Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bond. James Bond.

Let me state for the record that next to my friend Dan, I am one of the biggest, most serious James Bond fans (both novels and movies) I know. With that said, let’s begin.

Moore. Roger Moore. Sir Roger Moore to be exact. And he isn’t happy. With the release of the 22nd Jame Bond film, “Quantum Of Solace” (QOS) Sir Roger is quoted in a Reuters article as saying, “I am happy to have done it [played Bond], but I'm sad that it has turned so violent.” Sir Roger sadly comes to the conclusion that the more violent, darker 007 is “keeping up with the times…” In the same article, Sir Roger goes on to say that he was appalled by all the violence in his swansong performance as 007, “A View To A Kill” (AVTAK). He describes that movie as not being Bond. Indeed!

For starters, who gives a shit what Sir Roger thinks. Perhaps he’s feigning disgust with the violence in AVTAK (which there is none seriously to speak of) to cover up his embarrassment for being associated with such a piece of cinematic garbage? That’s where I’m placing my money. On my list of worst Bond films, AVTAK ties for first with “The Man With The Golden Gun” (TMWTGG) and “Moonraker.” Ironic that they're all Roger Moore Bond films, eh?

With a critical eye (or not so critical an eye for that matter) one recognizes early on that AVTAK is simply a pathetic rehash of “Goldfinger.” Let me sum it up for you:

- Opening credits with lots of silhoutted, undulating, naked women
- Introduction of deranged evil dude and his quasi-female sidekick
- Deranged evil dude plots earth-shattering evil
- Enter Bond. James Bond
- Bond bags the quasi-female
- Newly empowered epitome of sexual womanhood ("Oh, Jaaames!") sees the error of her ways
- Woman helps Bond
- Bond has big confrontation with deranged evil dude
- Bond saves the day
- End credits

If you don’t believe me, watch both films. Goldfinger is riveting, original and entertaining. AVTAK is slow-paced, boring, predictable and downright laughable.

Pay particular attention in “Goldfinger” to the scene when Goldfinger meets with mobsters from all over the country and outlines his plot. A particular gangster, one Mr. Solo, decides to opt out. He’s done away with by being crushed in an automobile in a junk yard car crusher, a “pressing engagement” as Goldfinger puts it, dripping with raw, evil sarcasm. Now compare this to the similar scene in AVTAK. Deranged evil dude Max Zorin has assembled his “board of directors" meeting except this time in a blimp of all places. (A nice metaphor for Sir Roger, actually. As Simon Winder says in his wonderful book, "The Man Who Saved Britain, A Personal Journey Into The Disturbing World Of James Bond," Roger Moore in AVTAK looks like a bloated container of yogurt several weeks past its expiraton date that has exploded in the back of the refrigerator. But I digress.) Zorin explains his maniacal plot, as all good Bond villains do. Again, someone decides to opt out of the plan, and he meets his demise by sliding down the blimp's collapsable staircase, plunging to his death. Zorin then asks the rest of the group if anyone else would like to “drop out.” That's just cheap and wrong on so many levels. It's amazing Christopher Walken as Max Zorin can deliver the line with a straight face.

Is this the ugly violence that Sir Roger is appalled by? Maybe it could be the laughable and extremely implausible final fight scene on top the Golden Gate Bridge between Bond and the ax-wielding Zorin? Or maybe it’s the ridiculous scene where one of Bond’s cohorts is killed in a car riding through a car wash? (Who stays in their car as it goes through the car wash in the first place?) Or maybe it’s the scene where Bond is rolled unconcious in a car into a lake (watch for the cable in this scene actually pulling the car into the lake!) and left to drown, but survives by sucking air from one of the car’s tires. Bond being saved by the air in a car tire? This is no more the violence that Sir Roger abhors than AVTAK is a great Bond film.

It’s ironic that the lowest period, in my opinion, of the Bond franchise was the Moore era. I can site example after example of the ridiculousness of the Moore films. In TMWTGG Bond defeats the villain Scaramanga by taking the place in Sacramanga’s target gallery of the 007 mannequin he practices with. We should believe that a world-class assasin can't recognize the difference between a mannequin and the real thing? Give me a break!

