We've always said that Cinema Retro readers were among the best informed when it comes to classic movies. In our recent poll of the best James Bond movie of all time, readers have resoundingly voted to accord that honor to On Her Majesty's Secret Service, the 1969 film that starred George Lazenby in his one and only appearance as 007. The film command a whopping 27% of the vote. The second place choice was Goldfinger with 19%. Curiously, some unenlightened critics still dismiss Lazenby's film with contempt, though it's doubtful they've seen it since it came out, if at all. If you haven't seen the movie recently, give it another go - it ranks near the top of almost every Bond fan's list of favorites.
Having just returned from London where I attended the first screening in the world of the eagerly-awaited James Bond film Quantum Of Solace, I'm intrigued by the radically different reactions there have been to the film. The Times feels it is a virtual modern action classic in the same league as Casino Royale. The Daily Mail considers it a crushing bore and one of the worst Bond films ever. I must have been watching a different movie because neither description seems accurate to me. Generally speaking, one has a visceral reaction to a Bond film after viewing it for the first time. The anticipation level among fans is like a child looking forward to Christmas morning. However, after seeing Quantum Of Solace, I truly have a mixed reaction. This much is clear, however: the movie is not in the same league as its brilliant predecessor, Casino Royale (could any sequel achieve that status?) nor is it a major misfire. Believe me, I know what it's like to sit through a Bond misfire, having experienced the opening nights of The Man With the Golden Gun, Moonraker, A View to a Kill and Die Another Day - each of which convinced me the series might have finally run out of steam. I had no such reaction to QOS, feeling it probably ranks somewhere in the middle of the Bond film canon.
As I stood outside London's famed Odeon Theatre in Leicester Square, the excitement was at a fever pitch among those fortunate enough to have been invited to the screening. Security was akin to entering the Pentagon. All mobile phones were confiscated and stored until after the screening. Admission was only through possessing a brick-like, illustrated entry ticket that had obviously been designed specifically to thwart digital duplication. My major fear was being able to stay awake through the entire film, having not slept in over 24 hours and having taken a red eye flight to London, only to accompany Cinema Retro co-publisher Dave Worrall on a press junket for Fox to promote the Bond's on Blu-ray. That event was rather surrealistic in itself, as we were at the famed mansion at Bletchley Park, where British agents scored a major coup in WWII by breaking the German code. Sir Roger Moore was flown in by helicopter and we sat before a phalanx of international TV crews for almost three hours. Then Worrall and I dashed back to London for the Bond preview. I may have been dragging when I got there, but the excitement among the other journalists and celebrities attending the screening was contagious and I was rejuvenated enough to spring for one of those popcorn/soda combos that can feed a small nation. Before long, the head of Sony Pictures came on stage to welcome everyone and inform us we were among the most envied cinema-goers in the world at that moment because we would be the first to see the much-anticipated Bond film. The lights dimmed, the curtains parted and the film began to unspool before an audience so rapt with attention, you could have heard a pin drop.
Perhaps this type of anticipation set expectations so high no film could have fulfilled them. Casino Royale not only redefined the series but gained the kind of international critical praise that the Bond films had never enjoyed even in their salad days of the 1960s. What emerged on screen was a perfectly entertaining, professionally made action thriller - but one that left audience members deeply divided and some outright disappointed that it didn't measure up to its predecessor. First the bad news: the movie has a number of notable flaws. Among them: fears that the abbreviated running time (a half hour less than Casino Royale) would compromise the storyline ring true. The film opens with a high speed, gut-wrenching car chase that picks up the action from where the last film left off. However, it immediately becomes apparent that the editing will compromise the elaborately staged action sequences, rendering them a virtual blur of cuts that never last more than a half-second. This undermines the impact of the scenes and deprives them of any suspense. Yes, every other action movie is edited in the same insane way, but Casino Royale showed restraint in this area and the result was a more traditional way of presenting important scenes that ensured they had maximum emotional impact. The culprits are editors Matt Chesse and Richard Pearson, who seem intent on making the film appeal to people who don't have the attention span to sit through a movie trailer, let alone an entire feature. The other major flaw is the storyline itself which is more confusing than compelling. The action moves so quickly from exotic location to exotic location, and so many characters are introduced, that one becomes completely lost as to who is doing what to who and why they are doing so. The overall scheme by the villain is not very compelling (something about controlling water rights in Bolivia!) and there are major loopholes in the story. In one early scene, a major character appears to have been shot, only to reappear minutes later unharmed- and without any explanation given. It may not be the fault of screenwriters Robert Wade, Neal Purvis and Paul Haggis - after all, this is the same team that turned out the superb script for Casino Royale. I suspect there may have been some key expository sequences that were either left un-filmed or deleted from the final cut. Finally, my hope that the awful title song by Jack White and Alicia Keys would somehow seem better when set against the credits was left unfilled. This makes Madonna's theme from Die Another Day look like Beethoven's 5th Symphony - as the two screech like banshees through some inane lyrics.The ultimate blame for the film's flaws, however, must land squarely at the feet of director Marc Forster, whose resume boasts such acclaimed human interest stories as Monster's Ball, Finding Neverland and The Kite Runner. There were initial fears that Forster would undermine the action in terms of long, talky sequences -but ironically, Forster seems to think he's directing the next Bond video game. There are so many chase sequences shot at such a grueling pace that one wants to cling on to the all-too-brief scenes featuring extensive dialogue because it's the only time the film isn't compromised by the distracting editing.
