Category Archives: James Bond

Rocks In The Attic #833: Thomas Newman – ‘Skyfall (O.S.T.)’ (2012)

RITA#833In the run-up to the release of Bond #25, the unimaginatively titled No Time To Die, it feels like a good opportunity to revisit the gold standard of Daniel Craig’s tenure as 007.

Except, I’m not a fan. I find it massively overrated. It gets by far too much on the serendipity of being released in the same year as London’s golden Olympics, when national pride – and nostalgia for the good old days (represented in the film by the Aston Martin DB5) – was at its highest. It’s not a popular opinion, but I’ll take the thrill of Quantum Of Solace over this, any day.

The film has its moments, like they all do, but some elements are difficult to overlook. The character of M being dragged into the plot (for a second time, after The World Is Not Enough) doesn’t feel right, and criminally under-using Albert Finney is even worse. He would have made a great, cunning ally, in the same vein as From Russia With Love’s Kerim Bey, or For Your Eyes Only’s Columbo, but the writers instead make him a docile caricature, more Groundskeeper Willie than anything else.

RITA#833aThe biggest issue is the goofy Home Alone finale. To be generous, you could say that it’s a homage to Straw Dogs, but most movie-goers are not that cine-literate. They see Judi Dench laying booby traps, they immediately think Kevin McAllister and the Wet Bandits.

Still, it’s not all bad. The theme song by Adele is wonderful, and that whole sequence of Bond falling into the water, and into the credits sequence is just sublime. The cinematography, by the great Roger Deakins, is just fabulous, giving the film a golden sheen that helps to convince everybody that this is the new Goldfinger.

Javier Bardem is another missed opportunity. In No Country For Old Men, he was truly terrifying. Here, he’s a cartoon villain, with a silly CGI facial injury. Ben Whishaw and Ralph Fiennes are brilliant additions to the ensemble cast, as is Naomie Harris (well, up to about five minutes from the end at least).

In the cinema, on opening night, I cringed more than humanly possible when I realised they were about to introduce Harris as Moneypenny. Just a nauseatingly mawkish moment. My wife stared at me in the cinema, dissolving into my seat, thinking I was having a stroke or something.

Thirty minutes into the film, we’ve had at least four uses of the word ‘bloody’. This, I think, is one of the reasons Americans are in love with this film. It confirms their suspicion that London is full of red double-decker buses, Big Ben is visible from every street corner, and everybody walks around saying ‘Bloody this,’ and ‘Bloody that,’ in some broad approximation of Dick Van Dyke’s accent from Mary Poppins.

Of course, I don’t blame the director Sam Mendes for any of this. I was a fan of his work prior to Skyfall, but thought that he was too big a name to direct a Bond film. His work on both Skyfall and SPECTRE is admirable. It’s the writers who are at fault. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to relax while Neal Purvis and Robert Wade are behind the screenplay of a Bond film. They’re the dictionary definition of hit and miss.

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Another reservation I had about the film was the appointment of Thomas Newman as composer. A frequent collaborator of Mendes, he’s more at home with the kooky, ethereal pathos of scores like American Beauty and The Shawshank Redemption. Could he pull off a Bond soundtrack? The answer, it seems, is a resounding yes. The score leans a little too heavily on Hans Zimmer and James Newton-Howard’s work on Batman Begins and The Dark Knight to sound truly original, but it gives a freshness to Bond after the by-the-books David Arnold scores.

This is the second-pressing of Newman’s soundtrack, on beautiful red and white splatter double vinyl, and features a pop-up image of Bond in the inner gatefold.

Hit: Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

Hidden Gem: Voluntary Retirement

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No Time To Think

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INT. DAY – EON PRODUCTIONS BOARD ROOM, PINEWOOD STUDIOS

Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson sit on leather chairs, deep in thought.

Barbara: Hurry up Mikey, he’ll be here any minute.

Michael: Okay, Babs, don’t rush me…I’ve almost got it.

Barbara: C’mon, otherwise we’ll have to go with ‘Shatterhand’.

Michael: Ugh…Shat Her Hand.

Barbara: [Puts on a film-trailer voice] “Bond loved her until she…shat…her…hand”.

Michael: Hah!

Barbara chuckles, Michael guffaws.

Michael: Okay, what about ‘Gold’-something. That’s always worked.

Barbara: Nobody buys gold anymore, Mikey. Platinum’s the in-thing now.

Michael: ‘The Island Of Dr. Platinum’?

