Category Archives: Thriller

Diamonds Are Forever (1971) Review

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Diamonds Are Forever

Time: 97 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1]
Cast:
Sean Connery as James Bond
Jill St. John as Tiffany Case
Charles Gray as Ernst Stavro Blofeld
Lana Wood as Plenty O’Toole
Jimmy Dean as Willard Whyte
Bruce Cabot as Albert R. ‘Bert’ Saxby
Director: Guy Hamilton

James Bond masquerades as Peter Franks to uncover a diamond smuggling conspiracy. He must also deal with his old rival, who wants to use the diamonds to build a giant laser.

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Diamonds Are Forever follows on from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which quickly became one of my favourite Bond movies. Going into my rewatch of Diamonds of Forever I did hear some things about it, first of all that Sean Connery returned to play Bond, and second of all that it was one of the worst films in the series. Before my rewatches of Bond, I didn’t remember much of the movies, so I was curious to see what made this film particularly terrible. So I watched it again and I quickly found out.

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Notably, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service ended with James Bond’s wife Tracy being killed by SPECTRE on their wedding day, so you’d think that the movie would immediately follow on from that. Diamonds Are Forever opens with an over-the-top scene where Bond roughly interrogating people, demanding to know where Blofeld is. This silly cold open seems to serve the purpose of just getting that whole business dealt with immediately, concluding with Bond supposedly killing Blofeld (even though it is so obvious that he’s not dead). However, Tracy is not mentioned once throughout DAF, nor the events of OHMSS, so you really could’ve jumped into the movie after watching You Only Live Twice and not realise there was a movie in between. I get that this is par for the course for Bond in terms of feeling loosely connected. However, it feels like wasted potential that they didn’t capitalise on the events on the last movie. The plot itself was boring, drawn out and nonsensical. This incredibly convoluted story has Bond trying to uncover a diamond smuggling ring. After the opening, scene the first thirty minutes seemed promising, but any hope for it being good gradually fades away. At times it is pretty clear that the plot is not the main focus, as it jumps from one goofy setpiece to another silly setpiece in which hijinks ensue. James Bond is no stranger to camp elements but Diamonds Are Forever dials it all the way up, it particularly stands out when you compare it to OHMSS. Diamonds Are Forever is definitely one of the most over the top and silly Bond movies, continuing in the direction that You Only Live Twice was moving. However here, its at the point where it feels like it is parodying itself. It feels like they tried to put some form gag into almost every scene, even the puns and one liners were bad. In some of the worst Bond movies, I wished that they leant more into its silliness so it could at least be fun to watch. DAF definitely did this but to the point where it made the movie worse, even occasionally painful to watch. Despite all that, those moments aren’t enough to prevent the plot from being dreadfully dull. There are some fun moments, including when Connery is driving around a moon buggy. I also think that the setting of Vegas is at least different for James Bond, if not as interesting. However on the whole, the writing is just really bad, surprising considering that it’s the same people who worked on the previous movies.

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Following George Lazenby’s departure from the role of James Bond, Sean Connery played his iconic character once more. Reportedly he was paid a large sum of money ($1.25 million) to return, and you can definitely see that, in the sense that this was really clearly a paycheck role. In all the other Bond movies, you can at least see the Bond actors putting a lot of effort into their performances, even Roger Moore in the later movies was at least trying. But Connery does not feel like his Bond from years ago. He really phones it in despite having some charm to him. It really is a shame because this is his last official outing as James Bond. I will say this though, had they not cast Connery, it really could’ve been the end of James Bond as a franchise considering the overall film. Diamonds of Forever has some of the worst Bond girls in the franchise, the main one being Jill St. John as Tiffany Case who feels really out of place here. Really though, the female characters are all terrible here, and in fact just about all the characters are bad. The role of Ernst Stravo Blofeld as previously played by Donald Pleasence in You Only Live Twice and Telly Savalas in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was recast yet again. The next person to play the head of SPECTRE is Charles Gray, who interestingly already played a Bond ally in You Only Live Twice. This is very much a campy version of Blofeld and quite possibly the worst version of the character, really not adding anything at all. However he is occasionally funny in a over the top way. I guess he does briefly disguise himself in drag at once point, you can’t say that the other Blofelds ever did that. There’s a duo of random hitmen that the film keeps cutting to named Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint as played by Putter Smith and Bruce Glover, who are heavily implied to be gay. I feel like they might’ve worked better in a Roger Moore movie. While they are at least unique and memorable, they aren’t good here. All their scenes feel like an unwanted detour and distraction, just another unfunny gag.

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Diamonds Are Forever is directed by Guy Hamilton, who made Goldfinger. This should inspire confidence, it’s just a shame that his work here is disappointing. Much of the production design and similar technical elements are solid. However, there’s just a lack of energy throughout. The action scenes aren’t necessarily bad but are boring, lazy and on autopilot, as if it was just going through the similar motions of the previous movies. Even the car chase scene in Vegas and another chase scene involving a moon buggy somehow manage to feel devoid of energy. I will give props to one legitimately good scene in which Bond fights someone in an elevator, that was actually well done. As far as other technical praises go, the John Barry score is decent and the title track Diamonds Are Forever as sung by Shirley Bassey is really good, among the best songs in the franchise.

