Thursday, November 15, 2012

Skyfall Review: XXIII Non Sufficit; (23 is Not Enough)


              “I shall not waste my days by trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”
                                                From James Bond’s Obituary                        

 Let me use my time to discuss the new Bond movie, Skyfall.  I saw Skyfall as an Imax, 4G video and a regular movie. I’ll tell you about the differences in a moment.

I have been a fan of Ian Fleming and James Bond since November 1963.  My friend Stuart Ratner loaned me the book Casino Royale, the first James Bond book Ian Fleming wrote.  I was hooked.  Before I saw my first Bond movie in 1964, Goldfinger, I had read all the books then in paperback that had been published. The next year, Dr. No and From Russia With Love were re-released as a double feature and I saw them at the Midway theatre in Forest Hills.  The Bond paperbacks were published by Signet, which was owned by the same company that owned DC comics. They cost 50 cents each at the time.  I had to save up money, $4.50, to buy the hardcover You Only Live Twice when it was released in April of 1964.  The Man with the Golden Gun was published, posthumously, a year later. The first hardcover edition of Octopussy (1966) contained that short story and The Living Daylights The next edition added The Property of a Lady, and the final edition reprinted an interesting story from Fleming’s Thrilling Cities, 007 in New York.

I loved the movies, their stories, their music and most important, their Bond: Sean Connery. Connery was great, sophisticated, funny and tough, a great actor and a wonderful personality. But he did not play the James Bond of the books. That Bond was far less attracted, not so much sophisticated but a snob. The book Bond looked forward to retirement, wondered how many missions he had left and what his pension would be. If he had a sense of humor, it was a hard to find.  Bond, and Fleming, was also a bit racist. About black people Bond would say that they all believed in Voodoo, but he wasn’t really kind to people born outside the United Kingdom (and even some parts of it.) The books were fun and compelling and with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice, rather haunting.

Daniel Craig hits the Bullseye of James Bond of the books, he is right on. I dismiss people who feel that an actor has to look just as they imagine the character; I feel that a good actor, like Craig, can convince you that he is Bond.  Craig, shorter, thinner and less powerful than Connery gives Bond the vulnerability the character needs to show depth. Before Craig, Timothy Dalton gave some of these qualities to the character and I really enjoyed his interpretation. Sadly, due to many factors including troubled finances and a uncommon very violent plot to License to Kill) Dalton left the role. Let me mention something about that. Albert Broccoli, the Bond producer wrote in his autobiography, that after A View to a Kill he asked Roger Moore to announce that he was quitting the role. Moore had grown a bit too old and heavy to continue, but Broccoli did not want to embarrass him, so he asked Moore to resign.  Roger Moore in his autobiography denies this, by the way. So I don’t know if Dalton left voluntary or was asked to resign.

I feel that both George Lazenby and Pierce Bronson were cast to replace Sean Connery and play him, not James Bond. Bronson did a good job at that, even though his movies were very formula. George Lazenby committed professional suicide and cost the franchise millions of dollars by resigning. If you read the book, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, you’d know that James Bond gets married. Then, in the next and final chapter, Tracy, his bride is killed by Blofeld. A great end for the book, but downer endings kill movies.

The producers set it up for OHMSS to end with their wedding and for the NEXT movie to open with Tracy’s death. By announcing he would not do a second movie, they had to tack on the sad ending. The movie did 25% less business than You Only Live Twice its predecessor. Lazenby wouldn’t promote the movie and talked badly against it. Of course, it ruined his career. OHMSS is a hard movie to evaluate.  It was one of the best written and filmed, had the best Bond girl, Diana Rigg, a great actor as a villain, Telly Savalas, and a wonderful character actor, Gabriele Ferzetti playing a kind and friendly gangster who killed people. Yet Lazenby, who certainly looked the part of a Connery replacement, was not yet an actor. He was not convincing in many scenes, but showed potential in others.  The film begins with a major flaw.  Bond and Blofeld meet in You Only Live Twice, yet the two appear as strangers here.  That doesn’t make sense in a movie that deliberately references every other Bond film.

The campy humor that was to dominate, at times, the entire Roger Moore run, really began in Connery’s last movie, Diamonds are Forever. Moore saw the character as more of a comic book hero than I did and played it that way.  My favorite Moore movie was For Your Eyes Only, where he played it straight and showed what a good actor he was.  This was Moore’s least favorite movie, by the way.  Yet the Moore years, and it lightheartedness, got the franchise through an era that saw great changes in racial attitudes, woman’s roles and the collapse of the cold war. Maybe no one could have done it better.

