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Tubes Reviews BONDATHON 2015 (25 films in 14 Days) SPYMANIA

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Home to the long form reviews of my Bondathon in the run up to SPECTRE.  25 film (including Never Say Never Again) culminating in a viewing of SPECTRE on either November 5th or 6th.

Reiewing Plan:

THE BEGINNING: DR NO, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

SPYMANIA: GOLDFINGER, THUNDERBALL, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE

LIFE WITHOUT SEAN:  ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, LIVE AND LET DIE

BOND AND BEYOND: THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, MOONRAKER

COLD WARRIOR: FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, OCTOPUSSY, NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN

END OF AN ERA: A VIEW TO A KILL, THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, LICENCE TO KILL

BRAVE NEW WORLD: GOLDENEYE, TOMORROW NEVER DIES, THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH

THE RESET: DIE ANOTHER DAY, CASINO ROYALE, QUANTUM OF SOLACE

BIGGEST BOND OF ALL: SKYFALL, SPECTRE

Watch this space

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The first of the Bonds, DR NO sets the style and tone that a lot of subsequent films in the series would look to and emulate. While a lot of classic Bond tropes are innovated here, there is a fair amount of subtle moments in DR NO that wouldn’t be seen in subsequent films.  Bond here is more of a murder detective than a British secret agent and the film has a pace and feel of a pulpy mystery novel.  Small moments, like Bond placing indicators to see if his hotel room has been tampered with, are allowed to be shown by virtue of the script not rushing blindly into the next beat or action sequence.  The whole affair has a relaxed air to it, which can be refreshing at times.

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Sean Connery’s first turn as Bond is a tour de force.  The film revolves around him and allows him to integrate small details to the character that wouldn’t be allowed as the franchise became more extravagant as time went on.  He cools his head with a vodka and ice filled glass to alleviate himself from the Jamaican heat.  The Connery version charm and characteristic mean streak are in full effect.  It’s notable that Sean can already easily transition between the two, something that would remain a hallmark of his and a sore spot amongst his successors.

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The other major highlight of the film is the bevy of beautiful women, specifically Ursula Andress’s Honey Ryder.  Her presence on screen makes the film that much more interesting and is one of the main reasons why the Crab Key sequences are more enjoyable that the moments on Jamaica mainland.  She exudes sexual power and doesn’t take shit from anyone.  Like Connery, Ursula’s textured physical performance gives her character depth that wouldn’t otherwise be shown in subsequent films.  Even with her voice being dubbed (a common method amongst 60’s Bond films), she remains indispensable for the films enjoyment.

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The Bond style also arrives in full effect.  Bright colors, extravagant sets, and sharp costuming are the order of the day; even with the budgetary restraints DR NO had.  The film looks very slick and sets the look that Bond films (particularly those set in tropical settings) continue to look towards to this day.  One only needs to look forward 44 years to see DR NO’s continuing influence.

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With all the positives, DR NO unfortunately isn’t much more than an average thriller at best.  Be it budgetary or technique related, the film’s pace is wildly uneven.  The first 5 minutes blitz past, only for the film to slow down once Bond lands on Jamaica and Dr. No’s men slowly try to kill or dissuade him.  There are a fair amount of moments where the camera is stuck at a wide angle and we just watch actors walk through their blocking.  The villainous Dr. No, while shrouded in mystery during the films first two thirds, doesn’t amount to much of a threat.  The stakes just aren’t high enough for the audience to remain on the edge of their seat.

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A decent start to the Bond series and important historically, but now more of a casual watch.  Entertaining, but by no means required viewing.

Three prosthetic hands

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This is the ticket.  Bond’s first Cold War thriller, his first tangle with the Soviets, and EON hits it out of the park.  FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE is so casually excellent it’s almost unfair.  Nearly every moment in the film is pitch perfect.  The ever amplifying tension, the moments of explosive conflict between British and Soviet allies, and the sneaking of Red Grant at the edges of the frame as SPECTRE manipulates everyone for their own gain.  The true victory for the novel (and by association, the film) is letting the viewer know ahead of time SPECTRE’s plan.  The majority of the film is then follows Bond as he falls perfectly into SPECTRE’s trap.  You root for SPECTRE to keep Bond alive as danger envelopes him, yet for Bond to see it’s closing grip before it becomes too late for him to escape.  It’s terrifically engrossing cinema.

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Connery continues to evolve as Bond and is given a formidable ally for the first time in the form of Kerim Bey.  Sean and Pedro Armendariz have real chemistry and act as lifelong friends onscreen.  Sean’s charm and friendliness with both Kerim is contrasted by his bitter anger and rage when things go south on the Orient Express.  Bond’s interactions with Kerim contrasted with those after his untimely death give the character a nasty edge.  He goes from full on charm with Tatiana to barely keeping up marital pretenses as they awkwardly sit together in the dining car.  Bond will be friendly with you, but cross him and you are in serious trouble.