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Diamonds Are Forever is easily the worst film of the Bond series. There are moments of enjoyment, some of the over-the-top scenes can be fun to watch, and there are some genuinely good aspects like the elevator fight or the title song. However, its just all around bad on the whole. The writing is terrible with a dumb yet dull plot, incredibly goofy moments that rank amongst the franchise’s lowest points, and disappointing direction. While there have been other bad movies in the series’ Sean Connery’s phoned in performance as Bond is ultimately what cemented it for me as the absolute worst. It is honestly a miracle that the series just didn’t end here.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) Review

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On Her Majesty's Secret Service

Time: 133 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] Violence
Cast:
George Lazenby as James Bond
Diana Rigg as Countess Tracy di Vicenzo
Telly Savalas as Ernst Stavro Blofeld
Ilse Steppat as Irma Bunt
Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny
George Baker as Sir Hilary Bray
Bernard Lee as M
Director: Peter R. Hunt

James Bond sets out a mission to defeat Blofeld, who hypnotizes beautiful women to fulfil his evil motives. Meanwhile, he also falls in love with a crime lord’s daughter.

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Out of all the James Bond movies I was rewatching, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was one of the films I was most looking forward to. From its reputation, I had heard that it was very different for a Bond movie (even beyond it being the only George Lazenby Bond movie). Not only that, but the latest instalment No Time to Die apparently took a lot from this film, so I was curious to see the similarities. Having watched it, I can confirm that it is now one of my favourites in the series.

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The plot is engaging and suspenseful, and one of the best plots in the franchise; it really is one of the only instances in a Bond movie where the story is really the main focus and importance of the film. It does seem to shy away from some of the silliness and tropes of the previous Bond movies, especially considering that it is after one of the most outlandish instalments in You Only Live Twice. OHMSS feels more grounded at times, while having some of the over the top nature of the past movies. It still follows the formula and is in line with the past movies, yet is handled with a mature sensibility and with some interesting changes. There is a greater sense of emotional weight here, and it adds a surprising amount of depth to Bond. The writing does have its issues, there is a long section with Bond infiltrating Blofeld’s clinic which goes on for a bit too long. The film is paced steadily over the course of the film and while it won’t work for everyone, I liked it generally. That said, it does slow down at times, the Blofeld clinic section being an example. It is a long movie at 2 hours and 20 minutes and outside of a few moments like the aforementioned section, I do generally think it works. For all its starts and stops, the final hour of the movie is so great and satisfying. There’s also the ending which I won’t elaborate on for those who don’t know about it, but it is certainly one of the most unexpected endings for a Bond movie and is surprisingly impactful.

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In 1967, Sean Connery quit the role of James Bond, leading George Lazenby to be the next Bond. Being the next actor to play Bond following Connery is not easy by any means. It doesn’t help that this is Lazenby’s first acting role, and this is his first and only time playing Bond. A lot of people’s biggest issue with OHMSS is George Lazenby as Bond, with many finding him to be wooden. I can certainly see that, and there are definitely some issues with his performance. He’s not quite as charismatic as Connery, and while he’s great in some scenes, there’s definitely others where he comes across as rather stiff. That said, I still think Lazenby is good overall. At the very least he doesn’t try to do an impression of Connery, his take on the character is more relatable and sympathetic in comparison He does very well at the drama; he’s convincingly vulnerable and empathetic, yet suave. That’s not to say that Connery couldn’t pull off the more vulnerable scenes, but it is admittedly hard to imagine his Bond playing the more emotional scene, or indeed genuinely falling in love like Lazenby’s Bond does here. Additionally, I think he is even better than Connery with the action and fight scenes on a physical level. I’d probably place him as the worst actor who played Bond, but he’s not bad by any means. A great aspect of this movie is its Bond girl Tracy, as played by Diana Rigg. She’s not only one of the best Bond girls especially with how she’s written and her involvement in the plot, Rigg’s performance is great and really adds a lot to the character and movie. The romance between her and Bond is very believable and is a highlight. Another notable aspect of the movie is Blofeld, with Donald Pleasence not reprising his role after playing him in You Only Live Twice, instead casting Telly Savalas in the part. It does make sense however since Blofeld is very physical and hands on in this movie, so it required a more physically capable actor. While I might be in the minority on this, I think this is the best version of Blofeld. It is a little weird when you consider the general portrayal of the character, here Blofeld even repurposed himself as a count. However, he is formidable and threatening despite his absurd plan, and I thought he was great.

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Peter R. Hunt directs OHMSS and his work here is strong, the style is very different to the other movies in the franchise in a great way. It is one of the best-looking Bond films, at the very least it is the absolute best looking up to this point in the series. The action sequences are exciting, featuring some of the best fight scenes in the series up to that point. The ski chase scenes have a sense of scale and a lot of energy. The stunts are great, and the climax is very satisfying. As usual, John Barry’s score is excellent. The main theme is particularly great, which plays over the opening credits. Also the use of Louis Armstrong’s “We Have All The Time In The World” was incredibly effective.

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On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has its issues for sure. The middle act can be a little slow and while I think George Lazenby made for a good James Bond, there definitely was some room for improvement regarding his performance. Otherwise, I think it’s definitely one of the best James Bond movies, best Bond movie at that point in the series at the very least. The more personal and emotional take with the story and characters, the direction and action all comes together to form a very satisfying and unique Bond film.

You Only Live Twice (1967) Review

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You Only Live Twice

Time: 117 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] 
Cast:
Sean Connery as James Bond
Akiko Wakabayashi as Aki
Mie Hama as Kissy Suzuki
Tetsurō Tamba as Tiger Tanaka
Teru Shimada as Mr. Osato
Karin Dor as Helga Brandt/No. 11
Donald Pleasence as Ernst Stavro Blofeld
Bernard Lee as M
Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny
Desmond Llewelyn as Q
Director: Lewis Gilbert

An American space capsule supposedly gets abducted by a Russian spaceship. However, as James Bond discovers that SPECTRE is responsible for it, he embarks on a mission to unearth the motive behind it.