And “Octopussy” contains what I think is probably the most embarrassing scene of the entire franchise, and of the Moore films specifically. 007 is seen swinging from a vine in the Indian jungle to the Tarzan yell. Ian Fleming must be flipping in his grave!

At the risk of sounding like a snob, I consider myself a Bond purist. Having read the books (some several times over) I can confidently say 007 is not some fop or dandy who punches with his wrists, drinks vodka martinis shaken not stirred with pinky raised, has watches with laser beams in them or is the grinning, wide-eyed Eton school boy getting his first piece of ass. He is not the 007 who saves the world with smirks and pathetic one-liners Sir Roger would like us to believe in. Bond is a paranoid, chain-smoking borderline psychotic and alcoholic. He is a man troubled by his profession and he tamps down his personal angst with alcohol, cigarettes and women. He gets the job done, but it haunts him. He is a man driven by his demons. In other words, Roger Moore never was Bond.

“Casino Royale” (CS) marked a return to the gritty Bond, the haunted Bond, the visceral Bond. And it’s about time. I was admittedly cautious of Daniel Craig at first. Seeing him on the screen in the pre-credit sequence took away all my doubts. The bathroom fight scene is one of the most vividly brutal scenes in any Bond film I can recall. Bond now exists in the real world. A real world with real villains who have real intentions and do real harm. No caricatured villains with silly schemes and sidekicks with even sillier names (I mean Grace Jones as “MayDay”? Give me a break! How could you possibly find that a threat?) If CS foreshadows the level of depth and quality that QOS will deliver, then we’re all in for a great film. If you haven’t seen CS I highly recommend it. And I suggest you sit with your legs crossed during Bond’s chair torture scene. It will make the toughest of men cringe. It’s a scene I couldn't possibly imagine Sir Roger in, and to be honest, I wouldn’t even want to.


  1. "Bond is a paranoid, chain-smoking borderline psychotic and alcoholic. He is a man troubled by his profession and he tamps down his personal angst with alcohol, cigarettes and women. He gets the job done, but it haunts him. He is a man driven by his demons." -- Exactly! Just my kind of dude. Right on.

  2. Well observed, particularly the part about that brilliant "Dan" fellow.

  3. Fittingly, and before Johnny Yen gets on it, I'm tagging you for the A-Z movie meme. . . . .

  4. The NYT has a point to ponder:

    I know grief has always been part of the Dark Knight's baggage, but the same can hardly be said of James Bond, Her Majesty's suave, cynical cold war paladin. His wit was part of his -- of our -- arsenal, and he countered the totalitarian humorlessness of his foes with a wink and a bon mot.
    Are these weapons now off limits for the good guys? Or can moviegoers justify their vicarious enjoyment of on-screen mayhem -- and luxury hotels, high-end cocktails and fast cars -- only if there are some pseudoserious bad feelings attached? The Sean Connery James Bond movies of the 1960s were smooth, cosmopolitan comedies, which in the Roger Moore era sometimes ascended to the level of farce. With Mr. Craig, James Bond reveals himself to be -- sigh -- a tragic figure.
    "Quantum of Solace," a phrase never uttered in the course of this film (though it has something to do with Greene's diabolical scheme, itself never fully explained), means something like a measure of comfort. Perhaps that describes what Bond is looking for, or maybe it is what this kind of entertainment tries to provide a fretful audience. If so, I prefer mine with a dash of mischief.

  5. I fondly remember the many discussions Mr. Hagen, you and I had about Bond, superheroes and a thousand other subjects at the "Gentlemen's Lunch."

    I think it's ironic that the only Bond movie you and I have ever gone to the theater to see is arguably the worst, View To A Kill.

  6. p.s. thumbs up on the latest, even after reading the NYT bit.

    I actually want to see it again fairly soon already.

    The latter day Bushies are impaled via a John Bolton-like / Dolt-in moustached caricature. Worth its price in gold.