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Red Grant is the best henchman in Bond history.  Robert Shaw hits the nail on the head with his unrestrained menace and spite.  His Captain Nash disguise just barely conceals his brute nature.  Moreover, despite a legion of outlandish henchmen and blond haired clones, Grant remains one of the few to actually get the better of Bond.  His sinister sneer and barely contained glee reflect just how much he enjoys his job.  The brutal fight between Bond and Grant in the Orient’s sleeping car remains a series highlight even 50 years later.

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Stepping back from DR NO’s fantastical nature, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE reflects the more grounded story with more natural photography and set design.  Istanbul is in full travelogue mode and the city appears as a cultured, but exotic meeting point between East and West.  The Cold War battle lines are subtly marked in pencil in the ex-Ottoman capital and the location is the perfect way to take Bond out of the comfortable confines of western Europe and the ex British empire.

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The objects of Bond’s affections are in nearly unmatchable numbers here.  With Sylvia Trench’s brief (and unfortunately final) return, the Romani girls at Kerim’s allies camp, and the alluring Tatiana Romanova; Bond appears to be swimming in willing partners.  Tatiana’s first encounter with Bond in his hotel room had such an impact, it remains the go to screen test for actors in the running for the role.

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Outside of some minor pacing issues (the train climax happens with 20 minutes left in the film), FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE remains a series highpoint.  It’s brisk, dangerous, dripping with suspense, and remains enthralling to this day.

Five garrote watches

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GOLDFINGER was the first classic Bond I ever watched.  Received a VHS tape of it back in 1998 on my birthday and promptly watched the whole thing on our big TV.  It was something to behold, that’s for sure.  The same scene surely replayed for lots of budding Bond fans and cinemagoers in 1964, as GOLDFINGER was the spark that launched the franchise into cinematic history.  No small feat, creating an icon, and GOLDFINGER was the perfect film to do the job.  It is the summation of all that the franchise has to offer.  The ultimate Bond film.

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Red Grant still wins in terms of malice, but you can’t beat Oddjob’s cultural reach.  For a character who only grunts, Harold Sakata gives a fully realized performance, something lacking in the many Bond villain bodyguards to come.  Oddjob might be the most important side character in the franchise, as his presence signifies the deviation into fantasy storylines that Bond is so well known for; yet reminds us that in this era, Bond isn’t fighting giants with steel teeth yet.  He also gives Bond a physical combatant that is well out of his league.  Oddjob effortlessly thrashes Bond around the Fort Knox vault, leaving him to rely on wits and luck to win the day.

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Gert Frobe’s Goldfinger is another winner, as he remains one of the best villains in the franchise.  Charming, manipulative, cultured, and dangerous; Goldfinger is the center of everything.  His relentless pursuit to cheat and win isn’t a tacked on trait, but the natural evolution of the character’s competitive nature.  He is the caricature of the corrupt industrialist and it makes it that much easier to root for Bond.

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GOLDFINGER is also the film that John Barry’s musical influence really begins to impact the franchise.  Promoted to composer in the previous film, GOLDFINGER gives Barry and his orchestra their biggest break.  From Oddjob’s deadly chimes to the pounding drums of Goldfinger’s machine raiding Fort Knox, Barry’s score defines the film. Additionally, Shirley Bassey’s thunderous theme song is an instant signifier of greatness.  Barry (and Bassey, arguably) have better work ahead of them, but GOLDFINGER is the turning point for the classic Bond scores.

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With all this excellence around him, Bond unfortunately takes a bit of a back seat.  With him held prisoner for half the film, he doesn’t really take a proactive role in the proceedings.  Notably, Sean injects boyish humor (an eventual Roger Moore trademark) into the proceedings, something he will carry over into subsequent performances.  He never really takes anything too seriously and is disturbed by nothing, not even being chained to a nuclear bomb.  Only in the final seconds of the ticking clock does Bond begin to panic.

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There are many other pieces of the film to mention (Honor Blackman, Ken Adam’s marvelous set design, the inception of the classic Q interactions, Peter Hunt’s masterful editing, the Aston Martin), but in the end it would all be redundant.  GOLDFINGER deserves it’s reputation as one of the best Bond film.  It’s an adult comic book full of wit, decadence, and thrills.  Required viewing, not only to budding Bond fans, but also to any fan of escapism or action cinema in general.

Five gilded girls

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Bond as a franchise has a habit of self-indulgence; overloading it’s entries to the point of bloat and overlong runtimes.  THUNDERBALL is the first instance of this unfortunate habit.  With a troubled production, THUNDERBALL ranks as one of the sloppiest Bond films to end up onscreen.  It’s rampant with continuity errors and plot conveniences that would make a nitpicker insane.  However, despite that, THUNDERBALL remains a top Bond production and is still tremendously entertaining.