With the bad news out of the way, there is much to enjoy in QOS, with Daniel Craig's gritty and engaging performance as the glue that holds the film together. He's even more intense in this revenge-based tale than he was the first time around and demonstrates that, in an industry largely devoid of genuine stars, he's the real deal. The film also continues the recent tradition of casting actresses who don't elicit unintentional laughter from the audience every time they open their mouths. In this case, Olga Kurylenko greatly impresses, not only with her haunting beauty, but with ability to hold her own onscreen against Craig, which is no small task. In a supporting role, Gemma Arterton is also highly impressive, though there is shockingly little romantic byplay between Bond and either lady. Judi Dench gets her most screen time ever, and she seems to get better with every performance. Equally impressive is Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter. It may have taken decades, but the filmmakers have finally figured out a way to make this character something other than window dressing. Wright brings a brooding intensity to the role and his appearances onscreen are most welcome. As the main villain, Dominic Greene, Mathieu Amairic (who resembles the young Roman Polanski) fits all the qualifications for a Bond baddy: he's erudite, charming and ruthless. However, the role is underwritten, perhaps due to the abbreviated
running time, and this fine actor never really gets the chance to have
the kind of show-stopping scene his predecessors have enjoyed. As with Casino Royale, the film's best supporting performance comes from old pro Giancarlo Giannini, reprising his role as the mysterious Mathis. His chemistry with Daniel Craig is a joy to behold and their relationship in this film parts on a sequence that is rather shocking in its intensity. I also love the fact that a major criminal organization (Quantum) has been reintroduced to the series. I've always missed the good old SPECTRE era, though I recognize that it's probably not possible to revive that specific organization. (Austin Powers and Dr. Evil have dealt that element of the Bond canon the kind of fatal blow SPECTRE villains never succeeded in doing). Hopefully, we'll be seeing more of Quantum in future films - a possibility reinforced by the reappearance of the villain Mr. White, last seen in the climax of Casino Royale. The locations are among the most varied and exotic of any Bond film and include the Chilean desert, the Baja Desert of Mexico, Panama City, Tuscany,London's Reform Club and an Austrian opera house that provides the most atmospheric sequence in the film. Kudos also go to composer David Arnold who provides his best Bond score to date.
Despite the glaring plot holes and fever-pitch pace, I enjoyed QOS and had the desire to see it again to re-evaluate its flaws and merits. I'll be doing so when I return to London next week for the world premiere and I'll post a follow-up on my reaction to the second viewing. By the way, a word to the wise: in order to understand the storyline, it's virtually essential that you see Casino Royale, or it will be even more confusing to you. Incidentally, the famed gun barrel is back - but is used in an unexpected and very effective way.
(For another view of the film, read the essay by Ajay Chowdhury, editor of Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang Magazine. Click here to read)
On Sunday night Sir Roger Moore received a Lifetime Achievement Award
for his services to the television and film industry from Cinema Retro
Moore, who turned 81 last week, was guest of honor at a special gala dinner
at Pinewood Studios, which paid tribute to his
favourite James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me. Also in attendance were
fellow cast and crew members from the 1977 film, regarded by many as Moore’s
best outing as Bond, including actor Richard Kiel, who played the
outlandish ‘Jaws’, Oscar-winning Bond production
designers Sir Ken Adam and Peter Lamont, stuntmen Martin Grace and Paul Weston, both of whom have doubled for Moore in the Bond films, actresses Caroline Munro
and Valerie Leon and screenwriter Christopher Wood.
