Thursday, May 26, 2016

Ask JKM a Question: Rank all the 007 Movies and Choose the Next Bond?

Great friend and regular reader SGB writes a follow-up to the question I answered on Monday of this week:

“Hi John,

I thoroughly enjoyed your "How would you rank the Bond movies by actor" post and agree with it with the exception of Moonraker only because I am fond of the extensive use of the NASA Space Shuttle Orbiters a.k.a. Moonrakers. 

I do agree that it was not a reality-grounded Bond film and thus the script was weaker.  At the end of the The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) it stated in the credits the next Bond film was to be For Your Eyes Only so we know Moonraker was made abruptly to exploit the success of Star Wars (1977). 

My challenge is in two questions:

1-Rank all the Bond movies mixed together from best to worst from Dr. No to SPECTRE
2-If Daniel Craig departs the Bond role, then which actors make your top ten list to be the next OO7 ?

Thank you.

SGB, those are two great challenges, for certain.  Thank you for posing the question.   

And by the way, I agree with you about Moonraker (1979). I enjoy it as a post-Star Wars fantasy, but not as a James Bond film if that makes any sense at all.  I also loved seeing those shuttles launch, dock, and carry troops into space.

So, my Bond movie rankings, top to bottom, eh? I will, but with the understanding that some of the titles in the middle of the pack may move up or down, based on re-watch, or my mood.

All right, here goes:

The Great:

1. From Russia with Love (1963): Greatest fight in the series (Train Car); greatest soldier villain (Red Grant), and Sean Connery at his most charming/fit.

2. Goldfinger (1964): Greatest villain (Auric Goldfinger), greatest car (Aston Martin), great pre-title sequence prototype, great car (Aston Martin with ejector seat!), great sacrificial lambs (Jill and Tilly Masterson), and greatest overall leitmotif or organizing principle (gold).

3. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969): The most human Bond film. The first “re-grounding” effort in the saga, and one that considers Bond as a person, not just an agent.  Greatest Bond Girl Ever: Diana Rigg’s Tracy Bond. Greatest ending in the series, too.

4. Casino Royale (2006): Another great “re-grounding” effort, after the ludicrous Die Another Day (2002) gives us the most physically-fit, believable Bond in Daniel Craig, and offers a solid villain (Mads Mikkelsen) and great Bond Girl, to rival Tracy: Eva Green’s Vesper. In a way, a great “origin story,” and in the 20-something other films, we’ve never really had that.

5. Licence to Kill (1989): Timothy Dalton’s final film was only twenty-five years ahead of its time, giving us a bloody, serious, tortured Bond on a mission of vengeance. Features one of the franchise’s all-time great villains, the quasi-Shakespearean Sanchez (Robert Davi), and a remarkable action scene involving trucks on a winding highway.

6. For Your Eyes Only (1981): The Bond re-grounding film -- following the excesses of Moonraker (1979) -- that proved Roger Moore can be a great James Bond. The film eschews fantasy, and shows how resourceful Bond can be. The car chase with the junky old Citroen proves it’s not the car mode itself that matters, it’s the man behind the wheel. The film also features the most suspenseful action scene in all the canon, with Moore’s 007 scaling a sheer mountainside as villains attempt to send him plummeting to his doom. That scene is absolutely nail-baiting.

The Good:

7. Skyfall (2012): Who knew Bond had a Mommy Complex? This film, in keeping with the Craig Era, gives us more insight into the creation of Bond’s world, adding flesh to the bones of Moneypenny, Q, and even the new M.

8. Dr. No (1962): The first Bond film, and the one to set the tone/style for the series.  Features a great villain, an amazing Bond girl  (Ursula Andress), and made Sean Connery a star.

9. The Living Daylights (1987): Another re-grounding film (this time after A View to a Kill), giving us a younger, more vigorous Bond in Timothy Dalton. The film speaks meaningfully to then current events (the Reagan Administrations’ shadowy arms deal with the Iranians), and gives the audience the most human, flawed 007 since Lazenby’s in 1969.

10. Never Say Never Again (1983): Overall, this one gets high marks from me because the film acknowledges that Bond (Sean Connery) has aged, and must now rely on his wits and cunning. The film’s villains are of the 1980s “push button” age, playing video games and remotely detonating bombs, but Bond is a moving human target, relying on his instincts and physicality.  Great antagonists here, too.

11. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): A veritable remake of You Only Live Twice (1967), only with nuclear submarines instead of rockets. But this movie features a great Bond car (the Lotus Esprit) and the finest pre-title sequence of the saga, with Moore’s Bond skiing off a mountainside and deploying a parachute.

