Tag Archives: Lewis Gilbert

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.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) Review

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The Spy Who Loved Me

Time: 125 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] Violence
Cast:
Roger Moore as James Bond
Barbara Bach as Major Anya Amasova
Curt Jürgens as Karl Stromberg
Richard Kiel as Jaws
Director: Lewis Gilbert

After the Royal Navy Polaris submarine carrying sixteen nuclear warheads mysteriously disappears, James Bond (Roger Moore) teams up with Major Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach) whose lover he had killed in Austria.

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I had been rewatching the Roger Moore James Bond films, and it didn’t start the best. I found Live and Let Die to be a rather dull and disappointing introduction for Moore’s Bond, and while The Man with the Golden Gun was more entertaining, it was very messy and made some baffling decisions. However I was looking forward to rewatching The Spy Who Loved Me since many people did say it’s the best Bond movie starring Roger Moore. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the film.

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The story is much better compared to the last two, it’s actually great. From beginning to end it keeps you riveted, with not a single dull moment. The plot is much larger in scale and occasionally it gets complicated but I was always on board with what was happening. Something it got right over the previous two movies was its tone. Tonally, it is consistent and has the right blend of elements. It has a coherent spy thriller plot that you are invested in and a fair amount of tension. At the same time, there’s a quite a lot of goofiness, and it was the right amount. Not only that but the comedy and gags are very well executed. Above all else, it knows what kind of movie it is, and is very confident in that. To a degree it is predictable and follows the Bond formula as you would expect, but it is well executed and still feels refreshing. The film is just over 2 hours long and that was the right length, helped by the great pacing.

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Roger Moore here finally clicked for me as James Bond. It seems that the writers and directors figured out what they wanted to do with this interpretation of the character. He’s not just a more comedic Sean Connery, Moore really makes this role his own. He is witty and charming, but can play it seriously when he needs to. He still has a problem with not looking believable in the fight scenes, but I can overlook that here when he’s fantastic otherwise. Barbara Bach is the Bond girl as a KGB agent that Bond teams up with, the two of them have believable chemistry and the two characters are shown to be equally matched. Their dynamic was one of the highlights of the film. The weakest part of the movie is the villain, Curt Jurgens as Karl Stromberg, who was a very stiff and average antagonist. He makes a strong impression in his first scene and his plan is certainly memorable with him wanting to create an underwater society. However the character overall is not fleshed out or memorable enough. Thankfully the henchman more than makes up for it, that being Jaws as played by Richard Kiel, one of the most iconic Bond henchmen. He’s a silent towering force with metal teeth, constantly popping up to pose a significant physical threat to Bond.

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The direction from Lewis Gilbert is polished and spectacular. It’s a great looking movie too, with dark and stylised cinematography, and the set design is fantastic. The action is great, beginning with a memorable pre-title sequence with Bond in a downhill ski chase and continuing to deliver memorable action scenes all the way through to the end. The stunts and set pieces are bigger and better, and the practical stunts are solid. Even the special effects work is great. The musical score from Marvin Hamlisch is great, and the Bond theme song in “Nobody Does it Better” from Carly Simon is iconic.

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I thoroughly enjoyed The Spy Who Loved Me. It has an engaging and fun story, great action set pieces, and Roger Moore was a great James Bond. Very likely one of the best films of the whole franchise.