it is more than adequate and he feels more comfortable than he did in “The Living Daylights”. It’s fortunate that we can look back and reevaluate the Dalton-era, as it was less popular at the time and does not get the credit for steering the franchise back into the real world as it should.

3. Goldeneye

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Year: 1995

Bond Film #: 17

Rotten Tomato Score: 82%

The longest break between films led to one of the strongest entries, as Pierce Brosnan successfully combined the best parts of the Connery, Moore, and Dalton iterations into a fun, entertaining adventure. Though the Dalton-era was not well received, Brosnan got things off to a roaring start. By keeping the more grounded approach that the last few films had used, yet updating it for the 90’s, the film resonated with audiences and ensured Bond films were as popular as ever.  The plot is engaging and not too simplistic, and it also features a couple of the best gadgets of the series (that grenade pen!), along with one of the very best villains (the always dependable Sean Bean).

Goldeneye features one of the best opening of any Bond film, featuring two exciting stunts, witty banter, and thrilling action. The rest of the big sequences are memorable, including the tank chase, while the side characters provide personality and some effective humor. It doesn’t hurt that the video game adaptation happened to be awesome, too. Giving the villain a more believable backstory and personal connection to Bond is put to good use, and the line is successfully bridged between Bond being a brutal, cold-blooded killer while still giving him time to show off his suave class. A successful update of Bond for the 90’s that got the series back on course, if only briefly.

2. Goldfinger

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Year: 1964

Bond Film #: 3

Rotten Tomato Score: 96%

“Goldfinger” is credited as the Bond movie that established the formula that would be followed most often from then on, for better or for worse. Either way, the well-known Bond tropes were never executed better than here. The gadgets, villain, and action all fit in smoothly and were the perfect vehicle for Connery’s enthusiasm and charisma. This one features one of the most memorable henchmen in Oddjob, and a great climactic sequence inside Fort Knox. Despite a few unfortunately campy moments (what Bond film is that not true for?) it’s very rewatchable and has stood the test of time well. I really struggled with whether or not to deduct points for the shot at the Beatles, but we’ll give ol’ James a pass. And though I kind of hate how the villain is dispatched, the pluses far outweigh the minuses in this classic film that set the standard for the series.

Which brings us to…

1. Casino Royale

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Year: 2006

Bond Film #: 21

Rotten Tomato Score: 95%

It’s fitting that it took what is probably the objectively worst Bond film (“Die Another Day”, although it’s not my least favorite, by a hair) to prompt the producers to deliver the strongest. When the series was retooled and rebooted for the 21st entry in 2006, some smart choices were made. First, a new Bond was chosen, and he was nothing like any of the previous actors in both look and style. This allowed newcomer Daniel Craig to put his own take on the character without having to emulate anyone. Secondly, “Casino Royale” has a much more adult feel, with gritty, realistic action unlike ever before seen in the series. Lastly, the series would be literally rebooted from the start, as this is the only film in which we begin before Bond has received 007 status. By starting things completely over, the character development could treat Bond as a real human being. When he is hurt, you feel it. When he loves, you believe it.

The into is done brilliantly, with style and substance as Bond gets his first kills. It transitions in a familiar way into one of the very best Bond songs and intros, featuring Chris Cornell’s “You Know My Name”, used often in the musical score throughout in place of the traditional music (this was done for a reason, and the payoff is beautiful). The first action scene is breathtaking and really let’s the audience know that this is not the same Bond they were used to. There is no cheesy CGI, no unconvincing fight scenes, but rather one of the most intense and exciting chases I’ve ever seen. The art of parkour is used to great effect and Daniel Craig is able to show off this new brutal side to his character. As the film goes on, the well-done plot unfolds with great pacing and some truly intense and emotional moments. Never before has Bond been so a accessible and yet so bad-ass. The dialogue is sharp, witty, and thankfully quite funny at times to offset the intensity of the plot and action. This is not a Bond who forces trite puns after a spectacular kill, all it takes is a sly smile.

