My James Bond Retrospective: My Top 7 Films

Now that I’ve finished looking at all the films in the first 50 years of James Bond’s cinematic history, I think it’s time I shared with you my top 7 films. No, this isn’t a list of what I would call the “best” films by as objective a standard as possible (which is pretty close to impossible, anyway). This is as subjective a list as there is. It’s based on things like my favorite sidearm, my favorite Scotch, how old I was when I saw a particular movie for the first time, etc. Film pacing, acting, plot, screenplay. . . none of those things will play as big a role in deciding my favorites; though they’ll play a small role, they won’t be the deciding factor.

So, without further ado, here’s my top 7 James Bond films.

7. The World Is Not Enough (1999).world_is_not_enough

The World Is Not Enough makes this list because it has all of the elements of a classic Bond movie. Sweeping camera shots of beautiful, exotic locales. Lots of action. A decent amount of gadgets. Several jokes sprinkled throughout. It’s basically the Goldfinger of the modern Bond films. While not breaking any James Bond movie rules, The World Is Not Enough touches on some unusual topics for a Bond film, not the least of which being Stockholm Syndrome. I enjoyed this movie because it features Pierce Brosnan as Bond, who happens to be my personal favorite Bond actor.

Also, I had a pretty big crush on Denise Richards when I was in high school, despite how bad an actress she was. But really, what 15-year-old boy didn’t back then?

6. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969).affiche-au-service-secret-de-sa-majeste-on-her-majesty-s-secret-service-1969-6

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated of the Bond films. It has some of the most convincing action of that era of filmmaking, it has one of the best love stories of the Bond series (and features one of the only two times in the series that Bond falls in love), and it has one of the most—if not the most—heart wrenching scenes in the whole Bond franchise to date. M’s departure in Skyfall doesn’t even come close.

Do your best to watch this Bond movie, even if you watch no other Bond movie from that era.

5. Goldfinger (1964).600full-goldfinger-poster

Goldfinger is the first quintessentially “Bond-like” Bond film. It’s the first true action movie of the series (the first two were spy movies that contained action; this one placed action front-and-center). It introduces a number of the elements that would become staples of the Bond series for the next 38 years (many of which wouldn’t be removed until 2006, only to be reinstated in 2012). It gave the series that fast pace it desperately needed. And it gave us more iconic Bond moments than any movie before and any movie for a long time after.

If you’re looking for the movie that truly started it all, look no further than Goldfinger.

4. For Your Eyes Only (1981).for-your-eyes-only-poster

For Your Eyes Only is that film that represents everything that I love about James Bond. It’s witty, but not kitschy. It’s dark, but not brooding. And it features the actor I associate most with classic Bond. Roger Moore was the second actor I saw portray the character, and I still remember going to the library in the summers as a kid and, after picking up my summer reading material, getting to choose a James Bond VHS to watch later that night when my dad would get home from work. It was always a Roger Moore Bond movie. The only two Bonds that existed in my mind were Pierce Brosnan and Roger Moore, and at the time Brosnan only had one movie, so Roger Moore it was.

Cinematically speaking, For Your Eyes Only is Moore’s finest outing as Bond. It’s a must-see from that era of Bond films.

3. Licence to Kill (1989).licence-to-kill-concept-poster

Licence to Kill got maligned when it first came out, but I think that’s because it was way ahead of its time. To this day it’s one of my favorites because it presents a story that tosses the character into some pretty dark territory and goes where I wish Die Another Day had gone: into the messed-up mind of a rogue agent out for revenge.

That, and Q gets to go on assignment with Bond!

2. Casino Royale (2006).locandinapg3

Casino Royale is probably the best Bond film to date. It just works on so many levels. I included it because I was so worried that this movie wouldn’t work, and I was so frustrated that Pierce Brosnan was replaced that I became one of the movie’s detractors. During my senior year of college, the Internet started to gain a lot of traction as a pop culture news source, and between then (which was the year Die Another Day came out) and the release of the movie I began reading all the Bond-related websites I could, and everywhere I looked there was talk of Brosnan finally doing Casino Royale. Then the news dropped that Brosnan was getting replaced. My expectations for the movie fell through the floor and down into the basement. Imagine my surprise when the movie turned out to be what it was.