Barbara: Sounds like a rapper.

Michael: True. ‘The Man With The Platinum Hand’?

Barbara: Not threatening enough.

Michael: ‘The Man With The Platinum Finger’?

Barbara: Too threatening.

Michael: What about space? Something to do with the moon?

Barbara: Boring. We’ve done it.

Michael stares out in the window in desperation.

Michael: What about the weather? We used thunder once.

Barbara: Don’t be stupid, Mikey. [Looks at watch] He’s late – we should have had this figured this out by now.

Michael: ‘Lightning To Kill’?

Barbara: Oooooh. [Pause] No.

Michael: ‘Windmaker’?

Barbara: Huh?

Michael: ‘It Only Rains Twice’?

Barbara: Terrible

Michael: ‘Risico’?

Barbara: No.

Michael: What about diamonds?

Barbara: Maybe.

Michael: Octopuses?

Barbara: Octopi.

Michael: Pie?

Barbara: No, Octopi. The plural of octopus.

Michael: Oh right. I thought you meant something to do with pies.

Barbara: Pie Another Day.

Michael: Hah!

Barbara chuckles, Michael guffaws.

Barbara: ‘Die’ is good though. That worked a couple of times with Pierce.

Michael: Die-something…

They both stare out the window. From outside, they hear the faint sound of a car-door closing, followed by the ‘bip-bip’ of a car-alarm setting.

Barbara: Christ, he’s here. Okay, we’re going with ‘Shatterha-’.

Michael: WAIT! I’ve got it!

Barbara: Go on!

Michael: …Wait…It’s on the tip of my tongue…

Barbara: Hurry up, he’ll be here any second.

Michael: …Aaarrrggghhh…I’ve just got no…time…to…think…

Barbara: That’s it!

The door bursts open. Daniel Craig walks in, wearing Bermuda shorts, flip-flops and a pink linen shirt.

Daniel: Mikey-G, the G-Man! Barbara. ‘Sup, Boo. What’s poppin’?

 

 

Rocks In The Attic #761: John Barry – ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ (1969)

RITA#761I’m currently counting down the months until the release of Bond 25 by watching all of the previous 24 films, in order of release. I have a fellow Bond nut and Facebook friend to thank for the idea; it’s given me a good excuse to watch two Bond films a month. Watching the films in order is also pretty rewarding as you get to see the character and the franchise progress over the decades.

Having recently watched On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, it’s amazing to see how well it stands up to its neighbouring films in the canon. 1967’s You Only Live Twice found Sean Connery tired of playing James Bond; the culmination of a run of films more and more reliant on gadgets and special effects. Connery’s return to the character, in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, found him again sleepwalking through the role in a film that was very hard to take seriously.

OHMSS is undoubtedly a stronger film than both. It tries to ground the action, without the reliance on gadgets and special effects. This is something the franchise would repeatedly do every time the films started to cross into the realms of implausibility – the serious tone of For Your Eyes Only followed the space-farce of Moonraker, the overtly-political backdrop of The Living Daylights tried to get back to basics after Roger Moore’s aged swansong in A View To A Kill, and Casino Royale successfully rebooted the franchise after the invisible car and messy CGI of Die Another Day. Shudder.

Up to this point, only three directors had helmed Bond films – Terence Young, Guy Hamilton and Lewis Gilbert. For OHMSS, the producers turned to a member of the production team who had made an indelible contribution to the series since its inception: editor Peter Hunt.

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Hunt had effectively invented the pace of modern action film editing, particularly with a technique he called crash-cutting. Realising that audiences didn’t need to see slow, irrelevant shots of scenes that added nothing and slowed the pace of the film – the protagonist walking down a set of stairs, for example – Hunt cut them, relying on the audience to fill in the blanks, thereby keeping the action flowing. He deployed the form first in 1962’s Dr. No – although that film does feature its fair share of shoe-leather, particularly in the travelog scenes of Connery walking through the airport in Jamaica – before perfecting the technique in From Russia With Love the following year.

Hunt had proved himself as second-unit director in ‘67’s You Only Live Twice, and so the producers took a chance on him to call the shots as director on the next film in the series. Luckily for Hunt, he wasn’t the producer’s riskiest proposition. After five films, Connery had departed, leaving the role in the untested hands of Australian male model George Lazenby.

