Dr NOOOO!! – The Worst Of Bond

‘Tis the season for end-of-year lists. ‘Tis also the season for James Bond’s filmography to clog up our TV listings.

While this means 007th heaven when it comes to out-and-out Bond classics like From Russia With Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964) and Casino Royale (2006) – as opposed to the 1967 effort starring David Niven and Woody Allen – it usually also means a repeat showing of some of the super spy’s not-so-super offerings.

Following the excellent Skyfall (2012), there is genuine anticipation for Spectre, Craig’s fourth outing in the role. But for now, let’s moonrake over the Bond movies that are a load of thunderballs.

Which are the worst Bond films in your opinion?

1. Die Another Day (2002)

Die Another Day

You have to feel sorry for Pierce Brosnan; a genuinely good actor when given material he can get his teeth into (The Matador (2005) being just one example). But when it came to his tenure as 007 – a role he was born to play – he was ill-served and none more so than in this nadir for the franchise. A strong opening reel wherein Bond gets captured by the evil North Korean army and is tortured and eventually released by a reluctant British government promises much, but the default switch soon gets flipped and before we know it we’re being asked to swallow gubbins involving an ice palace, a space laser and a car with a cloaking device. To make matters worse, Madonna puts in a performance that would insult a piece of wood and a smarmy Toby Stephens is so over-the-top it’s laughable. To top it off we have Bond Kite. Surfing. On. A. Tsunami. A film so bad everyone went away and took a very long and hard look at themselves and came back with Casino Royale.

2. A View To A Kill (1985)

A View To A Kill

After six movies and 12 years in the role, the 57-year-old Roger Moore was looking a little long in the tooth to be playing the walking killing and sex machine that is James Bond. However, in classic ‘one last job’ style, they renewed his license to kill one more time for a film that proved to mark the end of an era. Moore has been quoted as saying that A View To A Kill was his least enjoyable 007 experience and it shows in the uncomfortable expression glued on his face, not least of which during his seducing of Tanya Roberts’ Bond girl, a woman whose mother was younger than Moore. However, it’s the genuinely squirmy bedroom scene between Moore and Grace Jones’ May Day that will have you sitting uncomfortably in your seat. Whoever thought that was a good idea is anyone’s guess. A tired and flabby movie (featuring a half decent villain in Christopher Walken’s Zorin to be fair) that marked a sad end to Moore’s reign.

3.  The World Is Not Enough (1999)

The World Is Not Enough

Only in the world of 007 would Denise Richards be cast as a nuclear physicist – and one called Christmas Jones at that. The rot had been setting into Brosnan’s tenure since Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), but the nudge wink approach adopted throughout Moore’s residence was well and truly back following the Dalton years (the most underrated Bond in my book) and Brosnan’s solid debut GoldenEye (1995). While Robert Carlyle is better than the material he’s given playing international terrorist Francis Begbie… sorry, Renard, the narrative is all over the place, while the stunts merely reheat what we’ve seen before (ski chase? Yep. Helicopter action? You betcha). And let’s not forget that immortal line given by a post-coital Bond to Jones: “I thought Christmas came only once a year.” Wahey!

4. Octopussy (1983)

Octopussy

While Moore’s sixth outing in the tuxedo has its merits – an inclination towards a more serious plot being the most welcome – there’s a point in Octopussy when the cast and crew probably looked at each other and collectively realised that, by being a Roger Moore Bond movie, it therefore should contractually get very silly indeed. Moore must have raised an eyebrow in the way only Moore can when he read in the script that he’d have to get dressed up in a clown outfit to save the day. Maud Adams is at least Moore’s age and is the best thing about the film (the movie is named after her character after all), but Louis Jourdan doesn’t cut the mustard as the villain and tennis pro Vijay Amritraj should probably have stayed on the courts rather than turn up as Bond’s Indian ally Vijay.

5. Quantum Of Solace (2008)

Quantum Of Solace

The fates were against Quantum Of Solace. The back-to-basics Casino Royale had given the franchise the shot in the arm it so desperately needed and the pressure was on from the studio to keep the cash tills ringing. The decision to directly follow the events of Casino Royale certainly made sense as it provided the opportunity to explore the themes thrown up by Bond’s traumatic previous outing. However, the Writers Guild of America strike proved a crippling blow to the script’s development and things got so bad that Craig himself ended up trying to rewrite certain scenes. The script’s lack of cohesiveness shows in the undercooked dialogue, while director Marc Forster’s lack of action credentials revealed itself in the uneven set pieces; many of which tried to emulate the jittery Bourne-style shaky cam, but came off as confused and second-rate. A film that leaves you shaky, but not stirred.

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Review – Lincoln

There’s a moment at the start of Lincoln when you fear Steven Spielberg isn’t going to be able to resist going all Amistad on us and clubbing you over the head with the film’s message.