If you’ve never seen a Bond movie, and you have no desire to bother with 23 movies, at least see this one. This is the Bond movie that sets the new Bond movie standard.

1. GoldenEye (1995).james_bond_goldeneye_movie_posters_007_poster_desktop_1944x2908_hd-wallpaper-561190

GoldenEye was the first Bond movie I ever saw. I was just 11 years old when it came out, so it was the perfect time for me to experience my first James Bond adventure. I’ll never forget the rush of adrenaline I felt as I watched Bond drive a motorcycle off a cliff to catch a diving plane. Or the way I laughed hysterically when Bond’s countryside race with Xenia Onatopp knocked over a group of cyclists along the side of the road. Or the shock that ran through me when I discovered who Janus really was (I was 11; there was no such thing as “predictable” at that age).

Even now, GoldenEye holds up rather well. It’s not a timeless movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s still an enjoyable movie to watch by today’s standards.

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My James Bond Retrospective: Skyfall

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Following the release of Quantum of Solace, Bond fans speculated as to what the upcoming film might be. To date, several of Ian Fleming’s 007 stories still remain untouched by Eon Productions, and there was talk that one of them could become the next Bond film. However, nothing was confirmed for a long time. In August 2011, a rumor began circulating that the next Bond film would be called Carte Blanche and would be based on the eponymous novel by Jeffery Deaver.

Those rumors were dispelled in November of that year when, during a press conference, Eon Productions announced the title of the upcoming Bond film: Skyfall. The film would be released in time for Bond’s 50th Anniversary on film.

In 2010-11 the film’s production was placed on hold due to MGM’s bankruptcy and subsequent sale to Sony Pictures, but much of the production team and crew continued on past the stoppage. There was some concern that the film wouldn’t make it out for the anniversary, but the team committed to ensuring that it would celebrate Bond’s golden anniversary with the release of Skyfall.

skyfall-movie-posterOn October 23, 2012, Skyfall made its premiere at the Royal Albert Hall in London, and on November 9 in the United States. The film opened to rave reviews from audiences and critics alike, who praised the performances of Javier Bardem and Judi Dench, who played Raoul Silva and M, respectively.

The movie opens with Bond (played a third time by Daniel Craig) and Eve (played by Naomie Harris) on a mission in Turkey, attempting to retrieve a stolen hard drive that contains the identities of a number of deep-cover agents embedded in terrorist organizations around the globe. During the course of the chase, Eve inadvertently shoots Bond, sending him falling to his apparent death, and letting the hard drive slip into enemy hands.

Bond is subsequently listed as “missing, presumed dead.” In the aftermath of the failed mission, five agents’ identities are released on the Internet, and all five agents are captured and executed by the terrorist organizations they are embedded in. M comes under heavy political fire for the botched mission, and, pending an official hearing, will be forced to into retirement. The Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, Gareth Mallory (played by Ralph Fiennes), steps in to oversee the transition and help M clean things up before she retires. While M is returning to her office, a bomb goes off at MI6 headquarters. Upon hearing of the attack, Bond returns “from the dead” to London, offering his services once more to M and the agency to which he’s pledged his life for the entirety of his career.