RITA#761a.pgLazenby had never acted before, aside from TV commercials, but secured the role through sheer charm and charisma. He sought out, and made the use of, Connery’s tailor and barber, and presented himself to the producers, Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, fully dressed as Bond. Originally offered a contract for seven films, he decided during the filming of OHMSS – on the strength of bad advice from his agent – to only film one. Bond films were too square and represented The Man, he thought. The emerging New Hollywood of Easy Rider, The Graduate and Bonnie And Clyde was surely the way forward.

It’s definitely strange to see another actor play 007. All of the other Bond actors played the character over at least two films, and without a follow-up film it’s hard to imagine what Lazenby might have added to the franchise. His overly-chiselled features might have seemed less stark in the neon lighting of Diamonds Are Forever, and maybe his campy charm and strange accent would have suited that film better.

RITA#761bDespite Lazenby’s inexperience, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service remains a cinematic masterpiece. It’s the first film in the series to go out of its way to look truly beautiful, mainly due to the cinematography of Michael Reed (something that hasn’t escaped the recent attention of fellow director Steven Soderbergh). Reed’s framing of shots raises the film above its predecessors, and we wouldn’t see another artistic-looking Bond film until director Marc Forster and cinematographer Roberto Schaefer’s work on 2008’s Quantum Of Solace.

Of course, the one element of the film that raises it above its contemporaries is the wonderful score by John Barry. This might just be the peak of Barry’s Bond work; a score so strong, he decided on using an instrumental over the now-familiar opening credits. It’s a score that screams cinema.

Hit: We Have All The Time In The World

Hidden Gem: Ski Chase

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Rocks In The Attic #693: John Barry – ‘A View To A Kill (O.S.T.)’ (1985)

RITA#693.jpgJames Bond, 007, British Secret Service, licensed to kill, fifty-seven years old.

Roger Moore is so old in this, his seventh and final outing as James Bond, that he was only prompted to give up the role due to an off-screen discussion with Bond girl Tanya Roberts. Moore discovered that he was the same age as the actress’ mother, and so finally realised that it was time to hang up his tuxedo for good. It’s was fortunate he did, as things were starting to get a little creepy. Before Bond finally seduces Stacy Sutton in the – ahem – climax of this film, he tucks her into bed during the film’s bloated second act. Ugh.

By the time of this, the fourteenth official Bond film, it had become very hard to take 007 seriously. Not only do we see Bond parading around with a girl old enough to be his daughter, but the writers take the character further and further away from Ian Fleming’s original secret agent. Prior to Bond tucking Sutton into bed, he bakes her a quiche. I swear I’m not making this up.

Christopher Walken does a nice turn as the villainous Max Zorin – a role originally turned down by both David Bowie and Sting. It’s actually a shame that Walken took the role, as it looks like the producers were offering it to every 1980s British rock star. Personally, I would have liked to see Phil Collins or Peter Gabriel battle Bond for world domination. Sledgehammer, in particular, would have made a great Bond theme – and a great film title.

Hit: A View To A Kill – Duran Duran

Hidden Gem: Snow Job

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Rocks In The Attic #617: John Barry – ‘Diamonds Are Forever (O.S.T.)’ (1971)

RITA#617Sean Connery is back! Shirley Bassey is back! Director Guy Hamilton is back! Everybody’s back!

Bond producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli’s attempts to reproduce the success of 1964’s Goldfinger were thinly veiled. Get the original 007 back in the role, get Goldfinger’s director back, and the singer of its theme song. Get Richard Maibaum, the screenwriter of Goldfinger, to write the script, and instruct him to set most of the film in America, much like the 1964 film. Hell, even the subject matter of the film is similar – where the subject matter of Goldfinger deals with gold, Diamonds Are Forever deals with, erm, diamonds.

The only problem is that the film it isn’t anywhere near as good as Goldfinger. The plotting is messy, and the film feels a little lost at sea between the swing of the sixties, and the sleaze of the seventies. It’s lucky that the Bond producers were able to bring Connery back, as the film might have suffered more without his magnetic presence.

The previous Bond, George Lazenby, had been offered a contract for seven films but left after only one (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). In his place, the role almost went to American actor John Gavin – the heroic brother-in-law in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Gavin even signed a contract to play Bond, before the producers were able to lure Connery back, and Gavin was again set to play Bond in Live And Let Die before they changed their minds again and settled on Roger Moore.