12. Live and Let Die (1973): This Bond, the first starring Roger Moore, apes the Blaxploitation movie trend of the time period, but still holds together well.  Features the best title song of the franchise, and one of the finest Bond girls, Jane Seymour’s Solitaire.  The presence of Baron Samedi – Death Himself – also adds a layer of visual and thematic artistry to the affair.

13. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997): Brosnan’s best Bond; a rip-roaring social critique of the 24-hour news cycle, and the rise of cable news at the turn of last century. Michelle Yeoh is a fantastic ally for Bond, and Brosnan seems especially committed to the proceedings, notably in his scenes with (sacrificial lamb) Teri Hatcher.

14. Goldeneye (1995): After the ahead-of-its-time Licence to Kill, Pierce Brosnan’s first outing is a perfectly entertaining -- and perfectly bland -- re-establishment of the series’ spectacular side.  Unlike other re-grounding Bond films, this one is all about re-establishing the series’ “big,” outrageous moments. One huge downside is the funeral dirge-like soundtrack, which casts a pall over what should be a fun, buoyant, Bond film.

The Fair:

15. Quantum of Solace (2008): Craig’s sophomore outing in the 007 role is best enjoyed as the second half of Casino Royale (2006). On that basis – as well as its pastiche-style recycling of classic Bond images (girl in oil; girl in gold; Quantum = SPECTRE) -- the film is worth revisiting.

16. Thunderball (1965): This Bond film is over-long, edited poorly, and features one of the dullest villains ever: Largo. By this time, it’s also clear that Sean Connery is also getting bored in the role of 007. This is the “tipping” Bond in his era, the film that starts the descent towards utter crap (see: Diamonds are Forever.)  The fight scenes lose their effectiveness too, by the over-use of fast-motion editing to make them seem more pacey.

17. You Only Live Twice (1967): Features a great villain (Donald Pleasence), a great gadget (Little Nellie), and a great villain headquarters (inside a volcano), but also feels bloated, and is weighted down by Connery’s apparent disinterest in the whole enterprise. Also, there’s his terrible Japanese make-up…

18. The Man with the Golden Gun (1974): Roger Moore’s second film is fun but pretty unmemorable, overall.  A low point in the film is the return of Live and Let Die’s bigoted Southern sheriff. A high point is Maude Adams.

19. Spectre (2015): After starting out with real flair (and remarkable cinematography), this (final?) Craig effort peters out quickly. A villain’s headquarters is shown briefly, and then literally exploded with one well-placed shot.  And the retcon of Blofeld’s back-story is ludicrous, cringe-inducing and wrong-headed on a near cosmic scale. The film’s most interesting female character is played by Monica Bellucci and she gets almost no screen time.  Craig is still impressive, however.

20. Octopussy (1983): Another disposable entry in the Moore Era. Not bad, but nothing special either (except for the pre-title sequence with the AcroStar mini-jet). Roger Moore looks old and disinterested, and the last thing the series needed at this juncture was to feature his 007 dressed as a circus clown.

21. The World is Not Enough (1999): Sophie Marceau is fantastic in this film as Bond’s lover/nemesis, but Denise Richards isn’t exactly cut out to be a nuclear physicist. More than Brosnan’s first two Bond films, this one feels like little more than re-shuffled elements (another boat chase, another ski chase, another submarine set-piece…).

Below Average:

21. Moonraker (1979): Pardon my schizophrenia. As a Star Wars kid I love this film without reservation.  As a Bond fan, this film is low-points of source, made so by the campy, tongue-in-cheek approach and every single scene featuring Jaws (Richard Kiel).  That said, I could watch this any day and be thoroughly entertained. Still,I could do without the pigeon doing a double-take, and the gondola-turned hover-craft.

22. A View to a Kill (1985): I should look as good as Roger Moore does in this filmwhen I’m his age. That said, he’s still way too old to be a convincing James Bond at this point.  The film is bloated and slow, and Tanya Robert’s Stacy Sutton is the most annoying Bond Girl of the series.  Christopher Walken, Grace Jones, and Duran Duran are all “fresh” ingredients in the franchise that nonetheless utterly fail to enliven this beached-whale of an epic.

23. Diamonds are Forever (1971): Terrible, awful, no-good effort that sees Connery’s retirement from the role until 1983. The film’s steadfast refusal to connect itself to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is insulting, as is Blofeld’s death scene.  Overlong and with a confusing plot.  The seventies lounge-lizard look hasn’t exactly aged well, either.