Skyfall raises the stakes of a Bond movie to incredible heights. The film manages to keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time, all the while ensuring that the action, while frenetic, never gets out of control. Daniel Craig once again does an excellent job in his role as 007, but by now I’m growing a bit weary of the stone-faced Bond and would like to see him lighten up a bit. If there were any questions after Quantum of Solace regarding which direction the franchise is currently headed, those questions have been answered. Bond is a dark, gritty, and tragic story of an agent who will forever be the guardian of the free world’s interests. He may not believe in all their values, but he knows his job and his station, and he has no qualms about his role as England’s weapon.

skyfall_daniel_craig_james_bond_judi_dench_mJudi Dench, who was introduced as M in 1995’s GoldenEye, has always been my favorite to play the role. She represented a shift in the 007 franchise at a time when the viability of the films was being questioned. Her version of the character has been the most involved and “hands-on” of all the portrayals of M. Her performance in Skyfall is her best yet, and the film really tells her story well. It’s a tragic one, and you can see the desire in her to be a mother and the turmoil she experiences at having to curb that desire. Agent 007 was more than just a weapon to her, he was almost a son. But she could never allow herself to truly believe that. Dench keeps you connected to her conflict the entirety of the film.

Silva-Cream-JacketJavier Bardem, who plays Raoul Silva, was equally as convincing in his role. He plays the character with such conviction that I found myself cringing at several moments. He’s sadistic, conniving, and really sells that he’s one step ahead of Bond the entire film. All that said, I was a bit confused by his casting. His character was supposed to be a former British agent, and I couldn’t get past his obvious non-British-ness. I mean, I don’t doubt the possibility that MI6 would’ve recruited a Spaniard at some point, but I struggled through most of the movie believing that he was once one of M’s agents. I suppose it’s not a huge issue, but it was a bit distracting throughout the film, particularly given how thick his accent was.

The film as a whole was a strong outing, but something bothered me quite a bit. Raoul Silva was entirely too smart. His ability to set up his escapes, to gather and place agents all over MI6, and to prepare traps for Bond at almost every point in the movie stretched the threshold of believability.

Another bothersome point for me was the final confrontation between Bond and Silva (and Silva’s henchmen). Bond, M, and Kincade (the gamekeeper at the Skyfall estate) booby-trap the mansion in preparation of Silva’s arrival. The scene leading up to the confrontation is tense and well directed. But when Silva and his henchmen arrive, the movie becomes little more than a grown-up version of every Home Alone movie.

The scene was certainly frustrating for me, but it didn’t ruin the movie in my opinion. I certainly understand how it might have done so for many, as it was a frustrating aspect of the film, but the rest of the movie was strong enough to make up for that sequence’s flaws.

I highly appreciated the subtle nods to longtime fans of the franchise. Despite how different these past few movies have been from the heart of the series, director Sam Mendes found ways to show the fans that he still cared about the little things that make James Bond who he is. From Q’s return to M’s new (old) office to the introduction of Miss Moneypenny, we’re constantly reminded that this is, in fact, a Bond movie.

Over and over throughout the movie we’re reminded of how old Bond is, and the metaphor is quite evident: this film series is old. But that doesn’t stop it getting better, more tasteful, more progressive, and more exciting. In fact, if anything, Bond films are growing more in tune with the film culture it is a part of.

SkyfallFor a while during the Roger Moore era as well as the Pierce Brosnan years, Bond films lagged behind film culture, doing little more than reflecting the popcorn-buying crowd rather than guiding them. With GoldenEye, Casino Royale, and again in Skyfall, instead of escaping into a bizarre universe of Bond’s creation, we see a glimpse of the real world through 007’s eyes.

Like a delicious Talisker from Carbost, Scotland, the Bond films get finer with age. There’s an occasional bitterness, but as the series gets older, it finds ways to draw you into its adventures and to keep you from looking elsewhere.

You know the name. You know the number.

Happy 50th Anniversary, Agent 007.
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Next up, Spectre.

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My James Bond Retrospective: Quantum of Solace

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Even before Casino Royale was released, Eon Productions announced their plans for the next Bond film. It would be the first time a direct sequel was written for any Bond film, and the decision was made to exploit the emotional turmoil Bond was experiencing at the end of Casino Royale.

Following the twenty-first Bond film’s massive success, both financially and critically, fans expected to see Eva Green reprise her role from the previous film in some form. While she didn’t make any real appearance, her character from Casino Royale was felt throughout the entirety of the film, serving as the motivation for much of Bond’s actions in this story.