Did you know? When Piece Bronson could not take the role of Bond because of his contract with NBC,  Lazenby called up the producers and asked for the job?

Did you know? At the 50th anniversary of the Bond movies, Lazenby showed up and behaved. The producer, Barbara Broccoli, daughter of the original producer, said, “Congratulations George, you’ve grown up.”

Did you know? Although EON productions produced the 23 Bond movies we know, they did NOT produce Never Say Never Again…but they got a share of the profits. And now they own the movie.

Did You Know? Ian Fleming, in 1954, sold his rights to Casino Royale and Moonraker to CBS in hopes of making it a TV series.  After CBS aired an Americanized “Jimmy” Bond and decided to go no further, Fleming bought the Moonraker rights back but not Casino Royale. He thought it was too violent and sadistic to be made into a movie.

Did you know? The rights battle continued until the early 2000s when Sony “traded” their rights to Casino Royale to MGM and EON for the rights to another movie.  The movie rights MGM traded away? Spider-Man!!!!  They both did OK!

It is difficult to briefly tell the story of Thunderball and Never Say Never Again, but let me try. Fleming failed to sell the Bond books to the movies and then hired Kevin McClory and Jack Whittenham, in 1959, to help write a screenplay which eventually became Thunderball. They were fearful that the Cold War would soon be over, so they gave Bond another villain: No, not SPECTRE but the Mafia!  When the union broke up without results, Fleming took the screenplay and wrote the novel Thunderball and published under his own name. Fleming changed the Mafia to SPECTRE but when you read the book or see the movie, notice that the characters are overwhelming Italian.

McClory sued and his name and Whittingham’s were added to the book. When the movie was produced McClory, claimed ownership to Thunderball and threatened to do a competing movie, so EON made him the producer of this film.  Contractually, he also would be allowed, ten years later, to make his own film, which he did. NSNA was released a little after Octopussy, but Octopussy did better at the box office.

McClory then continued his lawsuit.  Because of these legal proceedings, SPECTRE and Blofeld were dropped from the movies.

Sony bought McClory’s rights and the rights to the 1968 Casino Royale and contended that they had the right to make their own series of Bond movies. MGM sued and won but reached an agreement with Sony. Note that since Casino Royale, Columbia Pictures, owned by Sony has been a partner in production and distribution. 
(230 words. Not bad)

Let me break down the Bond movies by my ratings and see if you agree:

4 Stars:
Doctor No
            (Although if released today it would be a 3 star movie)
From Russia with Love
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
            (Worst James Bond, Best Bond girl, great story and follows the book)
Casino Royale (Craig)

3.5 stars:
For Your Eyes Only
Die Another Day
            (A four star first hour followed by formula.)

3 stars:
You Only Live Twice
Diamonds are Forever
The Spy Who Loved Me
The Living Daylights
License to Kill
Tomorrow Never Dies
The World is Not Enough

2 stars:
Quantum of Solace
Never Say Never Again
Live and Let Die

1 star
A View to a Kill
The Man with the Golden Gun
Casino Royale (1968)

Skyfall in Imax has an incredible picture and soundtrack. The colors were brilliant, the details were incredible and the surround sound was all encasing.  I held onto my chair when some aerial shots were shown and there was a fight scene in a skyscraper that was unbelievable. This was a wow!

It was then a disappointed to see the faded, less detailed and less surround 4G video of the movie and I fear this is the wave of the future.  The movie was great, but the picture was never as colorful.

The regular film version of the movie was certainly not as good as the giant Imax picture, but was noticeably better than the 4G (I saw this and the 4G at the same multiplex). The Imax was certainly worth the extra few bucks.

Skyfall was a great James Bond. There is simply no formula here, no silly jokes, no overly sophisticated, invulnerable superman, they are really starting from scratch. Oh there is an occasional reference to something we all remember, but, with one exception, those are really not part of the movie.

Although you might think that by now the movies have nothing to do with the books, it is not so here. The movie beginning borrowing from the movie You Only Live Twice and continues by borrowing from the book, complete with M’s obituary of Bond.  The middle very much represents the book of The Man with the Golden Gun, were a “broken” Bond goes after a killer.

The best part of this movie is the cast.  Not just Craig as Bond, but Judy Dench, has her biggest role since “The World Is Not Enough. The highlight however is Javier Bardem as Silva. He is a totally believable, sadistic killer who gives life and a counterpoint to the movie. His goal is down to Earth, no taking over the planet, and it is actually up to you to decide whether he succeeds or not.

