Tuesday, November 14, 2006

JAMES BOND 007: VERSION 6.0



Artist Robert McGinnis imagines life as Sean Connery's James Bond in You Only Live Twice.

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The reviews for Casino Royale, the reboot of the long-running James Bond series starring Daniel Craig as 007, are finally starting to trickle in, and the word, at least initially, looks pretty encouraging. For Anthony Lane, the quip is always paramount, but there’s seems to be a bit of Brit provincialism peeking out from underneath the wisecracks in his review—Lane wants the lustre restored to Her Majesty’s super-spy franchise and it seems he thinks he’s gotten his wish: “Casino Royale, though half an hour too long, is the first semi-serious stab at (Ian) Fleming, and at the treacherous terrain that he marked out, since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, in 1969.”

Kim Newman in Empire magazine, may be even more enthusiastic: “(Casino Royale) has almost everything you could want from a Bond movie, plus qualities you didn’t expect they’d even try for. It does all the location-hopping, eye-opening stunt stuff and lavish glamour expected of every big-screen Bond, but also delivers a surprisingly faithful adaptation of Fleming’s short, sharp, cynical book with the post-WWII East-vs.-West backdrop persuasively upgraded to a post 9/11 War on Terror.” And as for the controversy regarding the casting of Craig, Newman says relax: “Contrary to pre-release nay-sayers, Daniel Craig has done more with James Bond in one film than some previous stars have in multiple reprises. This is terrific stuff, again positioning 007 as the action franchise to beat.”

All right, but what does the American have to say? David Edelstein writes in New York magazine: “After serving up a sleek male mannequin in four so-so films, the corporate executives of the James Bond franchise have opted for his opposite in Casino Royale-- Bond as a bit of rough trade. And he’s good! Better than that, he’s what Bond hasn’t been in a quarter-century, since a certain rugged Scot said, ‘Never again.’ He’s fascinating.” And Edelstein gives us a little perspective on director Martin Campbell: “Campbell… also made Pierce Brosnan’s generally flaccid debut, GoldenEye. He doesn’t screw up this time. Working with the crack editor Stuart Baird, Campbell propels Bond (and his quarries) onto impossible precipices and stands back while the world’s highest-paid stuntpeople earn their paychecks. In the early Bond movies, the violence was both brutal and stylish, with witty curlicues; here, it’s mostly brutal, but at least the director has a Hong Kong-style awe for the poetry of human bodies doing things that, evolutionarily speaking, they haven’t needed to do since the saber-toothed tiger died off.”

I’ll be there Sunday morning at 10:00 a.m. at the AMC Burbank 16, escorting my 80-year-old mother-in-law, she of the very small frame, quiet Japanese comportment and voracious appetite bordering on bloodlust for all kinds of extreme violence and Hollywood action fare. The first movie we ever saw together was The Last Boy Scout, for God’s sake, which was released in 1991, and set the tone for our cinematic investigations to come. We saw virtually every big, bloody explosion-fest that came out all the way up through the summer of 2004—you name it, and I’ll virtually guarantee we munched popcorn together through it. Though her various infirmities have curtailed our movie outings since then (she even skipped Die Another Day and waited for the DVD), the excitement of this new Bond was just too much catnip for her to resist. It might take her a while to climb the stairs of the stadium auditorium, but with me there backing her up I foresee nothing but blue skies and Daniel Craig’s blue eyes for her to get lost in, that is when she’s not grooving on the big action set pieces that sound like a sure thing on this movie’s menu. I always hope the movie we see together will be fun for her sake, but it sounds like Casino Royale might be fun for both of us.

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And speaking of fun good enough to carry you and I up to opening night, my pal Sal alerted me earlier today that some giddy, crazy person has done us all a favor and posted YouTube clips of the opening title sequences for all the official 007 movies on one single page. So take a look and a listen and then drop back by the comments column and let me know: What are your five favorite Bond theme songs? I’ll get it started:

5) “The Living Daylights”: If this one had been graced with stronger vocals than the wispy boys of Aha could provide, I think it’d be recognized as a classic.