The film’s title was taken from a short story in For Your Eyes Only by Ian Fleming, but none of that short story’s plot elements were used in the movie.

Some of the screenplay was written during the 2007-08 Writers’ Strike that halted work on a number of film and television shows. Pre-production continued for Quantum of Solace, however, forcing actor Daniel Craig and director Marc Forster to write scenes themselves, according to Craig. He cites this as one of the primary reasons he was unsatisfied with the film.

However, there are conflicting reports. Marc Forster went on record saying that the script was practically finished, and that the final product reflects the screenplay completed before the Writers’ Strike. No one really knows what happened. Aside from Daniel Craig and Marc Forster, of course.

quantum-of-solace-movie-poster-01Quantum of Solace premiered at the Odeon Leicester Square on October 29, 2008. The film received mixed reviews, most of which criticized the film’s plot and screenplay. Craig’s performance was praised, however, as were the action scenes.

The film picks up almost immediately after the events in Casino Royale with Bond (played once again by Daniel Craig) driving through the streets of Italy with Mr. White, the informant that Bond shot in the final scene of Casino Royale, in the trunk of his Aston Martin. Bond brings him to M for questioning, where White reveals that he’s part of an organization that has people everywhere. M’s bodyguard turns out to be a double agent and attempts to kill M, but his plans are thwarted by Bond, who chases him through the city. Bond loses him, and he and M return to England to continue their investigation into White’s organization.

Their investigation leads them to Bolivia, where Bond meets Camille Montes (played by Olga Kurylenko). He discovers that her lover, Dominic Greene (played by Mathieu Amalric) is attempting to kill her, so he follows her to the docks where she confronts Greene. Bond discovers that Greene is working with exiled Bolivian General Medrano—the man who had killed Camille’s family.

Bond then follows Greene to Italy, where he discovers that Greene is working for the same organization White works for. Bond disrupts the organization’s secret meeting, and a gunfight follows. Greene kills a Special Branch agent, but the murder is pinned on Bond, whose assets are subsequently frozen.

14quantum.xlarge1Bond turns to his friend Mathis for help. Mathis joins him on his return to Bolivia, where he meets fellow MI6 agent, Strawberry Fields. Fields demands that Bond return to London with her, but he refuses and instead recruits her to his mission. Bond and Fields attend a party held by Greene, where he encounters Camille again. Bond and Camille escape the party with help from Fields.

While driving away, Bolivian police pull them over and uncover a body in the trunk of their SUV. The body turns out to be Mathis, who’s been assassinated by one of his contacts in Bolivia.

article-1065225-02C124E900000578-387_634x615_popupQuantum of Solace is every bit as dark and gritty as its predecessor, but it lacks the charm and entrancing storyline that Casino Royale possesses. The main Bond girl, Camille, is played well, but I never felt compelled to cheer for her despite the screenwriters’ attempt at making her sympathetic. Her backstory is a bit over-the-top, in my opinion. She’s seeking revenge for what Medrano did to her family, but the plot was too complex for me to truly care about the character.

Craig shines as Bond yet again. While he maintains that gritty, angry persona that he created in his debut, there are a few flashes of the playfulness we grew familiar with while watching Pierce Brosnan play Bond. They’re very brief and barely noticeable, but there’s an occasional twinkle in his eye.

This is offset by the emotional turmoil he portrays for the character throughout the entirety of the movie. Vesper was his first love, and in his mind she betrayed him and then allowed herself to die, leaving him with one unanswered question after another.

QUANTUM OF SOLACEThe cast of characters around Bond never feels complete in this movie. Throughout the film I felt like something or someone was missing. I enjoyed seeing Felix Leiter return, but he felt like a much weaker character in this movie than he did in Casino Royale. M didn’t have that same punch she had in GoldenEye or Casino Royale. Even the villain, Dominic Greene, felt lacking.