Ralph Fiennes and Albert Finney have smaller roles, but are just perfect.

There is one ironic scene that I don’t think is a spoiler if I mention it, but gloss over this if you’d like.  When Dench first appeared as M, she says to Bond, played by Pierce Brosnan,

M: You think I'm an accountant, a bean counter. More interested in my numbers than your instincts.
Bond: The thought had occurred to me.
M: Good, because I think you're a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War, whose boyish charms, though wasted on me, obviously appealed to that young woman I sent out to evaluate you.

Now, 17 years and seven movies later, M must explain to the British government why MI6 is NOT a relic of the cold war and is still needed. And she gives a wonderful, direct speech.

                                                         OK, Spoiler Alert!!!!!

You know, this may be considered the first Bond movie where the villain gets his way at the end. It is also the first Bond movie where the villain doesn’t die in hand to hand combat.

This is the broken James Bond that we say after his wife’s death in You Only Live Twice. Still broken M sends him after an assassin in The Man With the Golden Gun and that vulnerable is not what we have seen with Sean Connery or Pierce Bronson.

Bond’s relationship with M is complex and is the thread of the entire movie. But M is also the thread to the villain, Javier Bardem, and for the first time in a Bond movie I had some creepy understanding of his actions and what he wanted to achieve. Because he seemed real and did not have some abstract goal, but a concrete aim to kill and embarrass M, he was far more frightening.

For me the single best scene in the movie is when a tied up James Bond is approached by Silva. Bardem walks the length of a room, with no cuts, no special effects and just talks. We get to know the character very well and he just sends shivers up your spine. This was two great actors, but I never thought for a second they were acting.  I felt I was eavesdropping (and might get caught).

The movie heavily references the obituary, written by M, in You Only Live Twice.  It references Bonds’ Scottish father (and perhaps Sean Connery) and his mother. Until now, Bond has had no real backstory on screen. For the first time, a Bond movie gives us concrete details of his past when we discover that Skyfall is here he grew up. 

The movie moves so quickly and so steadily that you don’t have time to ask the questions of things that don’t make sense….

  1. How did he survive the fall at the beginning?
  2. Why did he allow the man to be shot at the penthouse?
  3. This is not the Aston Martin of Goldfinger, how did it get guns and the other things? (That’s the one part I mentioned earlier)
  4. How come M, head of security has no security guarding her home?
  5. How come British parliament had virtually no security and the bad guys were able to enter so quickly?
  6. How did Silva arrange to tap MI6’s computers when he was out of the loop for over a decade?
  7. How did Silva arrange perfect drop off times, to the second, after his escape to get his clothes weapons etc?
  8. Why was Albert Finney at Skyfall at that exact moment? It was an empty building, needing no overseeing?

