Tuesday, January 29, 2013

From Russia With Love (1963)

I always want to like this one more than I do.  And yet, every time I see it, it never quite does it for me.  I like many elements of it, but ultimately, it just doesn’t satisfy me.  Bond movies typically meander and can be slow, which is fine, but the whole gypsy camp section -- even when the bad guys arrive and shoot the place up -- just makes me yawn.  And for no reason I can figure out, I can’t seem to retain the gist of the plot when I watch this one.  In the beginning, I’ll think, Okay, I have it.  Then I always get midway through and think, what’s going on again?  Then Grant shows up, and I get it again.  I think I just never get invested in the plot enough to really get wrapped up in it.  Going after the decoder, while actually a really good spy plot, just isn't carried off in a manner that pushes my personal buttons.

On the other hand, I love Lotte Lenya as Colonel Klebb, and I love Robert Shaw as Grant.  Two top notch, distinctive bad guys.  I particularly love how you don’t hear Robert Shaw speak until he finally hooks up with Bond.  The whole section on the Orient Express is my favorite part of the movie, with the tension between Grant and Bond slowly increasing until their showdown.  Every time I see this movie I think that if it had been made in the 1980’s, Rutger Hauer would have played the Grant role.  I should mention that I also love Vladek Sheybal is in this.  He’s one of those unmistakable actors I first saw in The Wind and the Lion and watched for ever after.  He is great as Kronsteen.  And Walter Gotell, who will go on to have a recurring role as General Gogol in future Bond films, gets to play a menacing henchman.

I love Pedro Armenderiz as Karim Bey, with all his sons who work for him.  I LOVE the Istanbul scenery, particularly the cisterns under the city that they row through.  Connery’s Bond is perfect throughout, from his playfulness, to the violent side of him when he thinks Tanya’s betrayed him.  He's fabulously good-looking, as always.  I particularly love the scene when he throws his hat onto the rack from the doorway, only to find Moneypenny is not alone, and M is with her.  Classic and awesome.

Favorite parts – Bond on his date in the beginning with Sylvia Trench, just relaxing on a day off.  Everything with Bond and Grant on the train.  Rosa Klebb and Bond’s fight at the end.

Music: Good
Theme song:  Good. Instrumental during credits, sung at the end, and I like both versions a lot
Credit sequence:  Meh, kind of boring
Bond girl:  Gorgeous, but… bland? 
Bad guys:  Love them all
Overall personal rating:  2 out of 5 stars

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Dr. No (1962)

I’m quite fond of Dr. No.  Solid, but not outstanding.  It’s rather raw and violent and lacks polish, not bad things.  This is a cold and efficient Bond, who is perfectly willing to kill some time making love to the woman he knows is arranging to kill him before he has her picked up.  Sean Connery is oh-so-young-and-handsome and looks great the entire movie.  He gets beat up physically a bit more than usual as well.

The plot is interesting and engaging but not one of my favorites.  I love the beautiful beach and island scenery.  I love the intro to Moneypenny and M and Spectre.  I love the playful flirtation between Bond and Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) that continues throughout the series.  And I love the easy way M (Bernard Lee) can always take Bond down a peg.

Dr. No himself is more scary when he’s just a voice giving orders than when you finally meet him.  But I do like villains who are willing to get their hands dirty fighting Bond, and Dr. No runs right after Bond when Bond starts the place self-destructing.  I appreciate that.  I also like his quite creepy visit when he stands over Bond while the latter is sleeping.  I do like the way he delivers his lines when he’s conversing with Bond, with that just perceptible sneer of disdain when Bond refuses to join him.  He’s very serious, has no sense of humor, and really needs to select more capable henchmen.

I am not fond of Jack Lord as Felix Leiter.  Just… no.  Least favorite Felix.  Makes me grumble every time he’s in a scene.  The less said about him the better.

Our main Bond girl, Honey, played by Ursula Andress, is pretty cool.  Beautiful, of course, and she has that fabulous, iconic entrance.  I find it fascinating that she plays an innocent bystander who has nothing to do with the good guys, bad guys, or even plot, who gets sucked in to danger by being at the wrong place at the wrong time.  She might be unique in that aspect.  I believe most lead Bond Girls are either working for/associated with the bad guys, or the good guys, or have something someone needs in the story.  Although, now that I think about it, there’s some secondary role women who are wrong place/wrong time characters.  None of them as memorable as Honey, however, and I don’t think any are leads.  Will have to wait and see!

Favorite parts:  “Bond. James Bond.”  The tarantula... and the crazy music that goes with its demise.  Bond singing on a beach.  Bond barefoot on a beach.  Bond wading through rivers.  Bond getting zapped by the electrified air vent.

Music: Meh
Theme song:  Well, the intro to the Bond theme is, of course, awesome.
Credit sequence:  A very scattered affair.  Starts out promisingly, but isn’t one song the whole time, cuts abruptly, so it’s rather lame.
Bond girl:  I like Honey, don’t love her
Bad guys:  Okay
Overall personal rating:  3 out of 5 stars

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Bond. James Bond.