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Sean is back in detective mode; actively seeking leads instead of accidentally running into them like last time.  Sean’s performance might be the best distillation of his Bond; blending his dark charisma in the first two films with his wit from GOLDFINGER.  This would be the last time we see Sean in top form, as he would lose interest in the role as time went on for various reasons.

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With a bigger budget than Bond’s first trip to the Caribbean, the decadence of Nassau is on full display.  Despite the ticking clock, Bond indulges himself and the audience with all manner of vices.  It’s escapism at it’s finest, painting the Bahamas as a tropical paradise of both exotic pleasures and dangers.  The extended underwater sequences are deftly shot and add another touch of elegance to the proceedings.

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Bond has two villains to contend with in Nassau, Fiona Volpe and big bad Emilio Largo.  Adolfo Celi’s Largo tears through the scene with his charm and malice, but Volpe has defined Bond femme fatales for generations.  She is effectively Bond’s equal number on the opposite side, well before attempts at female Bond equals were made in more recent years.  She uses sex as a weapon, has Bond’s killer charm, and is undeterred from her goals by anything.  Luciana Paluzzi’s Volpe would be imitated many times, but never equaled.

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What stood out the most during my most recent viewing is that THUNDERBALL is relentlessly violent and sexual for the time, alternating between a mink glove caress and stabbing someone in the eye with a harpoon gun.  Even compared to other films in the franchise, THUNDERBALL is on another level and would remain that way for quite a while.  The violence adds to the photography, with dark blood clouds adding texture to the underwater battle, while the casual sex and revealing clothes revel in the times without being too crass.

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THUNDERBALL is larger than life, literally the biggest Bond of all. While a touch slow at times, it remains enjoyable even with the seams showing.

Four jet packs

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We’re only five films in and Bond has officially become a caricature.  With Roald Dahl (yes, that one) at the typewriter, we get the most stereotypical and imitated Bond script committed to film, complete with silly “girl rules” and a distinct lack of character development.  Sean is becoming tired of the attention the role is getting him.  The crew was nearly killed in pre-production.  This sounds like a recipe for disaster, right?  Well, kind of.  YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE isn’t close to it’s predecessors in terms of cinematic merit.  Instead, it choses to go insane and make the biggest, loudest, most technically proficient action film of it’s time.  It’s lavish, insane, and fun.

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First off, HOLY SHIT LOOK AT THE SIZE OF THAT VOLCANO!  One cannot talk about YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE without mentioning the sheer size of the production.  With it’s extravagant sets (the aforementioned volcano base taking the cake) and thrilling set pieces, it sets the bar high for subsequent productions.  The Kobe Docks chase.  The Little Nellie helicopter fight.  The stunning raid of Blofeld’s base by ninja commandos.  All top notch.  EON has really outdone themselves.

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This is also the start of the John Barry Trinity.  The scores to this film and the next two are heralded as the best soundtracks the Bond series has to offer.  Barry and his team go overboard with local flair, brass, and dramatic drums.  His music enhances the film and is noted in it’s absence during the Little Nellie aerial chase (where the James Bond Theme is tracked in instead).  The track “Capsule in Space” and variations of it throughout the film are a favorite both of myself and fans throughout the world.

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This would also mark the last Bond film Peter Hunt would edit.  He would be promoted to director for the next film (more on that later) and would leave the series afterwards.  Hunt’s editing paced the Bond series and he effectively saved YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE from being overburdened with it’s extravagance.  Influences of Hunt’s editing style can be seen in both the Bond series and action cinema to this day.  His blade would be missed as the series progressed on.

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You might have noticed that I haven’t talked about any actors yet.  The human players take a backseat to the mechanical magnificence of the film.  Connery is just going through the motions, his sparkle lost amidst the massive sets.  His costars aren’t helping matters.  Even the first appearance of longtime nemesis Blofeld falls flat.  There just isn’t room for character moments in this monstrosity of a film.

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YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE is a hollow film.  Impressively large and magnificent, there is ultimately nothing of merit within it’s story.  That being said, it moves briskly and is constantly entertaining.  It’s no steak, but being the tastiest potato chip in the world isn’t the worst thing.

Three rocket firing cigarettes

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I pretty much agree on all these write ups but I rate Dr. No higher than YOLT which I find only watchable for Ken Adams' insane sets and Barry's music. It commits the cardinal sin of Bond films - not being silly (which it very much is) but being boring.  It's Connery's worst by far.

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3 hours ago, TalismanRing said:

I pretty much agree on all these write ups but I rate Dr. No higher than YOLT which I find only watchable for Ken Adams' insane sets and Barry's music. It commits the cardinal sin of Bond films - not being silly (which it very much is) but being boring.  It's Connery's worst by far.

Funny, I was never bored of YOLT during either of my last two marathons.  I even started it late at night this time because I remembered it being a quick, action packed watch.  A film with no backing, but a film that was never dull.

I'm actually ahead with my actual viewings by a good bit (finished LALD last night), but just don't have reviews formed for them yet.

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