4) “The Man with the Golden Gun”: On one level, I know it’s god-awful. But Lulu belting out lines like "Love is required/Whenever he's hired/It comes just before the kill" and “One golden shot means another poor victim/Has come to a glittering end” is just too much for me to resist.





3) “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”: The best of the instrumental opening titles of the Bond series is a theme almost as good as the one Monty Norman wrote for 007 himself. (Thanks, Flickhead!)








2) “Goldfinger”: Probably the greatest Bond song of them all. Everything that’s good about the Bond series, and Goldfinger itself, is encapsulated in this tune and in Shirley Bassey’s spine-rattlingly sexy vocal.






1) “You Only Live Twice”: It’s my favorite Bond and my favorite theme song-- the seductive strings of the orchestration undulate past delicious Japanese instrumentation and underneath the slightly dazed emotionalism of Nancy Sinatra’s purring vocal.

Honorable mention goes to Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die,” Gladys Knight’s “License to Kill” (for her vocal only) and, at the risk of losing all my Bond credibility, Sheryl Crow’s “Tomorrow Never Dies.”

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And one last tidbit before Version 6.0 takes off on Friday-- the projectionist at my hometown movie theater in Lakeview, Oregon was a kindly old gentleman by the name of Mr. Tatro, who also got up every Monday morning at 5:00 a.m. to change the marquee so that it would reflect the new program upcoming for the week. It so happened that I was a close friend of the son of the owner of the theater, so I would always take great enjoyment in pointing out the various misspellings that would occasionally appear on the marquee, due undoubtedly to a mix of the bleary time of morning and Mr. Tatro's natural, old-fashioned dottiness. For example, I knew that every time a picture starring that blue-eyed guy who liked to drink beer and race cars came to town, his name would inevitably be posted as "Pual Newman." And imagine my surprise when I found out that Duck You Sucker! starred Charles Coburn. (I'll give him credit for this, though-- Mr. Tatro sent me scrambling for my early edition of Leonard Maltin's book to find out who this mysterious Charles Coburn was!)

But no marquee Mr. Tatro ever assembled ever matched the one that greeted early risers on their way to work and school on a Monday morning sometime in 1971. I was excited about the movie's arrival and couldn't wait to catch a glimpse of the one-sheet and the official announcement on the Alger Theater marquee. But if Charles Coburn confused me, imagine the head-scratching that went on when I read this, laid out above South "F" Street in giant black-and-red letters:

SEAN CONNERY is WARD BOND 007
in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER


Mr. Tatro, ever the film historian, had inadvertently expanded the world of John Ford and Frank Capra for me and at the same time gave me the single biggest gut-busting laugh I ever had reading the marquee at the Alger Theater. I couldn't wait to tell my buddy what was screaming out off the front of his dad's theater, and after I did I immediately regretted it-- when I walked past the theater again later that day, the delightful mistake had been corrected and Bond was James once again.

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(If you like that painting from You Only Live Twice seen above, please do avail yourself of the Web site of artist Robert McGinnis and check out his great movie posters gallery. He’s done a lot of the Bond films, and some of his other work will be instantly recognizable as well-- thanks, Mr. McGinnis, for Barbarella!)

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UPDATE 11/15/06 5:35 p.m. Wow! After commenting below that he was worried that the new Bond might be chasing after a Bourne-style realism, That Little Round-Headed Boy checks in on his eponymous site with a real treat aimed straight at the heart of those who love the Bond films (especially the Connery entries) for the oversized grandeur, spectacle and wit that came largely courtesy of production designer extraordinaire Ken Adam. Hear TLRHB sigh:

"Realism, realism, what's so great about realism? Anybody can do realism. Give me imagination! (Adam) was a man not pinned down by rule-bound notions of architecture or set design. He blended the "hip" jet-age look with heavy concrete and steel spaces that interlocked like mechanical puzzle pieces. When you see his sets on film, it's like watching the Great Pyramids move on a hinge."