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I didn’t know how they would hold up today, but I found myself pleasantly surprised with the Sean Connery era. However with the fourth movie Thunderball, I was rather disappointed and found it okay at best. I wasn’t sure about how the next movie You Only Live Twice would fare. Having seen it, I would not call it a good movie; it is really silly and I would not place it as the better half of James Bond, but I got a lot of enjoyment out of it.

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This script (co-written by Roald Dahl of all people) is undeniably silly. Goldfinger and Thunderball leaned into the silliness and camp, but YOLT takes it steps further. It is one of the goofier James Bond movies for sure, and was by far the goofiest at that point in the series. You can definitely tell the early signs of the series moving towards the Roger Moore era. YOLT is less of a political spy thriller and more of a silly action adventure; While this won’t work for everyone and might get too crazy for some in the second half, I found it entertaining in the wackiness and absurdity, even if it borders on self-parody. It helped that You Only Live Twice is self aware, it doesn’t play it straight faced by any means. The tone feels lighter, rather than having a serious spy plot with out of place humour. It also benefits from tight pacing and a lot of creative and ambitious moments within. Out of the Bond movies, the Austin Powers movies definitely took the most from You Only Live Twice, and it kind of makes sense when watching it.

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Although I thoroughly enjoyed You Only Live Twice, it is far from being problem free. Despite its enjoyable silliness, the story really is lacking, especially when compared to some of the previous Bond movies. There are certainly sequences and parts that are memorable, but I can’t say that the movie is memorable on the whole. Finally getting to it, You Only Live Twice is very problematic, in fact it’s probably one of the most problematic of the Bond movies and that’s saying something. There are some very weird undercurrents with its racial and gender policies. Despite being considerably less rapey here compared to Bond’s appearance in Thunderball, there really is an air of misogyny and sexism throughout that is prevalent. Then there’s the very weird racial politics. It’s pretty clear that the producers were fascinated with Japanese culture in this instalment, and wanted to make the most out of the setting, and with that came with all the stereotypes including ninjas, sumo wrestling, and Japanese-face. There’s no nice way of putting it, Bond does yellowface, which strangely makes him look more like a Vulcan than actually Asian. It is by far one of the most embarrassing moments of James Bond, and again that’s saying something.

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While Sean Connery is enjoyable to watch as James Bond as usual, compared to many of the previous films his work isn’t all that special here. He seemed a little bored and worn down, and it makes total sense that another actor played Bond after this movie. Still, he has his moments. Some of the returning Bond actors are good, like Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny, Desmond Llewelyn as Q, and Bernard Lee as M, and some of the other main supporting actors in the film are decent too. However the highlight for me is Ernst Stravo Blofeld, the main villain and the recurring antagonist for Bond as the head of SPECTRE. From his first appearance in From Russia with Love, the leader of the criminal organisation has had his face obscured, now we finally get to see the man, and the payoff was strong. Now I wouldn’t call Blofeld one of the all-time best villains by any means, I wouldn’t even say he’s the best Bond villain, however I do really like him. Part of it has to do with Donald Pleasence’s wonderful performance, who is riding a fine line. He is perfectly over the top and cartoonish (fitting for a character who has an evil lair in a volcano with a piranha pool death trap), yet still menacing. He is a memorable character, and you can definitely see why tat Dr Evil from Austin Powers was based specifically off this version of Blofeld. In some ways he is underutilised in the movie, you only see him in the final act. But I don’t think he would’ve been as effective otherwise.

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Lewis Gilbert directs You Only Live Twice, it is the first of three Bond movies he would make. It definitely loses the grounded aspects from the past movies to focus more on the action, and considering the absurd plot, it was worth it. The action set pieces are pretty good, there are some large scale sequences, including a mini helicopter chase and an elaborate set piece at Blofeld’s rocket base. The setting of Japan was a good change for a James Bond movie, on a visual level at least. There are some great locations and environments, and the film definitely takes advantage of them. It’s quite visually impressive, helped by the amazing set design. The look of the volcano lair in particular is immaculate and impressive, ranking among the best production designs for the Bond movies. The visual effects can be very uneven, but then again, it’s a 60s Bond movie, so that’s to be expected. Finally, John Barry’s musical score is typically great.

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You Only Live Twice is not exactly one of the most beloved of the James Bond movies. The plot isn’t the best, it’s a bit too silly for its own good at points, and it is undeniably problematic with its racial and gender politics. However, I still found it to be very entertaining. I enjoyed it more than Thunderball at least, especially with how over the top and absurd it is, and there are some enjoyable set pieces. I would probably place it as being mid-tier Bond, but nonetheless fun to watch.

Thunderball (1965) Review

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Thunderball

Time: 125 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] Low level violence
Cast:
Sean Connery as James Bond
Claudine Auger as Domino
Adolfo Celi as Emilio Largo
Luciana Paluzzi as Fiona Volpe
Rik Van Nutter as Felix Leiter
Director: Terence Young

A SPECTRE agent steals two atomic bombs from a NATO plane. James Bond is assigned a mission to recover the warheads and put a stop to the evil plans of the criminal organisation.

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I have some memory of watching Thunderball for the first time many years ago. I knew it as the Bond movie with a lot of water and sharks, but I couldn’t remember much beyond that. I was pleasantly surprised by the first three films, so I went into my rewatch of Thunderball with an open mind and came out of it feeling a bit let down.