24. Die Another Day (2002): The first twenty or so minutes of this Bond film -- which see 007 (Pierce Brosnan) captured, tortured, and humiliated in North Korea -- are great; a fresh launching point for the saga. But then -- after a serious first act -- the film devolves rapidly into fantasy excess: ice palaces, invisible cars, power gloves, and Bond surfing CGI tsunamis. Excessive, stupid, and a sad end for Brosnan’s era.

Now, who are my choices to be the next 007?

I have to break that down into answers, actually.  

If the goal is to go with a non-traditional choice, as many fans and movie-goers seem to desire at this point, my top choice is Gillian Anderson, and second: Idris Elba. 

If we go the traditional route my top ten choices are (in order):

1.          Tom Hiddleston.

2.          Hugh Dancy

3.          Michael Fassbender

4.          Ewan McGregor

5.          Jonathan Rhys-Meyers

6.          Clive Owen

7.          Timothy Dalton (he looks fantastic, and has experience, right?)

8.          Tom Hardy

9.          Aiden Turner

10.        Gerard Butler

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Action Figures of the Week: Laverne and Shirley (Mego)

Pop art: Laverne and Shirley (Dynamite)

The Cast of Laverne and Shirley Sings

Laverne and Shirley GAF Viewmaster

Lunch Box of the Week: Laverne and Shirley

Board Game of the Week: Laverne and Shirley (Parker Bros.)

Theme Song of the Week: Laverne and Shirley

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Star Trek 50th Anniversary Blogging: "The Return of the Archons" (February 9, 1967)

Stardate: 3156.2

In “The Return of the Archons,” the U.S.S. Enterprise investigates the culture living on an M-class planet known as Beta III.  One hundred years earlier, another Starfleet vessel -- the Archon -- disappeared while exploring this very world.

Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) beam down to Beta III with a landing party, and find a humanoid culture there that resembles Earth of the late-nineteenth or early twentieth century…though with some unique differences. 

One of these differences is that all the denizens walk about constantly in a beatific state of mindless supplication.  They refer to being part of “The Body,” and worship an apparently benevolent and omnipotent deity called Landru.

Additionally, these repressed, controlled human beings are given opportunity -- during “The Red Hour” or “Festival” -- to shake loose from this shut-down, trance-like state, and act fully human, engaging in wanton sex and violence.

While Landru’s menacing robed lawgivers attempt to “absorb” the members of the landing party (who “infect the Body”), Landru himself tries to yank the Enterprise down from orbit to end the threat it poses to a “perfect” society. 

In the end, Captain Kirk discovers the truth about the God called Landru: he is an advanced computer imposing a machine’s vision of “peace” and “paradise” upon the humans of Beta III.

For several decades at least, the first season Star Trek episode “The Return of the Archons” has been interpreted by a majority of critics and fans as a coded critique of Communism or technological totalitarianism. I saw no reason to quibble with that assessment until I recently re-watched the episode.

Quite contrarily “The Return of the Archons” actually plays as a satire of organized religion, and in particular -- and with apologies -- Christianity.  

The episode’s questioning, and occasionally caustic spirit makes abundant sense given Gene Roddenberry’s oft-stated dislike of organized religion.

In terms of Roddenberry-ian, beliefs, these are just three prominent quotes from the Great Bird of the Galaxy about religion:

“Religions vary in their degree of idiocy, but I reject them all.” (In His Name, page 39).

“We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing, all-powerful God who creates faulty humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes.” (Can a Smart Person Believe in God? page 90).

There will always be the fundamentalism of the religious right, but I think there has been too much of it. I keep hoping that it is a temporary foolishness.” (Humanist, 1991 interview with David Alexander.)

On other occasions, the late Mr. Roddenberry also termed religion “largely nonsense, largely magical, superstitious….”

Certainly Roddenberry’s particular viewpoint is evident in “Who Watches the Watchers” and other episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987 – 1994).  In the former episode, Captain Picard refers to the “dark ages” that go hand-in-hand with devout religious belief.  I suspect it was a lot easier -- outside of network interference -- to vet critical stories about religion in the 1980s than it had been in the more-traditional, pre-counter-culture1960s. 

Accordingly, much of “The Return of the Archons’” religious criticism or satire is laced in code that requires some deciphering. 

There are contextual clues throughout the episode about the story’s meaning, and the first and perhaps most significant may be that Regehr (Harry Townes), a denizen of Beta III, notes that Landru first came to the world 6,000 years ago and imposed his will. 