That LRHBoy can write! As one who can't imagine an action cinema without the great volcano Adam designed for You Only Live Twice, the one that opens up to reveal a giant missile silo complex hidden beneath, I really appreciate TLRHB taking the time to throw the spotlight on Adam's brilliant work. He bowed out of the Bond series with Moonraker (perhaps one movie too late, eh?), but 007 was only part of his story-- he was the man who made Kubrick's War Room in Dr. Strangelove... and-- Well, enough of me. Get yourself on over to That Little Round-Headed Boy's excellent piece entitled "The Man Who Designed the 20th Century" and realize how familiar you already are with the wonderful world of Ken Adam.

And while we're clicking, a friend of mine just sent me a link to a gallery of Bond girls that is somewhat pleasing to the eye, courtesy of James Bond Multimedia. Thanks, Mike.

18 comments:

Brian said...

I'm not expecting to be seeing this on opening weekend, but I don't believe I've missed a Bond film in its theatrical run since I saw my first one: NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (I know, an odd one to start off on, but I was ten years old in 1983 so it just timed right. So, even though sometimes Bond films end up being among my least favorites of the year they're released (LICENCE TO KILL, GOLDENEYE, and DIE ANOTHER DAY all shared that distinction), I think I'll be keeping the tradition with this new CASINO ROYALE.

As for your Bond theme song question: I think our tastes line up fairly closely, in that three of my top five are among yours. I'd replace "You Only Live Twice" with "Thunderball" and "Man With the Golden Gun" with (nostalgia pick for a guy who had his 12th birthday party and his first "real" Bond opening title sequence coincide) "a View to a Kill". And I don't even see anything wrong with having Sheryl Crow in the honorable mentions, though not even the Gladys Knight vocal can make me think of the utterly forgettable, derivative "Licence to Kill" theme before "Diamonds Are Forever", "Nobody Does it Better", or even "the World is Not Enough".

Flickhead said...

Why Dennis, I'm shocked!

OHMSS isn't the only instrumental opening Bond theme!

Dr. No was mostly instrumental (it segued into "Three Blind Mice"), and From Russia With Love was all instrumental!

Flickhead said...

Also: Lulu's end song for Golden Gun is forever etched in my mind:

Goodnight, goodnight!
Sleep tight my dear.
No need to fear!
James Bond is here!


Yikes!!

That Little Round-Headed Boy said...

Excellent, Dennis. I am also with you on YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE as the best Bond song, and perhaps Barry's best score. My top 5 would round out with GOLDFINGER, THUNDERBALL (you can't deny Sir Tom Jones!), A VIEW TO A KILL and DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (it amazes me how Shirley Bassey's whipcrack sting of a voice can make something out of a nothing song.)

A-ha? Dennis, Dennis. I say: Uh-unh.

But I still think the most underrated Bond score is Monty Norman's work on DR. NO, not only for the theme, but for the Jamaican dancehall songs and calypso numbers, especially the way he created a song for the Three Blind Mice assassins. And TWISTING WITH JAMES (gotta love that title) is one of the great underrated instrumentals.

By the way, EW's website has a post up on the 10 Worst Bond Girls you might want to check out.

And, finally, some gut instinct tells me that this new Bond won't really be Bond. He will be Bourne. Aren't they essentially turning James Bond into Jason Bourne, another standard issue action hero? I''ll go see it, for sure, and I hope to be proven wrong. But everybody complains about Brosnan and the disappearing car and stuff like that. But, dammit, that is what the film Bond is supposed to be. Call me hopelessly stuck in the '60s.

And, with that, I regret that I must pass the shoe, Andre...

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Flickhead, if you could see the red flushing into my cheeks... Of course you are right. I would claim exhaustion, but no one would buy it, nor should they! I'll correct the claim, but stand by my placement! :)

Dennis Cozzalio said...

