The Long and Winding Bond

It’s amazing to think that The Beatles released their first single in 1962. This was also the first year that a Bond picture came out with Dr. No. Both entities are still extraordinarily relevant. Famously, Sean Connery’s Bond dissed the Fab Four in 1964’s Goldfinger. 

007 fans got some welcome news this week as Cary Fukunaga was announced as the director of the 25th (and as yet untitled) official James Bond film. By the time it comes out, Mr. Fukunaga will be the first American filmmaker to make a Bond pic in its 58 year history.

He brings an exciting resume to the fold. In addition to a filmography that includes varied directorial efforts like Sin Nombre, Jane Eyre, and Beasts of No Nation, his screenwriting credits include last year’s smash It and TV’s The Alienist. His work behind the camera for television also includes the critically lauded first season of HBO’s True Detective and Netflix’s Maniac with Emma Stone and Jonah Hill (which premieres today).

The pick was a surprise and it wasn’t just due to his U.S. heritage. The producers behind Bond had recently gone with a certain type… awards friendly directors branching out to the super spy series. After Martin Campbell successfully kicked off the Daniel Craig era (just as he did for Pierce Brosnan in Goldeneye), Marc Forster (maker of Monster’s Ball and Finding Neverland) did the disappointing Quantum of Solace. Then it was Academy Award winning Sam Mendes behind Skyfall and Spectre. 

When Danny Boyle was announced as director for Bond 25, it seemed to fit the mold. He’s an Oscar winner for Slumdog Millionaire. He’s also directed some other genre fare (including Trainspotting and 28 Days Later) that made him a fairly exciting pick. Yet it somehow seemed a little safe. After creative differences caused his exit, I figured someone like Joe Wright (who last directed Darkest Hour) could be the replacement.

Fukunaga is an intriguing selection and I’m curious to see how he handles what is very likely to be Craig’s final appearance as 007. And this brings us to Mr. Craig’s longevity. Sean Connery made six movies in the official canon (1983’s Never Say Never Again isn’t considered part of it). George Lazenby did the one-off On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Roger Moore is the leader with seven. Timothy Dalton had two. Pierce Brosnan made four.

This will be Craig’s fifth 007 turn. Surprisingly, he will have actually portrayed the MI6 agent the longest by the time #25 is released in February 2020. His 14 year reign will eclipse the 12 years that Moore played him.

Attention will soon turn to the next Bond. If I had to guess, I figure the seventh actor to play him will debut onscreen in November 2022. There’s been rumors of Idris Elba taking over the role. Expect plenty of speculation over the next couple of years. By that time, the Bond franchise will be 60 years old. Like The Beatles music, it will never die and the long and winding road of the franchise continues to interest us.

In Defense of Timothy Dalton

When Spectre opens this weekend, it will mark the 24th official James Bond adventure and Daniel Craig’s fourth go round as the famed super agent. There is no doubt that Mr. Craig’s time as 007 has been a wildly successful venture and it’s brought the franchise to previously unseen billion dollar heights.

Regarding the general consensus of the six actors who’ve played Bond, the least regarded are typically George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton. Not so coincidentally, they’re the two thespians who played him the least. Lazenby played him just once in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and his mediocre work was crushed under the weight of Sean Connery comparisons, who was the only man at the time to have played him. The generally negative rap on Lazenby is one in which I agree.

With Dalton, it’s a different story in my view. When 1987 came around, it was clear that it was time for Roger Moore to call it a day. 1985’s A View to a Kill found Moore playing 007 at the advanced age of 57. It was a mostly rewarding 12 year run in the role, though the pics themselves varied considerably in quality. Enter Dalton, stepping into Bond’s designer shoes in his mid 40s. Ironically, it has since been revealed that Dalton was originally considered to replace Connery for Secret Service and that even the actor himself felt he was far too young at the time to do it.

The Living Daylights would be his first outing. Two years later, Licence to Kill would be his second and his final. Six years later, after MGM’s financial woes delayed production of new entries, Pierce Brosnan would take over with Goldeneye. And while Brosnan’s four picture time in the part is justifiably regarded as pretty strong, Dalton’s double effort is often not.