The film expertly weaves in some familiar characters and tropes into the proceedings, and always in a natural and clever way. Bond makes up his favorite drink and gives it a name that makes perfect sense within the context, he wins his prized Aston-Martin car after starting out with a Ford. CIA agent Felix Leiter appears with a new actor, and he steals the moments he is given. The supporting cast is phenomenal  including the only returning member Judi Dench, who is allowed to portray a harder-edged M. The way “Casino Royale” manages to include so many elements of the Bond formula while also subverting it is simply a treat. Between the exhilirating action sequences, the intense middle act of the poker game, and the magnificent final sequence, I have really nothing bad to say about this film. The ending promised the familiar tag line of “James Bond will return”, and for the first time in many years, no one wanted to wait.

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Stay tuned next time as my Bond tribute continues. We will go over my awards for Best Song/Credits, Girl, Henchman, Villain, and finally, my choice for the Best Bond!


Review: Looper

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“Looper” is a sharp, heavily detailed and emotionally affecting science-fiction thriller. As with most time-travel movies, it’s best not to get bogged down in the details of the actual mechanics. Trust me, you will be able to find small (or large, I suppose, depending on your prerogative) plot holes when breaking down the details of the story. The greatness of “Looper” lies in how easily these moments are to miss because the plot and characters are so fascinating, and the world-building so inventive.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has become very reliable at giving strong, likable performances. We find him here sporting some odd looking prosthetics/makeup in an effort to make him look more like Bruce Willis, who plays the older version of the same character. This doesn’t really succeed, but it does make him look less like himself, so we’ll call it a wash. Both Willis and Levitt are convincing, and are joined by a great cast including Jeff Daniels, who does some great work with his limited screen time.

The plot essentially involves the character of “Joe” being a hitman for the mob in what to the audience is the future. The twist? These hitmen are tasked with killing marks from 30 years further into the future. You see, time-travel has been invented in that time, but has been outlawed and only those powerful mob bosses have control of it. Since it’s harder to get away with killing people and disposing of bodies in the future, the poor souls are sent back in time to get killed in “Young Joe’s” present. These hitmen, called “Loopers”, eventually will have to kill their future selves to complete the loop, and live out their last 30 years with a ton of cash to spend.

Immediately noticeable from the first act of “Looper” is what a great job was done creating this future world. Unlike many other films (especially ones from the 70’s and 80’s), there are no exaggerated technologies that have taken the world over. You won’t see flying cars or human-like cyborgs or hand-held weapons that are essentially laser/ray guns. One of the big successes is how believable this world is. There’s still banged-up “old” vehicles, standard handguns, similar fashion, and the like. Things are different, but not too different. A lot of imagination clearly went into taking our existing luxuries and naturally extending them. This makes the few things that are very different, such as how some people having developed minor telekinetic abilities, much easier to believe and understand in the context of the world. Even one of the major set pieces of the film is a farmhouse that could just as well take place in our past other than the newer technology used to tend to the fields. It all works brilliantly.

The best science fiction movies (and not coincidentally, my favorite movies in general) are ones that do not pander or seek to beat the audience over the head with its point. “Looper” is one of those films. There’s plenty to digest long after it is over, including a somewhat daring climax that is sure to incite a wide spectrum of reactions. Beyond just the ending are the fascinating implications of the plot. The way that Young and old Joe are at odds with how to rectify the situation gives us an easy way to identify how our choices can have far reaching implications.

As for the aforementioned time-travel device, I can say without spoilers that a welcome effort was made to establish certain rules in the universe, and these rules are never broken. That is all we can really ask of a premise such as this, but what’s also important to note is that the “gimmicks” are revealed in the story in such a natural manner. There is no “now we need to be told about ___” moments where the entire plot stops in order to provide us meaningful exposition. Everything flows together nicely from scene to scene, never getting too bogged down with the drama nor boring us with overly long action scenes. The pacing is tight and exciting without being a random overload on the senses.

A word also must be said regarding the effectively directed action scenes. There are some seriously unnerving moments here, though it is hardly what I would classify as an “action film”. When it happens, though, it is gritty, realistic, and best of all, completely void of distracting CGI. I can’t recall a moment that took me out of the world, which is rare. Considering the budget on this flick was hardly blockbuster friendly, it was money efficiently spent.