That’s not to say the characters (or the actors that played them) weren’t any good, they were just comparatively weak, particularly given just how good the previous film was. It is the Bond series though, and you can never really have two fantastic Bond films in a row (with the notable exception of Licence to Kill and GoldenEye, but there’s a six-year gap between those two films).

The film seems caught in an odd place overall. Casino Royale changed the Bond series in so many ways and successfully “rebooted” the franchise. Quantum of Solace appears to want to continue in the vein of its predecessor, but it also seems to want to hold on to some of the elements that were Bond staples before Craig took up the Walther.

UntitledA perfect metaphor for this is the homage paid to 1964’s Goldfinger. Agent Fields meets an untimely death by drowning in oil. The image lacks the poignancy of the original death. It’s not nearly as eerie, despite the fact that it’s far more realistic, and it feels out of place. Auric Goldfinger’s murder of Jill Masterson is cold and points to the weirdness of that character. Strawberry Fields’s death is too theatrical for either of the villains in this film to be at all believable.

The oil is meant to carry that fear element for today’s audience and the image of a naked girl murdered lying face down on a bed is meant to carry the nostalgia for legacy audiences. It ends up not connecting with either audience.

All in all, Quantum of Solace is a decent Bond film. It attempts to find a balance between the classic Bond and the new Bond and, while it doesn’t fail miserably, hardly succeeds. It’s a fun Bond film, but it lacks the charm of films like Goldfinger, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and The World Is Not Enough. It also fails to reach the realism and emotional fervor of Casino Royale.

Next up, Skyfall.

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An American Icon.

I recently purchased my first (and probably last, but not for the reasons most people say “probably last”) Schott Perfecto. I’ll write about it at a later date, but for today’s post I want to write about Schott NYC as a brand.

Schott NYC is a family-owned company that was started by the Schott brothers Irving and Jack back in 1913. The Schott brothers were the first to ever put a zipper on a jacket, and they’ve been at the forefront of outerwear style ever since.

The company is as quintissentially American as a company can get. It all began on Manhattan’s Lower East Side when Jack and Irving began making and selling raincoats. A little over a decade later they released what would become known as the Perfecto—an asymmetrical motorcycle jacket that has become synonymous with some of the most famous aspects of Americana—from movies about wild bikers to punk rock culture.

The company is still family-owned; Irving Schott’s granddaughter is the company president, and his great-grandson is the company COO. The factory and headquarters are in New Jersey, and the headquarters and flagship store are on Manhattan Island.

Few things are more iconic than the Schott “Perfecto” leather jacket. It’s one of the only pieces of outerwear that has been in style since it debuted in 1928, and it will probably still be in style long after my generation is dead and gone.

The Perfecto became immensely popular with the release of the 1953 film “The Wild One,” starring Marlon Brando. Since then, the Perfecto has remained a staple in pop culture. It wouldn’t be long before The Ramones, James Dean, John Travolta, Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Depp, Arnold Schwarzeneggar, and many more would make Perfecto the jacket to wear.

Today, the Perfecto transcends cultures and has become a staple for Williamsburg hipsters, hip-hop artists like Jay Z, Harley Davidson riders, and hot-rod greasers alike. Even Blake Lively has been spotted rocking her own Schott Perfecto.

I’m of the belief that everyone should have a good leather jacket in their closet. A well crafted jacket by a good leather manufacturer like Schott will last for several generations and only gets better with age. It’s an investment, to be sure (the most affordable Perfecto is $670), but it’s worth it. This isn’t a jacket that will last 5-10 years before you have to replace it; this is a jacket that will probably last 40-50 years before it’s time for something new. And even then, it’ll likely still be very wearable long after that.

If you ever get the chance to visit the Schott NYC flagship store, do yourself a favor and walk in. You won’t regret the experience. Like their display tag says: “We’ve been a frontrunner of American Cool longer than LP records, FM radio, stereos, Playboy, six packs, Las Vegas, T-shirts, and King Kong even existed. Not half bad.”

For more info or to do some shopping, check out Schott NYC’s website (schottnyc.com).