Yet when I made the daunting task of watching all 007 flicks in a row in late 2012 to early 2013, I ended that adventure by ranking my preferred Bonds from 1-23. And it turned out that both Daylights and Licence landed in the top ten. Not one Brosnan pic did. Daylights, which stands as a more traditional Bond experience, was 10th. Licence to Kill was 6th, just above the beloved Skyfall. That film  stands alone as less of a normal 007 movie and more of a hard edged late 80s action thriller popularized at the time by the likes of Lethal Weapon and Die Hard. So while 007 purists weren’t enthralled, I found Licence to work exceedingly well in the genre it was borrowing. I believe that it’s the most underrated motion picture of the entire franchise.

As for Dalton himself, he was perfectly serviceable as Bond and I would’ve been curious to see his evolution in a third or fourth entry. It was never to be, but if you re-watch his two performances, there are hints of the darker take on the character that audiences would celebrate with Daniel Craig.

So while many talk of the Timothy Dalton era as a forgettable one, my verdict is that it produced two of the top ten flicks among the 23. That’s not forgettable to me.

Spectre Box Office Prediction

Three years after the triumphant box office performance of the 23rd 007 entry Skyfall, Daniel Craig is back for the fourth time as James Bond in Spectre, out next Friday. The big question is whether or not it will manage to top the franchise high debut of its predecessor. It could come close or surpass it, as I see it.

Let’s take a little trip down memory lane with Craig’s 007 filmography. His first, 2006’s Casino Royale, started with $40.8 million on its way to a $167M eventual domestic gross. The second, 2008’s Quantum of Solace, earned $67.5 million out of the gate and just edged its predecessor’s haul with $168M. Then – 2012’s Skyfall was a game changer. It made $88.3 million for its astonishing opening weekend and ended with $304M. Worldwide, it took in a cool $1.1 billion, easily setting the high bar for the now 53 year old series.

The studio clearly has employed the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” rule as Skyfall director Sam Mendes has returned. Christoph Waltz joins the fray as the main villain with Ralph Fiennes and Naomie Harris returning as M and Moneypenny, respectively. Spectre has already set records in the United Kingdom, where it was already released this week. Reviews have been mostly strong and it stands at 79% on Rotten Tomatoes, though it’s worth noting that critics generally have stated it’s not quite at the level of what preceded it.

This 24th official Bond pic should debut with Skyfall like numbers. On the high end, it could possibly gather over $100M in its first weekend. It could also earn $75-$80M and that would certainly be on the lower end of expectations. My feeling is that it’ll be within about $5M of what the last one made on the same November weekend in 2012 and that Spectre will just manage to outdo it for the largest 007 premiere in U.S. history.

Spectre opening weekend prediction: $91.3 million

For my prediction on The Peanuts Movie, click here:

A Spectre and a Joker

While moviegoers this weekend will be left with only Thanksgiving leftovers to munch on, it’s been quite a week for film news.

Just today, the title of the 24th James Bond picture was revealed: Spectre. Longtime 007 fans know what this means. SPECTRE (it stands for Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) is the dastardly organization that has been run by Ernst Stavro Blofeld during the franchise including Dr. No, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and Diamonds Are Forever. The group appears to be heading back into Bond lore with two time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz playing the bad guy (whether or not he plays Blofeld is still a mystery). The official announcement this morning lists him playing a different character, but many suspect it’s a head fake and he’ll be stepping into role of Bond’s most iconic villain. Spectre will be out in November 2015 with Daniel Craig returning for his fourth outing as 007 and Skyfall director Sam Mendes behind the camera.

Speaking of iconic villains, news was confirmed this week that The Joker will return in Suicide Squad, Warner Bros. 2016 pic focusing on villains in the DC Comics Universe. Jared Leto, fresh off his Dallas Buyer’s Club Oscar, steps into the part made famous by Jack Nicholson first and then the late Heath Ledger (who picked up a posthumous Academy Award for his work). David Ayer (director of Fury) is heading up the project that also stars Will Smith, Tom Hardy, and Margot Robbie.

So there we have it! Potentially two beloved baddies with two Oscar certified actors filling the roles. Also – ICYMI, there was a trailer for something called Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I’ve posted it already, but it never hurts to watch again… and again.