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After Goldfinger, James Bond was a lot more famous and well known. Naturally, everything including the scope and stakes are increased for the newest installment. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t quite work for me on the whole. Although there’s some enjoyment to be had, I just felt like it didn’t have the charm and fun of the first three movies. There is a sense of blandness to the storyline and most of the characters. I didn’t find myself very engaged or excited, and it was an underwhelming experience. The stakes may be grander, but you don’t really feel them. It doesn’t help that the movie slowly moves, so much of it meanders with a sluggish pacing. Also, as the first Bond movie to be over 2 hours, it manages to feel overlong. The first 40 minutes don’t have much to do with the main plot and wastes time with James Bond at a massage parlour, which in itself was a painful sequence to watch. In terms of treatment of women in Bond movies, I thought the worst instances would be in Goldfinger for a few bad moments, but Thunderball is by far the worst case, just for the opening act alone. There’s a scene where Bond sexually harasses a nurse and later blackmails her into having sex with him. This whole segment hangs over the rest of the movie and it’s hard to look past. It doesn’t help that the whole massage parlour sequence doesn’t have much to do with the rest of the plot. With all that said, Thunderball does have some entertaining moments, and occasionally there are some interesting scenes. It definitely leans more into campiness at points (including a jet pack in the opening scene) and is enjoyable for that. Some aspects are hard to take seriously like the tank full of killer sharks and the mysterious SPECTRE meetings since they’ve been parodied to death. However, it makes the movie more fun to watch at least.

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Sean Connery’s James Bond is confident and charming as usual, and thankfully gets more focus in this compared to Goldfinger. I especially loved his interactions with Desmond Llewelyn’s Q. The main Bond girl Domino as played by Claudine Auger works well enough, but was a little forgettable. Alfodo Celi plays Emil Largo, one of the most recognisable Bond villains with an eye patch and a pool full of sharks. Unfortunately, that’s all that’s going for him. He’s very forgettable and dull, and he doesn’t really feel that threatening or dangerous. Luciana Paluzzi as Largo’s henchwoman Fiona Volpe fares much better, definitely one of the highlights from the movie.

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Dr No and From Russia with Love director Terence Young returns to the franchise after Goldfinger was directed by Guy Hamilton. It is impressive on a technical level; you really feel the increased budget compared to the past 3 movies. It is very well shot, and the production design is great. The action is certainly larger, but for the most part they aren’t that thrilling. You can tell that much of the budget went into filming the underwater scenes, and to be fair it is commendable that they pulled them off. However, something I noticed when watching all the Bond movies is that even if it’s good on a technical level, it struggles with underwater sequences. Tomorrow Never Dies had one, For Your Eyes Only had one, and Thunderball is based around a lot of water so unfortunately there’s more than just one. These underwater scenes are too long, boring and slow, even during action scenes. The underwater action scenes may be impressive for the time but could get messy and can be hard to make out what is going on, with some bad camerawork and editing.

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After the solid first three James Bond movies, Thunderball feels like a notable step down. I liked some of the performances and there is fun that can be had with it. However I just couldn’t get invested in the story, not helped by the dragging pacing. It’s not bad, but outside of some key moments, I think it is rather forgettable and on the lower end of the Bond movies.

Goldfinger (1964) Review

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Goldfinger

Time: 110 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1]Medium level violence
Cast:
Sean Connery as James Bond
Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore
Gert Fröbe as Auric Goldfinger
Shirley Eaton as Jill Masterson
Director: Guy Hamilton

MI6 agent James Bond investigates a gold-smuggling ring run by businessman Auric Goldfinger. As he delves deeper into his activities, he uncovers a sinister plan to attack Fort Knox’s gold reserve

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Goldfinger is one of the most iconic James Bond movies, some people have even declared it as the best Bond movie of all time. While I wouldn’t quite say that it’s one of my all-time favourites in the franchise, I do think that it’s a good movie, along with being an incredibly important Bond movie.

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The James Bond series started with Dr No, which was an espionage spy thriller. From Russia with Love was similar to that, but succeeded more and had a slight step towards becoming like the James Bond movies we all know today. Goldfinger however was the first movie that was fully in the James Bond formula, and in fact established it. It has a sequence in which James Bond gets gadgets from Q (Desmond Llewelyn) while plenty of other spy gadgets are in the background, along with the familiar Bond and Q banter. Q in From Russia with Love makes an appearance just to give Bond a suitcase, but here they have the classic back and forth. This even has the introduction of the Aston Martin. In terms of tone, it definitely is lighter and more humorous than the first two movies, leaning more towards camp, killer laser beams and all. It is definitely self-aware of its absurdity, the introduction scene of Pussy Galore being an example of this. At the same time, it takes itself seriously when it needs to and doesn’t come anywhere close to reaching the absurdity of the Roger Moore movies. Bond gets thrown into plenty of thrilling situations, and it starts off with a bang in the energetic opening scene. While I generally like the movie, it has its fair number of issues. It is definitely outdated, especially with the treatment of women (a particular scene with Bond in a barn with Pussy Galore sticks out). However, it still has its issues that are unrelated to when it was made. The script can be a bit expository at times, and the pacing can drag a bit, especially in the second half.

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Sean Connery is once again enjoyable to watch as James Bond, especially with the charisma, the physicality, and the one liners. With all that said, I think his performances in the previous two movies were better. Bond is just not that interesting to watch here, the vulnerability he had in From Russia with Love just isn’t here. It doesn’t help that around the middle point Bond just doesn’t do much within the plot. Nonetheless, he is good in his part. Name aside, Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore was certainly a step forward in terms of what a Bond Girl was for the series. There’s definitely some writing issues, her motivations are a little all over the place especially in the third act, but she plays the role well. Gert Fröbe makes for a memorable villain as Auric Goldfinger, despite some noticeable ADR and dubbing. Unlike Dr No., where the titular villain appears in the third act and From Russia with Love where its major villains are mostly in the background, Goldfinger is the villain from beginning to end. In a way, he is very over the top especially with his plans but both the writing and performance gives him enough qualities and moments to make him feel relatively human, preventing him from becoming a full on cartoon character. Even his henchman Oddjob, who doesn’t speak and kills people with his hat, is entertaining.