Hosted by Gareth Owen and Andy Boyle of www.bondstars.com, over 150
guests spent the day at the studio meeting the cast and crew, watching a new
digitally-restored print of The Spy Who Loved Me, posing next to the Lotus Esprit from the movie
andclimaxing the day by attending a gala dinner with James Bond himself in the
legendary Pinewood dining room. The event, when announced in May, sold out in
24 hours, proving Moore’s popularity is still as strong as ever. A portion of
the proceeds were donated to UNICEF.
Sir Roger receives a standing ovation. Cinema Retro's Gareth Owen, one of the organizers of the event is on Sir Roger's left, with director John Glen depicted between them. On the right is Cinema Retro's Lee Pfeiffer and Bond girl Valerie Leon behind him.
Sir Roger accepts the Retro award as his wife, Lady Kristina applauds.
Moore, whose eagerly awaited autobiography “My Word is my Bond” was
published last week, has received many awards during his distinguished career,
but mainly for his work as Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF, a role he has held since 1991. In presenting the surprise Retro award to Sir Roger, co-publisher Lee Pfeiffer explained that Moore's achievements as an actor have often been overlooked. Pfeiffer compared Sir Roger to Cary Grant by stating that both men made their performances seem so effortless that many critics felt they were simply playing themselves. Pfeiffer contradicted this viewpoint by stating that Sir Roger's performances in films such as The Man Who Haunted Himself, Gold, Shout at the Devil, The Wild Geese and The Sea Wolves were "consummate performances by a consummate artist." The audience responded with an extended standing ovation. " Upon
receiving his award last night, a clearly moved Sir Roger told the audience, “I first came to this
studio in 1947 to audition for The Blue Lagoon and have enjoyed a very happy
relationship with the studio since through The Persuaders and seven Bond
movies. I have been very lucky in my career and am absolutely thrilled to
receive the Retro award at Pinewood tonight. It’s made an old aspiring actor
feel very special!”
Cinema Retro publishers Lee Pfeiffer (L) and Dave Worrall present The Retro award to Sir Roger Moore.
In 1999, Moore
was made Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in recognition of
his achievements on behalf of UNICEF and was Knighted in 2003. However, whilst
the man himself jokes about his acting ability and “lucky career”, he has, in
fact, entertained millions of people around the world both on TV and in the cinema,
and to this day remains a British icon in the industry.
Gala dinner photographs by Mark Mawston. All rights reserved.
The famed pistol from the 1974 James Bond film The Man With the Golden Gun was reported stolen by Elstree Props, a company based at the famed Elstree Studios in England. The weapon was valued at $140,000. A spokesman for Elstree Props said the gun was noticed as missing but he had no idea when it disappeared. Getting insurance companies to pay off in such cases is often a murky task because the provenance of many props is difficult to prove if questions should arise. In the case of the Golden Gun, it is known that there were several made by the props department. At one time the late special effects expert John Stears, who worked on the film, had one in his possession. Eon Productions, producers of the Bond films, is said to have another in their archives. This is not to say the stolen prop was not legitimate, but Elstree Props did not discuss how they became convinced it was genuine. Ironically, the company specializes in creating replicas of famous movie props for commercial sale. When notified of the theft, Roger Moore's spokesman advised the police to search Christopher Lee's apartment! For more click here
We've been running web reports from the journalists who were brought to London to cover the pre-release promotions for Quantum Of Solace. Cinema Retro publisher and The Essential James Bond co-author Dave Worrall was hired by Sony to act as a guide for the junket's trip to Pinewood Studios. Here is the report of "Capone", one of the top writers for the popular Ain't It Cool News web site. Click here to read.
Signpost from the Pinewood Studios road named after 007 producer Albert R. Broccoli. (Photo copyright Dave Worrall. All rights reserved.)
The popular movie news web site www.ign.com has a new report on the recent Sony/Eon Productions press junket to the legendary Pinewood Studios in conjunction with the forthcoming James Bond flick Quantum Of Solace. Cinema Retro's Dave Worrall served as guide for the event. To read click here