The 007 Files: The Future of James Bond

As you likely know, I’ve spent a great deal of time on this blog discussing and evaluating all 23 official James Bond pictures. This was capped off by ranking all 23 007 entries from #1 to #23. Additionally, I’ve named my top (00) 7 Bond Villains, Bond Girls, and Bond Theme Songs.

With all the films blogged about, this leads to what could my last 007 Files post for awhile. It begins with a natural question: What is the future of the James Bond franchise?

For the immediate future, the answer appears clear. Daniel Craig has achieved worldwide acclaim for his portrayal of the super agent. Last year’s Skyfall reached new heights at the box office, as it grossed over a billion dollars around the globe.

As much as moviegoers love Craig, we must look at Father Time. I didn’t realize this until I began writing the blog post, but today marks the actor’s 45th birthday. For some context, Sean Connery was 41 when he made his last official entry, Diamonds Are Forever. He would return 12 years later in the unofficial Bond pic Never Say Never Again (a film I will get around to writing a post about eventually). Timothy Dalton was 45 when his second and last entry Licence to Kill came out. Pierce Brosnan was 49 when his finale, Die Another Day, was released in 2002. The exception to the 40s rule was Roger Moore, who finally gave up the role at age 57 in A View to a Kill. Moore was criticized for staying in the role too long.

If we assume that we’ll get a new Bond feature every 2-3 years (which seems likely), I would guess we are at precisely the mid-point of Mr. Craig’s tenure as 007. Three more Craig entries would have him playing the role into his early-mid fifties. I simply don’t think he’ll go beyond that.

Imagining there are three more Craig/Bond films, this begs another question: How good will they be? The immediate follow-up, possibly coming out in late 2014, has giant shoes to fill. It will suffer endless comparisons to Skyfall, just as Quantum of Solace was compared to Casino Royale. 

At the end of Skyfall, we could see the direction the franchise was heading towards with Naomie Harris as Moneypenny, Ralph Fiennes as the new M, and even a young Q. While Quantum was a direct sequel to Casino, Skyfall was a self-contained picture. I suspect that’s what the producers will do from now on. There had been talk of shooting the next two entries back-to-back. This idea has since been scrapped for now. It’s not hard to figure out why the producers wanted to do this. They wish to maximize their use of Mr. Craig for as many pictures as possible. Rumor has it that it was Skyfall director Sam Mendes who squashed the back-to-back notion in order for him to say yes to returning to the director’s chair. If this turns out true, Mendes will be the first director to helm back-to-back Bond adventures since John Glen, who directed every 007 pic in the 1980s.

Bottom line: the next seven to nine years seems secure in Bond world, with a beloved 007 playing the lead. It’s what comes after that which will be truly intriguing. Yes, there will be a new Bond at some point. And I feel sorry for whomever it is. George Lazenby was relentlessly criticized for his portrayal. While much of this was deserved, there’s no question part of it was due to audiences not wanting to let Sean Connery go. Even Craig’s initial casting was met with disappointment from Bond fans, as many were pleased with Mr. Brosnan and leery of a new 007. Those fears quickly dissipated with the release of Casino Royale.

Whatever actor is cast as the next Bond will unquestionably face enormous scrutiny from a public who will not want to let Craig go. It’s up to producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson to hit their casting out of the park, just as they did with Craig.

And while there are certainly many more questions to be discussed, one thing seems certain. The Bond franchise is going nowhere. Not in the short term. And not in the long term.

On a final note, I would encourage all Bond lovers to watch the documentary Everything Or Nothing, released late last year. The feature length documentary was made to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the franchise. It has interviews with all six Bonds, the producers, writers, directors, and many more. Everything Or Nothing is required viewing for those of us who’ve grown to love the series. I highly recommend it and you can catch it on Netflix right now.

The 007 Files: My Rankings Of All 24 James Bond Movies

**Blogger’s note: updated as of 11/05/15 with Spectre

After watching all 24 official James Bond pictures and writing blog posts on each averaging around 1,000 words, we’ve arrived at what may be my final 007 Files entry for a while.

I may find something Bond related to blog about, but the next major post will likely be when the fourth Daniel Craig film is released, probably in late 2014. There will be one likely exception. When I see the well-known “unofficial” Bond picture, 1983’s Never Say Never Again with Sean Connery, I’ll post about that. Until then, I’ve now compiled my list ranking all movies from the worst to the very best.