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Instead of Terence Young who directed the first two James Bond movies, Goldfinger has Guy Hamilton directing, and he did a good job. Goldfinger gets even larger in terms of spectacle compared to the last couple of movies. The action scenes are very effective and well filmed, and the set design is particularly strong. There is an increase in Bond gadgets over the last two films, and the film utilises them well. The musical score from John Barry is strong as to be expected. There’s also the Goldfinger song as sung by Shirley Bassey, which remains one of the most iconic opening Bond songs.

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Goldfinger does have some issues and I don’t quite love it as much as everyone else. Despite its problems though, it has a charm to it. The cast are pretty good, it’s quite entertaining, and it established the Bond formula, for better and for worse. There are better movies in the series, and in terms of the Connery era, I still think From Russia with Love is better, but it is still a good film.

Men (2022) Review

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Men

Time: 100 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Violence, offensive language, suicide themes, nudity & content that may disturb
Cast:
Jessie Buckley as Harper Marlowe
Rory Kinnear as Geoffrey
Director: Alex Garland

In the aftermath of a personal tragedy, Harper retreats alone to the beautiful English countryside, hoping to find a place to heal. However, someone or something from the surrounding woods appears to be stalking her. What begins as simmering dread soon becomes a fully formed nightmare, inhabited by her darkest memories and fears.

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Men was one of my most anticipated movies of the year. I like Alex Garland as a writer and a director, and I particularly liked his directing work with Annihilation and Ex Machina. His next film would be a full-on horror movie and would have the excellent talent of Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear. Unfortunately, I had to wait an extra month before I got the chance to see it here, but in that time, I heard the very mixed reception from people who watched it. Men finally released here and I’m glad to say that I liked the movie, even if I didn’t like it as much as I hoped I would.

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Men starts off well at the very least. The first hour is very intriguing as we follow main character Harper (Jessie Buckley) as things about her traumas are revealed to us, and tensions rise as she encounters unsettling things in her new environment. There’s an uneasy atmosphere and seemed to start out as a mystical folk horror, which I thought was effective. Much of the movie can be a bit vague and leans more into atmosphere and vibes over the story, and while not everyone will like that, I thought it worked. I was intrigued to see what would happen next. The tone was interesting; some moments were a bit funny, but I couldn’t tell whether they were intentional or not. This is especially with the ‘horror’ moments. Intentional or not, they result in an off-kilter tone which I actually enjoyed. The third act of is one of the aspects of Men that will linger in the minds of most people who watch it. Some may call it “craziest movie ever”, its really not that crazy or insane for the most part, but the ending certainly is. I can certainly see the metaphor that this gory and grotesque climax is going for, so I won’t reveal too much about what happened, nor the message it was trying to convey. But it just can’t shake the feeling that its only here to be disturbing and memorable. The worst part may be that despite its efforts to be shocking, it generated more laughs than scares with how over the top and goofy it is. This combined with Jessie Buckley’s underwhelmed reactions made me wonder whether it was another intentionally funny moment from Garland. Shock and gore aside, it just doesn’t work as a satisfying conclusion in any way. The ending is so abrupt with no sense of closure, and doesn’t even work as a horror movie ending. Men is a tight film at just over an hour and a half long but it felt like it needed more, the narrative was a little underdeveloped by the end. I think it would’ve been better if it was made as a short film, or if it was longer and fleshed out more of its ideas.

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Third act and tonal issues aside, the problems stack up most of all when you look at the film on a thematic level. Unfortunately, you can’t really watch the movie and understand it without looking at it metaphorically in some way. It doesn’t work when you watch as a simple horror movie, it won’t make sense on any level. Some viewers have labelled Men as pretentious. I try to refrain from calling movies pretentious, not only because it’s a rather blanket statement, but its also very easy and there’s usually a better way at highlighting the specific problem. It is certainly a movie that wants to say something, from some of the conversations and all the symbolism and imagery especially with religion. Despite that, it doesn’t end up having much to say. The themes in Men are blatant which isn’t inherently bad; my problem is that they are a bit too easy and simple, yet the film lingers on them for so long. Men is yet another horror movie about trauma. There seems to be a lot of those especially nowadays, and if you are getting tired of these kinds of horror movies (especially with it being another one from A24), the film might irk you because it practically ticks all the boxes. I will say that it is a decent portrayal of trauma, but it is not an exploration of it by any means. It’s definitely a present aspect throughout the film, but it doesn’t go into depth any depth, and is overall a very basic take on grief. This is probably because even though we spend time with Harper in pretty much every scene, we don’t learn much about her as a character. The other main theme which you can probably guess from the title is about men, masculinity, patriarchy, toxic masculinity, etc. As far as I understood, the theme of Men boils down to “men are all the same, and men are all bad”. Perhaps Alex Garland has a lot more to say, but whatever that is, it doesn’t come across here. Now that theme isn’t necessarily bad, but it doesn’t really lend itself to much interpretation or analysis. It really doesn’t help that its not as propound as the movie seems to think it is. Looking at the plotting and the themes, Men’s script feels like it is very close to being really good, but could’ve done with more drafts in order to nail it. As it is, it felt like it just missed the mark.