Of course, 6,000 years is the span that equates, precisely, to Young Earth Creationism’s belief about the time-frame for Earth’s (and the universe’s) genesis at God’s hand.  It’s so specific a number and date that it can’t be an accident that both God and Landru “created” their kingdoms on the same date.

Secondly, “The Return of the Archons” addresses various principles and dogma familiar from Christianity. 

When a citizen of Beta III for instance, decides to leave the flock or disobey the will of Landru, he or she is “absorbed” back into the body by the Lawgivers, and consequently spiritually reborn as a devoted adherent.  This process of “absorption” conforms to the idea in Christianity that “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  If you replace the word God with “Landru,” the idea tracks perfectly. 

Importantly, those who are “born again” into the world of Landru (like McCoy and Sulu in the episode’s narrative) begin to aggressively “profess”  the perfection and beauty of Landru, just as the born-again here on Earth often feel duty-bound “professing Jesus.” 

This particular brand of religious “professing” dominates “The Return of the Archons” in oft-repeated phrases such as “It is the will of Landru.”  Or “Do you say that Landru is not everywhere?”  The notion of “the will of Landru” is historically in keeping with such religious phraseology as “God willing,” “deux vult” or “Masha Allah,” the specific acknowledgment on the part of the faithful that life proceeds as according to an impenetrable divine plan.

“The Return of the Archons” also critiques the Catholic Church’s principle of papal infallibility at one point when of the denizens (who escaped life as a Landru supplicant) suggests -- tongue and cheek --  of the Lawgivers: “Are they not infallible?” 

Again, the word choice -- infallible -- can’t simply be a coincidence. It is utilized here in a religious context.

When Captain Kirk finds a planet of sheep bending their knee to an inhuman shepherd, he makes an interesting comment that boasts two meanings simultaneously.  Kirk confronts the hologram of Landru and notes that he (meaning the God he faces) is “a projection, unreal…” which is both a comment on Landru’s physical presence in the room, and, implicitly (in code) his status as a God.  

Some people might even state that the various versions of God created by man’s religions are also “projection,” but of the universal human desire to believe in something beyond the mortal coil.  These Gods are also “unreal” in the sense that no such deity apparently exists, at least according to the tenets of modern science.

On a global, symbolic level, however, what “Return of the Archons” suggests most plainly (and with the least amount of coding…) is that theocracy stymies human invention and evolution. 

Before Landru’s coming, Beta III was a highly-advanced world with technology surpassing that of the U.S.S. Enterprise.  After Landru’s coming, however, the world fell into a pre-technological, backwards state.  It has stagnated there for 6,000 years, the duration of Landru’s kingdom of peace. 

Again, this notion is not without real world parallel.  Some very faithful people are so obsessed about the next world that little attention is paid to the improvement of this one.  If we concentrate on our pleasurable fantasies of an afterlife and an “eternal” paradise, why end poverty, fix the environment, or otherwise improve our brother’s lot here? 

The Return of the Archons” acknowledges this religious trap by revealing how a theocracy strives on conformity and fear rather than innovation and evolution.  After all, any new technology could be against the will of Landru, right?  It might threaten “The tranquility” of the Body.

In this episode, Kirk finally sets Beta III right by destroying Landru and restoring the civilization to a more human standard.  What he’s really doing -- literally -- is freeing Beta III from an invisible overseer, one who promises peace, but actually offers only stagnation.

Although it is not widely hailed as one of the best Star Trek episodes, “Return of the Archons” features a potent visual imagination.  When Landru calls upon his flock to attack the landing party, the hypnotized followers pick-up weapons on the street and attack like mindless zombies.  Phaser fire puts them down, but then more attackers rise.  And then more rise after that.  It’s quite terrifying to witness men and women turned into a blood-thirsty, relentless mob, all consumed by their belief, all obeying the edicts of a God who demands violence from them.

Also, the “Red Hour” or “Festival” -- a limited span in which all emotional behavior is permitted -- proves a remarkably creative conceit, and one soon to be revisited in a summer release called The Purge starring Ethan Hawke.

But again, there’s a critique of religion underpinning the “Red Hour.”  If you live permanently under a repressive religious regime, the deepest human desires and emotions still require some outlet, some expression.  A theocracy doesn’t permit these desires to be expressed in a healthy, normal fashion, so when they do emerge -- as they do so memorably during “Festival” -- they appear monstrous, savage and out-of-control.

“The Return of the Archons” has been consistently misinterpreted, I believe, because it is easy to fit into the peg of being another Star Trek episode in which Kirk pulls the plug on a highly-advanced computer.  What he’s really doing here however is bringing down a stagnant, theocratic regime, one that uses an unreal God figure to assert morality. 