Connery looks a little heavy this time around – and his ever-present hairpiece looks more obvious than it ever had, John Barry’s score comes a little too close to sounding like James Last in his attempts to replicate the lounge music of the Las Vegas setting, and Charles Gray’s portrayal of Ernst Stavro Blofeld loses all the menace that Donald Pleasance had brought to the role (admittedly this had been lost with Telly Savalas’ portrayal in OHMSS).

But I love Diamonds Are Forever regardless. It features my favourite Bond girl – the top-heavy Lana Wood – despite her role being very short and sweet. The theme song remains one of my favourites, and I was lucky enough to see Bassey perform it one year at Glastonbury in a medley of her Bond themes. Bond’s gadgets are reined in before the silliness of the Roger Moore era, and the film feels like one last hurrah for Connery’s 007 (although of course he would return to the role one more time in 1983’s Never Say Never Again).

The only drawback about the film is the stunt work, particularly in the mistakes they made with the Ford Mustang car chase. First of all, the thrilling police pursuit through the streets of Las Vegas is partly ruined by the fact that the sequence is clearly being watched by crowds of onlookers – as the producer’s were unable to close off the city’s streets from pedestrians.

RITA#617aSecondly, and most damning of all, the chase’s finale where Bond escapes the police by driving on two wheels through a tight alleyway was filmed incorrectly. They filmed the approach using two wheels on one side of the car, and filmed the shot of the car emerging from the alley on the opposite two wheels of the car. How terrible, and one wonders whether the continuity person – or in fact anybody working on this particular stunt – could ever hold their head high in Hollywood ever again. As a movie mistake, it’s up there with the Star Wars stormtrooper hitting his head on the Death Star doorway, or Charlton Heston supposedly wearing a wristwatch in Ben-Hur’s chariot race (an urban legend that has since been quashed).

Editors Bert Bates and John Holmes couldn’t have solved the mistake by reversing the film as both shots featured writing on buildings and advertisement hoardings, and so the only way out was a shot mid-alley which was made to look like Bond switched sides of the car mid-stunt. James Bond 007, licence to defy the laws of physics. As far as Bond mistakes go, this is even worse than choosing to soundtrack The Man With The Golden Gun’s barrel-roll stunt with a slide whistle.

RITA#617bDiamonds Are Fever’s lovable villains, the vaguely homosexual Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd deserve special mention, and not only for their great performance in the film as the murderous duo. Mr. Wint was played by actor Bruce Glover – father of Crispin ‘George McFly’ Glover – while Mr. Kidd was played by musician Putter Smith, bass player on sessions for, among others, Thelonius Monk, the Beach Boys and the Righteous Brothers.

Hit: Diamonds Are Forever (Main Title) – Shirley Bassey

Hidden Gem: 007 And Counting

Rocks In The Attic #597: Bill Conti – ‘For Your Eyes Only (O.S.T.)’ (1981)

RITA#597My childhood hero, the great Roger Moore died recently. My favourite Bond (it doesn’t matter who you think is the best, it’s the one you grew up with that counts) and one of the nicest celebrities I’ve ever encountered. A true gentleman, Sir Roger devoted his retirement years as a UNICEF ambassador, and really deserved his Knighthood for his tireless work for the charity.

I was overjoyed to see a double-bill of The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only at my local cinema last week, shown as a tribute to Moore’s passing. It was a worldwide re-release, as far as I can tell, although I’m not entirely sure why those films were chosen. Spy, I understand, but I would have thought other Roger Moore films would have been a better draw-card than For Your Eyes Only. I can only presume that those two films are the ones Moore was personally most proud of?

(There’s a nice bit of serendipity in that at the end of The Spy Who Loved Me, the credits promised that ‘James Bond Will Return In For Your Eyes Only’. However, due to the success of Star Wars, it was decided to make Moonraker next, in 1979, before they got around to filming For Your Eyes Only in 1981. I’d like to think that this is just a coincidence, and that the two films were chosen for other, better reasons than a nice bit of circumstance.)

Watching Spy and Eyes on the big screen was a real treat as I’d seen neither at the cinema before – my Bond viewing started with two films, Octopussy and Never Say Never Again, in 1983 when I was five years old. I’ve seen a few of the earlier films on re-releases – Dr. No, Goldfinger and a scratchy print of Thunderball – so it was good to add a couple more Moores to the list.

For Your Eyes Only used to bore me as a kid. It had its moments, but it was such a step down from Moonraker in terms of the things that are important to a five-year old. Of course, I now love it for its bravery in trying to pull the character back closer to Ian Fleming’s template, and away from the more embarrassing moments of Moonraker.