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The performances are some of the best parts of the film. Jessie Buckley as usual delivers another outstanding and powerful performance here. You follow along with her as Harper, and while the film really doesn’t give the character much, Buckley sells it so well. She feels like a believable person and makes it all work whether it be conveying the trauma and grief, or the reaction to the present horror events at her new location. I would say that Buckley’s performance alone makes the movie worth watching. The overall cast of the film is quite small, Rory Kinnear makes up most of the supporting cast. He plays almost all the men in the film, separate characters with their own personalities but with the same face. It is an interesting and intriguing gimmick. However outside of a metaphor about men being all the same, the movie really doesn’t do much with that concept. There isn’t even a moment where Harper reacts to this, even when she’s in a room with 4 Rory Kinnears. Nonetheless, he is great here, and his performances are ambitious to say the least. He effectively jumps between different levels of sinister and conveys the differences between of the characters. Kinnear is generally a supporting actor who is in the background in most movies he’s in, but he really gets to shine in Men.

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I think that Alex Garland’s work is once again great here, for all its faults, it is strong on a technical level at least. Rob Hardy’s cinematography is amazing, the visuals are stunning and really take advantage of the beautiful locations, with nice shots of the English countryside and the great production design is put on display well. Without spoiling what happens, the effects for the third act are strong and effectively gory. One of the first things I noticed in the movie was the sound design and sound mixing, which are excellent and were integral to some intense scenes working as well as they did. The soundtrack by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow is really good at setting the right tone for the film and helps to make you feel uneasy. There are a couple of hiccups on a technical level, there is a boy who has the face of Rory Kinnear CGI’d onto him. It looks very weird and uncanny, but I guess it works to make him look unsettling. As previously mentioned, the film didn’t succeed at scares despite its attempts, and came across as being funny than anything.

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Men is a very flawed movie and I think it is definitely the worst of Alex Garland’s directing work so far. I do understand why some people really don’t like the movie. It could’ve used a lot more fleshing out for many of its ideas. While there are clear themes on display, the movie doesn’t seem to have much interest in exploring them despite fixating on them so much. Even outside the themes it does suffer from other issues, including some failed attempts at horror and a third act which might be trying just a little too hard to provoke a reaction. With that said, I still like the movie. I enjoyed the atmosphere and off kilter tone, Alex Garland’s direction is pretty strong with some outstanding visuals (which were amazing to see on the big screen), and the performances from Rory Kinnear and especially Jessie Buckley were fantastic. Men is a divisive movie and its hard to tell who the movie would be for, but I do think it has some great aspects that make it worth checking out if you’re into horror.

From Russia with Love (1963) Review

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From Russia with Love

Time: 115 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] Violence
Cast:
Sean Connery as James Bond
Pedro Armendáriz as Ali Kerim Bey
Lotte Lenya as Rosa Klebb
Robert Shaw as Donald “Red” Grant
Bernard Lee as M
Daniela Bianchi as Tatiana Romanova
Director: Terence Young

James Bond searches for a Lektor cryptographic device that has the potential to wreak havoc in the world and stops SPECTRE, a secret crime organisation, from acquiring it.

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In my rewatches of the James Bond movies, I was looking forward to From Russia with Love, that’s because of the official Bond movies, that’s the only one I never watched. I did hear some people declare it as one of the Best Bond movies, especially of the Connery era. I finally watched it and liked it, at the very least it is definitely a level above the previous movie Dr No.

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Dr No was a very lowkey Bond movie compared to many of the later movies in the series, with heavy emphasis on the spy aspect. From Russia with Love is similar in that regard, but is better in every way. The plot is a Cold War mission, focussing more on espionage and spycraft than world ending schemes. There aren’t many Bond-esque gadgets, but James Bond does have a suitcase with many tricks, which proves to be useful. From Russia with Love isn’t quite like the Bond movies that you would expect yet, but it is definitely steps closer to the formula in the series. Plotwise, it can be a bit convoluted, but it made for a good movie and was well constructed. Also, whereas parts of Dr No’s story can be shaky, FRWL feels a lot more confident, they upped the scope and scale here. I found the plot to be interesting, mysterious and intriguing. It is a slow burn, it’s quite Hitchcockian in parts with some tense sequences, especially with a particular section on a train. The tone is serious and the film is fairly grounded, but also has some good moments of humour. It definitely has outdated aspects in the writing, but it mostly works.

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Sean Connery returns of the role of James Bond and once again is great, he’s even better here than in the last movie. It’s a more confident performance, he’s charismatic, convincingly deadly, and has plenty of witty one liners. His interpretation of the character definitely has limitations given the writing, but for what it is, he’s good. There is a better cast of characters compared to the last movie, it even has the first appearance of Q as played by Desmond Llewelyn. Daniela Bianchi is the Bond girl this time, playing Tatiana Romonova. While her story arc doesn’t have much to it (especially considering that this is an early 60s Bond movie), she’s integral to the plot, endearing and felt like a real person, along with sharing good chemistry with Connery. There’s not much depth to the villains but they are better than in the last movie. In the last movie, the antagonist Dr No mentions he’s a part of SPECTRE and that criminal organisation gets more presence here. The secretive leader Blofeld is barely seen but still has a strong presence in his scenes. The main two villains are memorable in their parts; Lotte Lenya as Rosa Klebb as a higher up of SPECTRE, and Robert Shaw as the first Bond henchman Red Grant, who hunts him down over the course of the movie. The latter particularly shines when he finally meets with Bond.