Steven Spielberg's Lincoln

Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln

The scene is thus: following a brief prologue of Civil War carnage involving black and white soldiers (proving that everyone is equal on the battlefield), a black union soldier respectfully gibes the President about inequality. Two white unionists approach separately and in worshipful tones quote Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (“Four score and seven years ago…”) back to him, but stumble over the final words, leaving it to the African-American trooper to complete the recital before rejoining his company.

On the face of it, this opening four minutes or so brings to mind the sort of heavy-handed approach Spielberg has so often been guilty of in his historical epics. Yet, delve a little deeper and it becomes apparent Tony Kushner’s script and Spielberg’s direction are very cleverly revealing two contrasting perceptions of Lincoln; on one side is the saintly Honest Abe figure common to school textbooks, on the other the crafty politician with a gift for oratory who nevertheless knows that deeds, not words are what’s needed.

Lincoln focuses tightly on the final four months of the Republican president’s life, centring on the politicking and increasingly frantic horse-trading that took place in the darkened corridors of power in early 1865 to secure passage through the House of Representatives of the crucial 13th Amendment to the US Constitution to formally abolish slavery.

Lincoln

Honest Abe (Daniel Day-Lewis) mournfully surveys the battlefield in Lincoln

With the Civil War in its final death throes, time is of the essence for Lincoln, who is worried his 1863 Emancipation Proclamation decreeing that all slaves be freed will be thrown out by the courts once the war is over and the 13th Amendment defeated by the returning slave states of the south. Warned not to do it by those closest to him for fear of tarnishing his revered reputation, the President realises the opportunity could be lost and leans heavily on his colleagues to help him get the vote through.

Needing a two-thirds majority in the House, Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward (David Straithairn) send lobbyists William Bilbo (James Spader), Robert Latham (John Hawkes) and Richard Schell (Tim Blake Nelson) out to procure the crucial votes of on-the-fence Democrats by any means necessary.

Tommy Lee Jones as fiery Republican Congessional leader Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln

Tommy Lee Jones as fiery Republican Congressional leader Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln

Three distinct threads run through the film – the war of words in the House between Democrats and Republican congressmen enjoying the sound of their own voice, the behind-the-scenes machinations, and the strain on Lincoln’s marriage to First Lady Mary Lincoln (Sally Field) – and it’s to Spielberg’s great credit that we never lose focus of any of them.

Kushner’s witty script is necessarily talky, and it pays not to lose attention, but the enormity of the stakes is always clear and the dialogue positively crackles in the hands of probably the greatest cast assembled for any Spielberg film to date.

Tommy Lee Jones, in his best role for years, has a ball as Republican Congressional leader Thaddeus Stevens, a radical anti-slavery advocate who can’t stop himself insulting Democratic leaders for sport, but knows when to keep his cards close to his chest when the need arises.

There’s a levity to the efforts of the lobbyists to curry the Democrats’ favour, although the grave seriousness of their task is not lost, and the vote itself is expertly handled by Spielberg, who ratchets up the tension like the old pro he is.

Daniel Day Lewis as Honest Abe in Lincoln

Daniel Day Lewis as Honest Abe in Lincoln

The ideologically led politics of Lincoln serves as a timely parallel to the entrenched state of today’s American party political system where petty in-fighting and belligerence can often push progress to the sidelines.

It seems appropriate that America’s most beloved President is played by arguably today’s greatest living actor and Daniel Day-Lewis is stupendous in the title role. He plays Lincoln as a kindly uncle who chooses to win people over with an amusing anecdote or a subtle observation and, ever the politician, engages in a lot of hand holding.

First Lady Mary Lincoln (Sally Field) in Lincoln

First Lady Mary Lincoln (Sally Field) in Lincoln

Day-Lewis makes it look effortless, finding a pause here or a change of tone there to give what will probably become the definitive take on this most adored of presidents. It’s a masterclass in the power of knowing when to underplay a role, to the extent that when some of the cast look in awe of the President you wonder whether it’s actually Day-Lewis they are marvelling at.

We see a more vulnerable Lincoln when he shares private moments with Mary, who has fallen apart following the death of their son and begs her husband to stop their other sibling Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) from joining the war effort. Their pained arguments are powerfully wrought, and Field is excellent as a figure who, like Abe, must compartmentalise personal grief for the good of the country.

Despite this being Spielberg’s most mature and discliplined work to date, he still can’t help himself on occasion, whether it be the rather obvious symbolism of a ticking clock and Lincoln glancing at his watch to show how time is running out, or the saccharine moment when the President walks to a window bathed in light upon hearing the vote has been passed.

Bringing to life a significant moment in the turbulent history of the world’s only superpower, who’d have thought a film where little happens for long periods could be this engrossing?