TLRHB: I like the love for A View to a Kill around here. I should have put that in the honorable mention category too. As for "The Living Daylights," I really like the instrumentation and the way the melody plays around with conventions established by the Norman and Barry scores and incorporates them into a very catchy, listenable song-- much the same way as does "A View to a Kill," I think. I think Duran Duran is far more a factor in their song being good than Aha was in theirs, however-- all boy hair bands are not alike. As for Bourne vs. Bond, as much as like the Bourne movies, I too hope not...

Brian: I love "Diamonds are Forever" too, and I still get chills whenever I hear the opening piano chords from "Nobody Does It Better," although that, for me, is tied inexplicably with The Spy Who Loved Me being the first movie I ever saw as a college student, and the excitement of being officially cut loose from the apron strings and all. You're right about "License to Kill," but I'm so in love with Gladys Knight, and you know what they say about what love does to your eyesight. And I can't even remember the song from The World is Not Enough-- it's off to that YouTube page I go!

Flickhead said...

Blog, James Blog.

Or, Operation Bedlam.

I suggest a 007 Blog-A-Thon.

"For your sake I'm glad it wasn't Van Cleef & Arpels!"

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Sounds good to me! But right now I'm readying my contribution to your Forrest J. Ackerman affair next Friday!

Adam Ross said...

I'm another fan of the "License to Kill" theme, but the music video for it may be one of the worst ever.

blaaagh said...

Somehow this has been my favorite recent article of yours, Dennis--at least the most enjoyable among many enjoyable ones. I find that I'm actually excited about seeing a Bond film, for the first time in many years. Daniel Craig, in the ubiquitous photos, certainly looks interesting and tough; he also looks like he never sleeps and smokes too much, but hey, that works for Bond. As I've said before, I share the same favorite Bond film, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, and I love the song--it always sticks in my head. The Carly Simon song from THE SPY WHO LOVES ME also creeps into head inexplicably from time to time, given that I always thought it was crudely blunt. I think my second favorite title song is probably LIVE AND LET DIE, especially since I remember seeing the movie with my sister in downtown Portland, and being almost scared when the girl's face would transform into a burning skull (kind of a cheesy effect, now that I think about it).

Excellent story about "Ward Bond" in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER...I'd forgotten that one, and it's a good one.

I love the quote from David Edelstein, and I'm glad to see he seems more and more the film writer to follow Pauline Kael, in that he's perceptive and witty--but he never seems to be aping her voice, at least not to me.

Great stuff about Ken Adam, too--thanks to the Little Round-Headed Boy.

Chris Stangl said...

Dude, for reals: no "Nobody Does it Better"? Cuckoo!

Craig P said...

Help, I watched way too much James Bond over the past month (cheap plug: co-wrote new Bond primer on GreenCine, www.greencine.com/static/primers/bond1.jsp) but even despite that I still enjoyed the hell out of the new one. One of the stronger Bond entries in years.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Hey, Craig! Great to hear from you! I was going to post a comment under your Bond piece on Underdog this morning at work and then got swept away by work-related stuff. But I did bookmark your primer and will link to it when I post my review of the movie later this week. And I'm with you-- I thought Casino Royale was terrific from start to finish, and I didn't mind the fact that it was long or structurally lopsided. I thought it was a great way to start fresh with Bond. And I envision a tussle with That Little Round-Headed Boy over this (though he seeems to have taken down his post on the movie, at least temporarily.) Thanks for the shout-out about your primer anyway-- what I've seen of it so far looks wonderful!

But I just got back from Shut Up and Sing and a friend at work bestowed on me this morning a free ticket 10 rows from the stage for the Dixie Chicks concert Friday night a Staples Center, so I'll probably have to write about that first, what with the holidays coming up and all! Happy thanksgiving!

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Juanita's Journal said...

I never understood the hoopla over the Connery era. Aside from "FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE" and "THUNDERBALL", I never really found his Bond films that impressive.