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Dr No director Terence Young returns to direct, and his work is definitely a step up from the last movie. You can tell that he has a much higher budget here. The action set pieces are grander and feel more fleshed out. There’s particularly a fight on a train that feels very real and is likely one of the best fights in the series. The editing and cinematography are also improved here. Some technical aspects are flawed like the ADR and some continuity errors, but that’s mostly to do with it being a movie from the 60s, you can expect little things like those.

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From Russia with Love is an improvement over the first movie in every respect, with the writing, characters, performances and the directing. It’s an effective espionage spy thriller with some great sequences. It’s a really good movie and definitely on the better side of the Bond movies.

Dr. No (1962) Review

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Dr. No

Time: 109 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] contains low level violence
Cast:
Sean Connery as James Bond
Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder
Joseph Wiseman as Dr. Julius No
Jack Lord as Felix Leiter
Bernard Lee as M
John Kitzmiller as Quarrel
Anthony Dawson as Professor R.J. Dent
Zena Marshall as Miss Taro
Eunice Gayson as Sylvia Trench
Director: Terence Young

Agent 007 decides to battle against an eccentric scientist, Dr No, who is determined to ruin the US space programme. For this purpose, he journeys to Jamaica to nip in the bud this megalomaniac peril.

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After No Time to Die I decided to rewatch the pre-Craig James Bond movies in the most illogical order, going backwards from Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan all the way back to Sean Connery and George Lazenby. Going to the Sean Connery movies was interesting, especially with seeing how the franchise started. The first film, Dr. No, is definitely very dated and I wouldn’t call it among the best Bond movies by any means. However it is pretty good and held up better than I expected.

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Having watched the post Connery Bond movies, it was interesting seeing how the Bond trademarks began on film. The James Bond movies are known for being over the top but Dr. No is not that overly campy. In fact, it is surprising how low key and simple its beginning is, Bond’s first movie is more of a proper espionage spy thriller more intrigue than large explosions. Many of the Bond trademarks aren’t here, no Q, no gadgets (outside of a gun), and no globetrotting (it takes place largely in Jamaica). As such, it was very interesting to watch. It also has a 60s old school charm to it which made it endearing to watch, even if it is outdated in many ways. I will admit that I wasn’t fully invested in the story. The pacing is all over the place, the plot can meander quite often, and the middle part of the movie is generally boring. Also, I found the conclusion to the movie to be rather disappointing.

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Sean Connery makes his debut as James Bond, he was the first actor to play him. He makes a strong impression; he is suave and delivers the witty lines excellently. At the same time, he is very believable as a dark character and cold blooded killer, being particularly realistic in the action scenes with his physicality. Connery also benefits from being front and centre in this movie. Generally, the rest of the cast are pretty good if underutilised. Ironically the weakest link is Dr. No himself, as played by Joseph Wiseman. Problematic casting and yellowface aside, the main villain shows up with 30 minutes left of the runtime. While those types of villains can work, Dr. No doesn’t leave much of an impression outside of having metal hands and apparently being really smart. Even some of the side villains like the assassins pretending to be blind are fairly weak as antagonists go.

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Terence Young directs Dr. No, and his work is pretty good. They definitely had a lower budget here compared to the later Bond movies, but they still pulled off a fair amount. Some of the technical elements still hold up well surprisingly. The green screen is definitely dated but otherwise it has good production designs and makes use of the locations in Jamacia. There are also some impressive set pieces with good action scenes. This movie also introduces the iconic James Bond theme by John Barry. The one problem is that the theme is used a bit too much throughout the movie, almost to the point of parody.

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I wouldn’t call Dr. No by any means one of the best Bond movies. It is definitely dated from a technical and writing perspective, and it can be pretty slow and boring at times, especially in the second act. However, it is definitely one of the most unique entries of James Bond considering its before it became a large and successful franchise. It’s interesting seeing it as a relatively gritty spy thriller with a focus on espionage. Additionally, it was directed well, and Sean Connery is great as James Bond.

The Island (2005) Review

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The Island

Time: 136 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence & offensive language
Cast:
Ewan McGregor as Tom Lincoln/Lincoln Six-Echo
Scarlett Johansson as Sarah Jordan/Jordan Two-Delta
Djimon Hounsou as Albert Laurent
Sean Bean as Dr. Merrick
Michael Clarke Duncan as Jamal Starkweather/Starkweather Two-Delta
Steve Buscemi as James “Mac” McCord
Director: Michael Bay

Futuristic thriller about a contained, seemingly utopian facility in the mid-21st century. The residents hope to be chosen to go to the Island – the last uncontaminated place on Earth, but when one inhabitant discovers that there are sinister forces at work, he and a female friend make a daring escape.

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I had some recollection of The Island, having first watched it many years ago. I remember it starring Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, and being one of the better Michael Bay movies. I decided to revisit it and I enjoyed it quite a lot.

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The Island has an interesting setup and premise, and I found the story to be interesting. I won’t say what the plot is about as I think it’s best going into it not knowing the reveals beforehand. It does have some interesting ideas, and occasionally it attempts to raise some interesting ethical scientific questions about its subject matter. Some of the topics can even be thought provoking. The premise has an interesting sci-fi concept that could’ve been explored and made into something special. Unfortunately by the end, the film is an overblown action movie. The film would’ve been better if it had a stronger focus on the heavier ideas it had. The plot itself seems to be divided into two very different halves. The first half is an intriguing look into a particular facility of people, where the lead characters played by McGregor and Johannsson try to figure out the truth about where they are. There were cool concepts introduced and solid worldbuilding here, in fact the movie takes a surprising amount of time to establish its world and characters. The second half of the movie takes place after most of the major reveals have been given, and turns into a fugitive action flick, with not much story or character development. This is where the film really stumbles, it’s just the two main characters on the run with intense chase scenes and doesn’t do much with the dystopian aspect. The two halves don’t really fit together that well. Second half aside, there are still some other issues with the film. Despite the interesting ideas, The Island doesn’t bring anything new to the table in terms of the genre, and still has a formulaic plot. There are some plot conveniences and some of the dialogue is a little rough. It also lacks in character development, even with the lead characters. It does feel a little too long at around 2 hours and 15 minutes, not helped by the inconsistent pacing. However it does keep you entertained throughout the runtime.