OBIT from You Only Live Twice
James Bond was born of a Scottish father, Andrew Bond of Glencoe, and a Swiss mother, Monique Delacroix, from the Canton de Vaud. His father being a foreign representative of the Vickers armaments firm, his early education, from which he inherited a first-class command of French and German, was entirely abroad. When he was eleven years of age, both his parents were killed in a climbing accident in the Aiguilles Rouges above Chamonix, and the youth came under the guardianship of an aunt, since deceased, Miss Charmian Bond, and went to live with her at the quaintly named hamlet of Pett Bottom near Canterbury in Kent. There, in a small cottage hard by the attractive Duck Inn, his aunt, who must have been a most erudite and accomplished lady, completed his education for an English public school, and at the age of twelve or thereabouts, he passed satisfactorily into Eton, for which College he had been entered at birth by his father. It must be admitted that his career at Eton was brief and undistinguished, and after only two halves, as a result, it pains me to record, of some alleged trouble with one of the boys' maids, his aunt was requested to remove him. She managed to obtain his transfer to Fettes, his father's old school. Here the atmosphere was somewhat Calvinistic, and both academic and athletic standards were rigorous. Nevertheless, though inclined to be solitary by nature, he established some firm friendships among the traditionally famous athletic circles at the school. By the time he left, at the early age of seventeen, he had twice fought for the school as a light-weight and had, in addition, founded the first serious judo class at an English public school. By now it was 1941, and by claiming an age of nineteen and with the help of an old Vickers colleague of his father, he entered a branch of what was subsequently to become the Ministry of Defence. To serve the confidential nature of his duties, he was accorded the rank of lieutenant in the Special Branch of the R.N.V.R., and it is a measure of the satisfaction his services gave to his superiors that he ended the war with the rank of commander. It was about this time that the writer became associated with certain aspects of the ministry's work, and it was with much gratification that I accepted Commander Bond's postwar application to continue working for the ministry in which, at the time of his lamented disappearance, he had risen to the rank of Principal Officer in the Civil Service.
The nature of Commander Bond's duties with the ministry, which were, incidentally, recognized by the appointment of C.M.G. in 1954, must remain confidential, nay secret, but his colleagues at the ministry will allow that he performed them with outstanding bravery and distinction, although occasionally, through an impetuous strain in his nature, with a streak of the foolhardy that brought him in conflict with higher authority. But he possessed what almost amounted to "The Nelson Touch" in moments of the highest emergency, and he somehow contrived to escape more or less unscathed from the many adventurous paths down which his duties led him. The inevitable publicity, particularly in the foreign press, accorded some of these adventures, made him, much against his will, something of a public figure, with the inevitable result that a series of popular books came to be written around him by a personal friend and former colleague of James Bond.
 If the quality of these books, or their degree of veracity, had been any higher, the author would certainly have been prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act. It is a measure of the disdain in which these fictions are held at the ministry that action has not yet—I emphasize the qualification—been taken against the author and publisher of these high-flown and romanticized caricatures of episodes in the career of an outstanding public servant.
It only remains to conclude this brief in memoriam by assuring his friends that Commander Bond's last mission was one of supreme importance to the state. Although it now appears that, alas, he will not return from it, I have the authority of the highest quarters in the land to confirm that the mission proved one hundred per cent successful. It is no exaggeration to pronounce unequivocally that, through the recent valorous efforts of this one man, the Safety of the Realm has received mighty reassurance.
James Bond was briefly married in 1962, to Teresa, only daughter of Marc-Ange Draco, of Marseilles. The marriage ended in tragic circumstances that were reported in the press at the time. There was no issue of the marriage, and James Bond leaves, so far as I am aware, no relative living.

 By the way, this is my James Bond Collection:

James Bond Novels

 Ian Fleming
  Casino Royale
  Live and Let Die
  Diamonds Are Forever
  From Russia; with Love
  Dr. No
  For Your Eyes Only
  The Spy Who Loved Me
  On Her Majesty's Secret Service
  You Only Live Twice
  The Man with the Golden Gun
  Octopussy and The Living Daylights
  Thrilling Cities

Kingsley Amis
 Colonel Sun

John Gardner
 License Renewed
 For Special Services
 Role of Honor
 Nobody Lives for Ever
 No Deals; Mr. Bond
 Win; Lose or Die
 The Man from Barbarossa
 Death Is Forever
 Never Send Flowers

Raymond Benson
 Zero Minus Ten
 The Facts of Death
 High Time to Kill
 Never Dream of Dying
 The Man with the Red Tattoo

Sebastian Faulks
 Devil May Care

Jeffery Deaver
 Carte Blanche

Christopher Wood
 James Bond; The Spy Who Loved Me
 James Bond and Moonraker

John Gardner
 License to Kill

Raymond Benson
 Tomorrow Never Dies
 The World Is Not Enough
 Die Another Day

Kate Westbrook
The Moneypenny Diaries
 Guardian Angel
 Secret Servant
 Final Fling

Quinn Fawcett (Ian Fleming; Spy)
 Honor Among Spies
 Death to Spies
 Siren Songs

Bond Reference:

50 Years of Bond: Life Magazine
Any Human Heart" Boyd
Art of Bond by  Bouzereau
Autobiography of Cubby Broccoli
Being a Scot by Connery
Bond and Beyond by Bennett
Bond and Beyond by Soter
Bond Cars by DK
Bond Films by Smith
Bond Girls are Forever by D’ Abo
Bond Girls by DK
Bond on the Set: Casino Royale
Bond on the Set: Filming Quantum of Solace: Williams
Bond on the Set: Skyfall
Bond on the Set:  Die Another Day
Bond on the Set:  Quantum of Solace.
Bond Villains: DK
Book of Bond by DK
Book of Bond by James Bond by Barber
Book of Bond: John Pearson
Complete James Bond Encyclopedia by Rubin
Diana Rigg by Tracy
Double O Seven James Bond  A Report by O. F. Snelling: 
Dresses to Kill
Essential Bond
Fleming’s Jamaica
For Bond Lovers Only by Lane
For My Eyes Only by Glen
For Your Eyes Only Ian Fleming & James Bond  Ben Macintyre
For Your Eyes Only, Bond films by Giammarco
Ian Fleming’s Incredible Creation by Various
Ian’ Flemings James Bond by Grisald
Incredible World of 007 Lee/Phieffer
James Bond and Beyond: Ken Adams
James Bond Archives by Taschen