Well, it is James Bond time over here!  I’ve started watching them, in order, and plan to write up my thoughts on each as I go.  Unfortunately, I’m having issues with my main computer right now, so we’ll see how this process goes.

But for starters, let me talk about James Bond in general.  I love James Bond.  Bond was a huge part of my childhood and life.  Still is.  Growing up, I wanted to be James Bond and go on missions to save the world.  Everything about those movies appealed to me, and yeah, I’m sure they shaped quite a bit of who I became.  Back in the '70s, when they’d play a Bond movie Sunday night on television, my parents would let me and my sister watch the pre-credits teaser, then we’d have to go to bed when the main title credits rolled (though we could still hear the theme songs from our bedrooms!).  Then, slowly, as we got older, we were allowed to watch more and more of the movies.  I couldn’t tell you what my first Bond film was on television, other than it was one of the Sean Connery ones.  I can tell you my first Bond film in the theater was The Spy Who Loved Me.  Roger Moore was the active Bond during my youth and teenage years, so he’s the one I got introduced to on the big screen.  I’ve been watching them in the theater ever since…

One of the things I love about James Bond movies is that there are so many flavors of Bonds and films to choose from.  There’s something for most people.  There are advocates for every actor who has played Bond, there’s someone who loves or hates each film, etc.  Even my own family can get into enthusiastic discussions defending one Bond over another, one movie over another... We're very passionate about our favorites.

The following reviews have nothing to do with what’s best, but simply what I like.  At the end of watching and reviewing all of them, I’ll post my Bond favorites lists, from bad guys, girls, films, music, theme songs, credit sequences to James Bond himself.  I’m sure some of my choices will make people go, what??? That’s your favorite???  Hee.  But, hey, Bond and everything about the movies is very subjective, and for me, it's also tied up with my family and growing up.

All reviews will contain spoilers, I’m sure.  And so, first up soon will be Dr. No.

Edited to add links here:

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
View to a Kill
The Living Daylights
Licence to Kill
Tomorrow Never Dies
The World is Not Enough
Die Another Day
Casino Royale
Quantum of Solace

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Millions (2004)

I rented this one solely because I am a fan of director Danny Boyle.  I first saw Trainspotting, which while I can't say I liked, was very affecting and had some moments I still love.  Shallow Grave was terrifying and creepy and has haunted me ever since, but in a good way.  A Life Less Ordinary is one of the few comedies I really really love, and Sunshine is a great sci-fi thriller that I had to buy on DVD after my first viewing of the film.  I wasn't sure what to expect from Millions, as Boyle's work is so frequently dark, and it concerns one of his favorite themes:  what happens when people unexpectedly have a ton of money drop into their lap.  I was very curious to see which direction he'd take that premise in this movie, and I was not disappointed.

Millions is a really charming and sweet movie... sort of the exact opposite of Shallow Grave, and really was quite lovely.  In this one, a satchel of cash thrown from a train lands on a young boy's, Damian (played wonderfully by Alex Etel) cardboard playhouse.  He spends his days talking with the various Saints he reads about, and he thinks the money has come from Heaven for him to do good with.  However, this movie takes place just days before pounds are going to be converted to Euros, so the money must be spent or converted immediately or it will be worthless.  Damian shares the find with his older brother, Anthony, who has distinctly different ideas on what they should do with the fortune.  The movie follows their adventures, as Damian gives it away to the poor and needy, and Anthony secures himself a position at their new school and starts buying things.  I love when Anthony wants to invest in property and meets with a real estate agent.

Of course, the money is stolen money, and the thief comes looking for his satchel, but while there is some mild suspense and danger, the film never crossed over into the darker places it could have gone.  It stays light and I was never too worried for the kids.  This stayed a serious, but ultimately happy movie, and I really liked that.  I smiled a lot during this movie.  The scene with Damian on the train tracks at the end is very touching.  It's filmed in part with a fantasy-like quality that really just keeps the whole film clearly in Damian's point of view (he's the narrator).  At the same time, it's got so much heart and tenderness, and I just loved the whole thing.  I love Damian's scenes with the Saints, I love him trying to locate more people in need he could give money to.  I love the kid's dad, played by James Nesbitt, who's trying to raise his kids the best he can after the death of their mother. 

This may be one that I have to buy on DVD, I loved it that much.

Monday, January 07, 2013

What's up, Netflix?

Please please please tell me Netflix did NOT change their search views of movies for actors/directors from an easy-to-read, all-movies-on-one-page display, to a new view with like only ten movies on a page, with a picture of the DVD cover and a description all on the main page now.  Those latter two items used to be in a nice little pop up only if you wanted to see them.  Because this new display is not an improvement.  This is frustrating.  And awkward.  And why the heck would I want to now scroll through multiple pages to see all movies for a certain performer?  Netflix just made browsing for movies twice as hard and twice as long. 

Was there something wrong with all movies displayed on one page where I can see what I've seen and not seen in one spot??

Please tell me this is a temporary glitch, and I'm not going to begin to hate going to Netflix's website.