For those reading along, #23 may be a good number for basketball players, but it isn’t here. That number signifies my least favorite Bond film and we work up from there. You’ll forgive me if I don’t comment on the rankings (been there, done that), but I am providing a link to the original post on the films, along with the trailer.

And with that, my final rankings after a month and a half blogging Bond:

24. Die Another Day (2002)

23. Moonraker (1979)

22. Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

21. The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

20. A View to a Kill (1985)

19. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

18. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

17. Quantum of Solace (2008)

16. The World Is Not Enough (1999)

15. Live and Let Die (1973)

14. Goldeneye (1995)

13. For Your Eyes Only (1981)

12. Spectre 

11. You Only Live Twice (1967)

10. The Living Daylights (1987)

9. Octopussy (1983)

8. Dr. No (1962)

7. Skyfall (2012)

6. Licence to Kill (1989)

5. Thunderball (1965)

4. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

3. Goldfinger (1964)

2. Casino Royale (2006)

1. From Russia with Love (1963)

And there you have it, my friends! Feel free to let your feelings be known as to your thoughts on the list. It’s been a great experience re-watching all these 007 pictures. Late 2014 can’t get here soon enough!

The (00) 7 Best James Bond Villains

We are almost at the Ultimate Rankings of all 23 James Bond films now that I’ve viewed them all over the past month and a half. Before that, though, I’ve ranked my Top 7 Theme Songs and Bond girls, so it’s time for the (00) 7 Best James Bond Villains. This was tough and I’ll throw out there already that Sophie Marceau as Elektra King in The World Is Not Enough and Harold Sakata as the series most famous henchman Odd Job nearly made the cut. There could only be seven though and here they are.

7. Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) in A View to a Kill

OK, the movie is pretty mediocre, but Christopher Walken’s performance as psychotic industrialist Max Zorin is easily the film’s high point. The great actor genuinely seems to be soaking up and enjoying playing a 007 baddie.

6. Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi) in Licence to Kill

Timothy Dalton’s second Bond entry is by far one of the most underrated of the franchise and Robert Davi’s terrific performance as drug lord Sanchez is a big part of the film’s success. He gets more screen time than your typical villain and he makes the most of it.

5. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (various actors)

Some Bond fanatics would consider it sacrilege not to list Bond’s most well-known nemesis Blofeld as #1. Honesty has to prevail though. Blofeld’s history for me is checkered. He appeared prominently in three Bonds with Donald Pleasance playing him in You Only Live Twice, Telly Savalas in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and Charles Gray in Diamonds Are Forever. He was seen barking orders without his face shown in From Russia with Love, Thunderball, and was finally killed in For Your Eyes Only in the opening scene. However, appearing in six movies doesn’t make you the greatest Bond villain. I preferred Pleasance’s take on Blofeld more than any other. By Diamonds Are Forever, even though Gray’s performance was decent, the character was written poorly. Still, Blofeld earns a spot on here.

4. Red Grant (Robert Shaw) in From Russia with Love

Odd Job may be considered the best henchman, but my personal favorite is definitely Robert Shaw’s fantastic performance as Red Grant in the second 007 adventure. He proves to be one of the more worthy Bond adversaries and their scenes on the long train sequence in the film are classic.

3. Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) in From Russia with Love

And while we’re talking From Russia with Love, the film’s main villain is wonderful. Lenya’s performance as ex Soviet agent turned SPECTRE baddie Rosa Klebb is one of a kind. She looks nothing like what you think a Bond villain and that’s part of her appeal.

2. Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) in Goldfinger

He’s long been considered the classic and best Bond villain and there’s a reason for it. Goldfinger is one of the most colorful and fun antagonists to Mr. Bond and he’s given some classic bits, including trying to cut 007 in half with a giant frickin laser. And he gets that wonderful line: “No, Mr. Bond! I expect you to die!” that is probably the most famous scene ever in the series.

1. Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) in Skyfall

And Goldfinger would’ve been first, if not for a little picture called Skyfall last year. Bardem’s performance as the ex-agent turned bad guy who has plans to kill M is amazing. The character is well-written and given a number of memorable moments. Mostly though, we have a true example of the best Bond villain being the best actor to ever play one.