James Bond Bedside Companion by Mead
James Bond Bedside Companion by Raymond Benson: 
James Bond by The Legacy by Cork
James Bond by The Man and his World by Chancellor
James Bond by The Spy I Loved. Wood
James Bond Cards
James Bond Dossier by Kingsley Amis: 
James Bond Encyclopedia by DK Books
James Bond Films by Rubin
James Bond Girls by Rye
James Bond in Our Sights: A View to a Kill
James Bond in The Cinema by Brosnan
James Bond London by Giblin
James Bond Movie Posters
James Bond Phenomenon by Lindner
James Bond Postcards
James Bond Unmasked by Desowitz
James Bond: The Authorized Biography of OO7
James Bond: The Spy Who Came In With The Gold by Zieger
John Barry by a Sixties theme
John Barry: A Life in Music
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang by Barnes
License to Thrill by Chapman
Life of Ian Fleming by Pearson
Little Book of Bond
Live and Let Die Tarot Cards
Making of OHMSS by Helfenstein
Making of Tomorrow Never Dies: Peace
Man behind James Bond by Lycett
Man Who Saved Britain by Winder
Man with the Golden Touch by Sinclair McKay
My Word Is My Bond by Moore
On the Tracks of 007 by Mulder
Pinewood Story by Owens
Revisioning 007 by Lindner
Roger Moore’s James Bond Diary by Moore
Rough Guide to James Bond
Sean Connery by Phieffer
Shaken and Stirred: the Feminism of James Bond by Caplen
Spy Who Thrilled Us by Di Leo
The Battle for Bond by Sellers
The Bond Files by Lane
The Music of James Bond
TheWorld is Not Enough Companion. Johnstone
Ultimate James Bond Fan Book

 Comics and Comic Strips: Titan Reprints:
The Man with the Golden Gun
The Man with the Golden Gun and The Living Daylights

Octopussy and The Hildebrand Rarity

On Her Majesty's Secret Service
On Her Majesty's Secret Service and You Only Live Twice

Goldfinger; Risco; From a View to a Kill; For Your Eyes Only; and Thunderball

Casino Royale
Casino Royale; Live and Let Die; and Moonraker

Dr. No
Diamonds Are Forever; From Russia with Love; and Dr. No

The Spy Who Loved Me
The Spy Who Loved Me and The Harpies

Colonel Sun
River of Death and Colonel Sun

The Golden Ghost
The Golden Ghost, Fear Face, Double Jeopardy, Starfire

Trouble Spot
Trouble Spot; Isle Of Condors; The League Of Vampires; and Die With My Boots On

The Phoenix Project
The Phoenix Project; The Black Ru; Caper; Till Death Do Us Part; and The
Torch: Time Affair
Death Wing
A Death Wing; Sea Dragon; and When The Wizard Awakes

Shark Bait
The Xanadu Connection; Shark Bait; and Doomcrack

The Paradise Plot
The Paradise Plot and Deathmask

Flittermouse; Polestar; The Scent Of Danger; Snake Goddess; and Double Eagle

The Girl Machine
The Girl Machine; Beware of Butterflies; and The Nevsky Nude

Nightbird; Hot Shot; and Ape of Diamonds

Comic Books:
Doctor No: Showcase DC Comics
For Your Eyes Only Marvel
Octopussy  Marvel
License to Kill Eclipse 1989
Permission to Die 1989–1991 Eclipse
Serpent's Tooth 1992–1993
A Silent Armageddon (incomplete)
Light of My Death 1993 Dark Horse
Shattered Helix 1994 Dark Horse
Minute of Midnight 1994 Dark Horse
The Quasimodo Gambit 1995 Dark Horse
GoldenEye  (incomplete) 1996 Topps

Dr. No
From Russia with Love
You Only Live Twice
On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Diamonds Are Forever
Live and Let Die
The Man with the Golden Gun
The Spy Who Loved Me
For Your Eyes Only
A View to a Kill
The Living Daylights
License to Kill
Tomorrow Never Dies
The World Is Not Enough
Die Another Day
Casino Royale
Quantum of Solace
Casino Royale (Climax!)
Never Say Never Again
Casino Royale (1967)

James Bond Story
Bond Girls are Forever

Short Stories:
Playboy 1/97; 1/99; 4/65
TV Guide 11/99,

James Bond Files
From Russia With Love
Dr No
Live and Let Die

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