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On the whole, the cast play their roles really well. Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson are pretty good as the lead characters despite the lack of character depth and development given to them. McGregor particularly gets to do more in the second half of the movie (without getting into spoilers here). The supporting cast are solid too, Steve Buscemi is entertaining in a supporting role, Sean Bean delivers in the main villain role, and Djimon Hounsou makes for a threatening supporting antagonist as a mercenary sent after the main characters.

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Michael Bay directs this movie, and you can recognise this almost immediately. It contains many of his tropes and trademarks, from the style of cinematography, product placement, and more. However I still think this is probably one of his most restrained movies. The cinematography is slick and it has a near future look and feel to it, where the tech is sci-fi, but doesn’t feel entirely out of the realm of possibility. The action sequences are generally fun and creative, with the chase scenes particularly shining. There is definitely an overload of action by the end, but I don’t have a huge amount of complaints about the action itself. There is definitely quite a lot of shaky cam used and it was a bit much at points, but it does add some urgency to these scenes. Unsurprisingly, the movie also features a large and rousing score from Steve Jacoblonsky and works quite well for this film.

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Despite its ideas and promising premise, The Island is nothing special as far as sci-fi movies go. However, I was still reasonably invested with the plot, the acting is good, the action is fun to watch, and I was entertained throughout. I’m aware that some people really don’t like Michael Bay’s movies, but for what it’s worth, I think it’s one of his best, and definitely worth checking out.

Sunshine (2007) Review

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Sunshine

Time: 107 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] contains violence & offensive language
Cast:
Cillian Murphy as Robert Capa
Chris Evans as James Mace
Rose Byrne as Cassie
Michelle Yeoh as Corazon
Cliff Curtis as Searle
Troy Garity as Harvey
Hiroyuki Sanada as Kaneda
Benedict Wong as Trey
Director: Danny Boyle

A team of astronauts is assigned the huge responsibility of saving the sun. Things, however, take an ugly turn when an accident occurs and the lives of the crew members are endangered.

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I’ve been meaning to watch Sunshine for a while. I knew it was a sci-fi thriller directed by Danny Boyle that a lot of people liked. I went in knowing about the cast, director, and that it apparently had some horror elements. It more than lived up to the praise.

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The script by Alex Garland is great. The movie at its core is about a crew and their mission to save humanity by reigniting the Sun, and doesn’t only shows the events on the large scale, but also shows the crew trying to maintain their sanities and morals during these times of isolation and ethical dilemmas. The film really does well at showing the stakes and emphasising how one small mistake could snowball into a colossal obstacle. The film starts itself off by introducing its characters, exploring their personalities, their roles, and their chemistry. It does a great job at establishing the importance of each crew member, even though some characters definitely get more screentime and attention than others. There is very atmospheric throughout, it’s bleak, emotional and suspenseful. There are also some effectively unnerving moments, with both physical and psychological horror on display. In that sense, Sunshine reminded me of Event Horizon at times, which also had a blend of interesting sci-fi concepts with traditional horror thriller beats, especially in the second half. I thought the horror elements were weaved into the story rather nicely. Where most of the criticism of this movie lies is in the last third, specifically the last act. After the first two acts of fairly serious sci-fi, the film suddenly has something of a slasher-esque climax. While this shift is a jarring mismatch in terms of the film’s tone, it does still work as a great conclusion for the film thematically, and it felt right for the movie.

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The cast is excellent and give wonderful performances. The main cast are the 8 crew members of the ship, and they act very well in their parts. With a small cast and a large amount of special effects, there was a risk that the visuals would overshadow the characters. However the cast hold their own, even though some get to do more than others. There aren’t any weak links, but some characters aren’t given much to do, and a longer running time probably would’ve benefitted the characters more. Rose Byrne, Michelle Yeoh, Cliff Curtis, Hiroyuki Sanada, Benedict Wong, and more are great, with Cillian Murphy and Chris Evans giving the best performances of the film.

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Sunshine is definitely elevated by Danny Boyle’s stylish direction and visuals. In fact, even for a sci-fi movie, a lot of Boyle’s style can be recognised here if you’ve seen some of his other movies. While it’s not a horror movie from beginning to end, it still manages to be tense and gripping throughout, with a claustrophobic atmosphere. When it becomes a slasher movie it maintains the tension when it could potentially go off the rails quickly. This movie is also visually striking with some amazing cinematography and special effects. The production and set design is also strong too, especially for the interiors of the ships. The editing is brisk, and adds a lot to the movie. The soundtrack by John Murphy and Underworld is magnificent, epic and operatic. It perfectly fits the tone of the movie and further adds weight to some of the most dramatic moments of the film.

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Sunshine is an amazing and visually spectacular sci-fi horror thriller. It is definitely ambitious and I’m not certain if it sticks the landing with everything, but I thought it was great. It holds up well today with some fantastic visuals, it is directed excellently, and I was invested in what would happen from the very start to the very end. The story is given a lot of stakes and weight, and it is further elevated by the excellent performances. One of my favourite movies from Danny Boyle, and one well worth checking out if you haven’t already.