Friday, August 2, 2013

And Once Again... Bond Is Back

License to smoke--and look suave doing it
James Bond has returned to Netflix Instant in August. How long he'll remain is anyone's guess. [Not very long, it turned out.] The good news is, unlike the last time the erstwhile spy reappeared, now pretty much all the pre-Daniel Craig films are available. That includes the two dark horse entries, On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1968), and Connery's "unofficial" 1983 return, Never Say Never Again. The latter I remember liking quite a bit--save for the crucial absence of Monty Norman's iconic Bond theme—and I still think Klaus Maria Brandauer's Largo was the most nuanced and complex Bond villain until Javier Bardem in Skyfall.

Herewith, an updated repost of an April look at select Bond titles, including two all-new entries. I may add more as I rewatch them—assuming they don't disappear again at the end of the month!


Among the Bond flicks currently streaming on Netflix are all the Sean Connery classics, the best (and worst) of Roger Moore, and the only two entries with the underrated Timothy Dalton, who lent Bond a gravitas that wouldn't return until Daniel Craig donned the familiar tux.

Dr. No (1962)

What is there to say? Sean Connery defines James Bond for generations to come in this, the first installment of the legendary franchise. This is a raw, more ruthless Bond, before all the gadgets and cheesy one-liners. Perhaps a bit slow-paced by today's standards, but rewarding to anyone interested in seeing the birth of the modern spy movie. And Ursula Andress is as gorgeous and kickass as any of her modern counterparts.

From Russia with Love (1963)

One of the all-time best Bonds, especially if you like a grittier, less superheroic 007. Bond meets his match in a pair of assassins played by Lotte Lenya and Robert Shaw, with the latter facing off with Bond in a train compartment, in one of the most grueling fight scenes ever staged. Forget James Bond, this one's just a cracking good spy yarn.

Goldfinger (1964)

The third Bond flick, and the one that would jumpstart the bigger-is-better philosophy the series came to liveand at times, almost dieby. (Turns out some things do live more than twice.) Contains enough classic bits to seem like a best-of compilation. If there's one cinematic Rosetta Stone for decoding the Austin Powers movies, this may be it.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

That other fellow
The cards were fairly well stacked against George Lazenby, a novice actor hired to fill Sean Connery's tux after Connery's first exit from the series. Yet Lazenby managed to do a solid job as a more vulnerable and sensitive 007. That seems appropriate given this is the film where Bond falls hard for Diana Rigg's brooding, devil-may-care countess. Where Lazenby stumbles is with Bond's lighter side, although the terrible, often jarring quips supplied by the film's writers don't help. Even if it's nice to imagine Rigg and Connery together, this unusually structured installment is worth a watch for being one of the less gadget-heavy later entries, showing us the more tragic side of life as a secret agent. It also sports an energetically choreographed car chase, daring stunts on skis, Telly Savalas as an impressively hands-on Blofeld, and a few visceral fight scenes which, despite being shot to appear sped up, convey an oddly impressionistic, brutal feel. These may appear dated to some, but I found it refreshing to see two men beating the crap out of each other without violating the laws of physics (yes, I'm looking at you, every action movie made in the last 10 years). Underrated if not perfect, On Her Majesty's Secret Service is an entertaining alternative to the usual Bond adventures, and certainly the most touching.

Ahh, Bach

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

Following Man with the Golden Gun and Live and Let Die, all the elements finally come together for Roger Moore as 007, with the perfect mix of action, humor, gadgets, car chases, and babes (was there ever a Russian spy more alluring than Barbara Bach?). This one has something for everyone, including a car that turns into a sub (or is it the other way around?), an underwater lair, a big guy with metal teeth, and the series' best theme song, Carly Simon's "Nobody Does It Better."

For Your Eyes Only (1981)

Bond in a minor key following the bloated sci-fi fiasco of Moonraker (link withheld for the sake of cinematic decency). It seems every decade or so the series tries to atone for the sins of a particularly misguided installment and recapture its roots as a spy thriller. For Your Eyes Only  is actually a personal favorite, as it eschews the usual arsenal of Bond conventions in favor of a more grounded approach (much like From Russia With Love). Roger Moore actually seems human here, implicitly acknowledging his age by not bedding Lynn-Holly Johnson's adoring young cutie, while the stunts and villain are back to a human scale not seen since Live and Let Die. This is a Bond where relationships—and subtlety—count far more than quips and special effects. Plus, you don't mess around with Carole Bouquet toting a crossbow.

Licence to Kill (1989)

Some call him...Tim
Timothy Dalton has gotten stuck with the gooey end of the Bond stick in recent years, which is a shame, especially when the series' previous punching bag, George Lazenby, has been receiving belated respect. Dalton's grim, all-business Bond was meant as an antidote to the excesses of Roger Moore's final halfhearted entries (the forgettable Octopussy and the downright awful A View to a Kill)—much like Daniel Craig would be to Pierce Brosnan's Bond Lite. And Dalton, i.e., Mr. Shakespearean Actor, did exactly what was asked of him. Unfortunately, his darker, more humorless approach didn't give the franchise the boxoffice bump its producers hoped for, and after only two movies he became an ex-Bond.

As I said, it's a shame, since while Dalton may lack the charisma of previous 007s, he's pretty effective as a secret agent on the edge. This film in particular has a solid storyline (Bond goes rogue after his license to kill is revoked), some impressive stunts with tractor trailers, and an unconventional villain in Robert Davi. There's also the 1-2 babe punch of Cary Lowell and Talisa Soto—or 1-2-3 if you count Priscilla Barnes as wife of shapeshifter Felix Leiter (this time played by David Hedison). Oh, and don't forget Wayne Newton and a young Benicio del Toro as Henchman No. 1.

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