Director Rian Johnson incorporated the smart “noir” style of his previous picture “Brick” into “Looper”, and it ends up as a resounding success both as an edge-of-your-seat action thriller and as an interesting story with well designed characters. It most impressively succeeds as a true science fiction piece. Much like “Inception” (Are you noticing a trend with these Gordan-Levitt flicks? Dude knows how to pick ’em), it manages to take some heady and would-be confusing concepts but make them accessible to a wide audience. There’s enough here to work on it’s own on an entertainment level, but there’s so much more to it. It is easily one of the best movies of the year.

9/10

You can find my index of reviews here.


Review: Rock of Ages

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It took me only the opening musical number of the over-exuberant tribute to 80’s hair-metal “Rock of Ages” to completely accept that the cynic in me was going to have to sit this one out. Once you have a bus-full of people singing along to “Sister Christian” while practically winking at the camera the whole time, you can’t really claim you haven’t been warned. Thus, if you enjoy excessively silly, balls-to-the-wall gleeful ridiculousness, boy oh boy do I have a film for you! Luckily for the rest of us, it happens to be filled with a lot of damn catchy tunes as well. The film does overstay its welcome (at least in the extended cut Iwatched), but those songs will keep you going. Needless to say, if you do not enjoy 80’s rock, stay far, far away.

Having said all that, are you still on the fence? Allow me to help you decide if this is your idea of a good time.

Would you enjoy watching a man sing the yearning ballad of the movie while urinating in a bathroom next to a passed out Russel Brand?

How about seeing Catherine Zeta-Jones as an uptight crusader against all things rock, leading a group of equally conservative middle-aged women in a gyration-filled showstopper of “Hit me with your best shot” inside a church?

Would it interest you more if I told you that during this Walt from Breaking Bad was in the next room over, bent over a table in his underwear, being spanked with a ruler?

Alright, alright, but who could resist jokes such as the moment our main character shows the love interest a song he’s “working on”, proceeds to sing the first few lines of “Don’t Stop Believin”, and then stops abruptly, claiming it just “goes on and on and on”?

This is a movie that goes from cliched date-movie tropes to raunchy soft-core strip teases, often in the same scene. It’s a movie featuring lines like “When my hamster died, your music really helped me through.” Tom Cruise as the Axel Rose-inspired has-been still-is rock god is a sight to behold, and it somehow grows on you. It really does help if you like cheesy bands like REO Speedwagon, though.

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What holds everything back is the absolutely dopey emotional scenes. Any time the movie takes a break from the full-scale musical numbers and tries to tell a story the old-fashioned way, it’s full of bland acting and non-stop cliches. It’s all done with a sort of earnest “We know what we are doing is ridiculous, just go with it!” attitude as many musicals, but again, thank god they chose to make this one about a fun era in pop music. After all, it ain’t looking for nothin’ but a good time.

Score: 6/10


Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

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“Snow White and the Huntsman” is a completely competant yet unexciting update of the classic tale. A promising opening is diminished quickly by the many images and scenes that called me back to “The Lord of the Rings” due to their similar style. The questionable casting choice of Kristen Stewart could have gone worse but she doesn’t really bring anything to the film. Charlize Theron as the evil Queen tries her best but I never grew to care much about her character one way or the other. The dwarves are fun as you’d expect, but largely wasted as we are not given a chance to get to know any of their unique personalities. The action scenes range from interesting to bland in the same way that they came off in Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” remake.

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As you may have guessed based on my previous comments, this is a hit-and-miss film, one which at times can hold your attention and bring some great moments from the story to life with its beautiful imagry. Too often, though, it stumbles into the same generic safe-zone as a lot of wanna-be blockbusters. The running time doesn’t help this, as it’s padded with too many pointless diversions that don’t add much to the story. As for the story, the writers tried to change things up at times, with middling success. At this point, we’ve just seen this arc done too many times in better movies. The generic score also was almost distracting at times as well.

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If you don’t mind the predictable nature of watching another retelling of Snow White, you might find it worth your while. The special effects are done well and don’t scream “fake!” nearly as often as I’m accustomed, and the director clearly puts effort forth into the project, making this head and shoulders more worthy of a film than the last fairy-tale update (last year’s embarrassing “Red Riding Hood”). And on the bright side, at least the charisma of Chris Hemsworth hasn’t been sullied by his over-saturation at the cinema. It’s just far too boring to give it a strong recommendation.

Score: 5/10