One thing that really struck a chord with me when I saw it at the cinema was how European it feels. The locations are all on continental Europe, aside from some underwater filming in the Bahamas, doubling for Greece. It makes a nice change to the globe-trotting Moore’s Bond does in each of the four previous films.

The other thing I hadn’t noticed before was its structure. Watched back to back with The Spy Who Loved Me, it’s clear to see that in many ways it’s a remake of that earlier film, in that it tries to duplicate some of the elements which made Spy so successful. Both films start with Navy ships succumbing to peril, both have a strong female lead, and both feature England and Russia racing towards the same goal.

It was also quite eye-opening to see how much mansplaining Bond does to Carole Bouquet’s Melina. Even though she and her family are experts in underwater exploration, Bond feels the need to mansplain the technical risks of what they’re about to do. Given the term’s entry into the English language over the last five years or so, I might have to rewatch all of the Bond films to see how much mansplaining goes on (and I’m guessing it’s not a small amount).

In terms of music, For Your Eyes Only is another non-John Barry affair, who would return to score Moore’s two remaining Bond films after this one. I’ve already written about how terrible a non-Barry soundtrack can be, but I much prefer Bill Conti’s Eyes soundtrack to Hamlisch’s efforts on Spy.

If you ignore the fact that a lot of the score sounds like something you might hear on Conti’s soundtrack contributions to the Rocky films, it isn’t too bad. Those pumping horns definitely don’t sound like the kind of brass lines that John Barry would write. I’ve also written about how poorly I rate the film’s title theme, but at least it’s not Madonna.

The soundtrack also features one of those rare things – another proper song that isn’t the main title theme. These pop up from time to time on Bond soundtracks, and they’re always quite interesting. This time it’s Make It Last All Night, by Rage, which is used to soundtrack the pool party at the start of the film. It’s a nice bit of sleazy pop (and secretly, I prefer it to Sheena Easton’s bland title song).

I was lucky enough to meet Roger in 2008 at a book signing in Auckland, where he signed my copy of his autobiography. They say you should never meet your heroes, but I have no regrets. Thankfully, my wife was quick enough to film me shaking his hand on the way out. I try not to watch this video too often as it always puts such a huge smile on my face (and I don’t want to dilute that).

Hit: For Your Eyes Only – Sheena Easton

Hidden Gem: A Drive In The Country

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Rocks In The Attic #489: Various Artists – ‘The Incredible World Of James Bond’ (1967)

RITA#489I flew back from Sydney last week. Trying to save a bit of money, I didn’t splash out on the usual airline offerings – a meal, alcohol, movies – and instead opted for the basic package. As it turned out, I didn’t miss the free movies as you could still watch a raft of free documentaries.

I watched a couple of good documentaries on the way out to Sydney five days earlier – Elstree 1976, about the bit-part players in the original Star Wars film, and then to follow on the geek-fest, I Am Your Father, a documentary about Dave Prowse, the actor inside the Darth Vader suit.

So I was happy to sit and watch documentaries on the flight back. This time, I opted for Everything Or Nothing – The Untold Story Of 007. Being a big Bond fan, it’s very rare that I ever find out anything I don’t know about the films. I’ve read a heap of books and consumed all the documentaries and featurettes on the Blu Rays (I now have the box set); everything else you see on TV tends to just be a very general overview of the films for the benefit of casual viewers.

Everything Or Nothing was different though. The documentaries on the Blu Rays are all sanctioned by EON Productions (the documentary takes its name from EON – Everything Or Nothing – Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman’s production company, set up to produce the Bond films), but Everything Or Nothing seems to have been produced independently. So instead of the official viewpoint you commonly get from EON, this was a warts and all retelling of the Bond story.

Interestingly, this meant there was a lot of content around the Ian Fleming / Kevin McClory lawsuits over the novel and film of Thunderball, and Sean Connery’s falling out with Broccoli towards the end of his tenure as an official Bond. Great stuff – and a really enjoyable watch for a lifelong Bond fan.

The Incredible World Of James Bond is a passable early compilation of instrumental Bond material. Some of the LP’s tracks are conducted by Monty Norman and John Barry, which adds an air of authenticity to the proceedings, but then these are cobbled together with renditions by the Leroy Holmes Orchestra. “Who?”, I hear you all shout in unison.

Hit: Bond Back In Action Again – John Barry

Hidden Gem: Jump Up – Monty Norman