The episode thus belongs more in the camp of “Who Mourns for Adonis,” -- an episode which suggests mankind has outgrown its need to “worship” any God -- than it does fare like “A Taste of Armageddon.”

Roman J. Martel: Ranking the Bond (007) Films by Actor

The great Roman J. Martel of Roman's Reviews and Musings has taken up the challenge and ranked, according to his preferences, the 007 Films by actor.

Roman writes:

"Well John you do realize you asked for this right? I’m not one for short responses, so here you go.

Sean Connery:

When it comes to the Connery films I think director Terrance Young had the right idea and concept for the character and how the movies should work. Focus on thrills over action. I place all three of his films over the rest of the group. FRWL works the best all the way around, but I really love “Thunderball”. I agree it goes on too long, and trimmed down it would easily be one of the best Bond films ever. I know its blaspheme, but I found “Goldfinger” to have a really messy script that is fun, but never has that danger that Young’s films capture. And I’m not on board with “Never Say Never Again”. I love “Thunderball” and Fiona Volpe too much. But I will say that Von Sydow is an excellent Blofeld.

  1.      From Russia with Love
  2.      Thunderball
  3.      Dr. No
  4.      Goldfinger
  5.      You Only Live Twice
  6.      Never Say Never Again
  7.      Diamonds Are Forever

Roger Moore

When Roger was on, he was on. But it took them a bit to find that sweet spot with him. “Spy” is a ton of fun, maybe the most fun James Bond film of the series, and it just works on nearly every level for pure entertainment. But I like my Bond movies with a bit more danger, so FYEO gets my top spot. I love the location shooting in Greece and the focus on top-notch stunts and thrills makes it one I watch nearly every year. “Moonraker” has grown on me over the years. It is a fun Bond parody that straddles the line of spectacle over substance, but still keeps things fun. And yeah I’ve got a soft spot for the horribly bad AVTAK. Walken’s over the top performance, the Duran Duran song and the oh so 80s-ness of it just work for me. Well that and it was the first Bond film I ever saw in theaters.

  1.     For Your Eyes Only
  2.     The Spy Who Loved Me
  3.     Moonraker
  4.     A View to a Kill
  5.     The Man with the Golden Gun
  6.     Live and Let Die
  7.      Octopussy

Timothy Dalton

I’ve got to say that Dalton is probably my favorite actor in the role of James Bond. He just hits all the right points, and if he had been given one more great script I think his legacy would be assured. LTK is the better of the two films, but it feels more like a “Miami Vice” episode than a James Bond film. But Dalton brings the goods and he is a force of nature in this film. TLD has a lot of great moments, but the script is a mess. That opening scene in Gibraltar is one of my favorite pre-credit sequences of the franchise. What a great way to introduce the actor and his take on the character.

  1.      License to Kill
  2.      The Living Daylights

Pierce Brosnan

I’m with you, I think Brosnan could have been one of the best of the Bonds. He has the acting skills, he has the look, he has the ability to play serious and comedy and a mix of both perfectly. But time and again the scripts fail him. The four films are exercises in frustration, with great moments overpowered by horrible ones. “Goldeneye” is my favorite of the group, but a lot of that is nostalgia admittedly. Still, I think Sean Bean’s 006 is one of the best villains Bond ever faced. I like how TND starts, but it really falls apart halfway through the movie. TWINE has a great core story and so much potential. But I get the feeling the studio got cold feet with a deadly serious Bond script and injected a bunch of ridiculous moments (and characters and casting) to lighten it up. It is one of the most frustrating movies of the series, because you can see a really great film buried in there. I still feel bad that Brosnan never got a Craig script that would have ended his tenure with a bang.

1.     Goldeneye
2.     The World is Not Enough
3.     Tomorrow Never Dies
4.     Die Another Day

Daniel Craig

So yeah, if  Dalton is my favorite Bond, then you can guess that I really like Craig. His run has been the most consistent of all the Bonds. Even QOS has a very good story at its core, but is tripped up by poor execution – and still it is an entertaining movie (thanks to the crisp editing and short run time). “Casino Royale” may be the best Bond film yet made: great script, great cast, great build up and execution, and a killer ending. On top of that David Arnold’s score is amazing. Just a hell of a ride all the way through. “Skyfall” comes close, but is a little too close to “The Dark Knight” for comfort. “Casino Royale” proves that no one does it better than Bond.

1.     Casino Royale
2.     Skyfall
3.     Spectre
4.     Quantum of Solace

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