Casino Royale

Eva Green and Daniel Craig in Casino Royale

 

 

You only live twice, or so they say. Casino Royale is the old Bond song incarnate. Because we have been here before. Not titularly – though we have, in the 1967 spoof made by a gaggle of writers and directors (John Huston, Billy Wilder, Woody Allen and Joseph Heller among them) who must have been high. Tonally, I mean. After A View to a Kill, Roger Moore’s last Bond and a bad performer at the box office, moves were made to zhuzh up the increasingly tired formula. In came Timothy Dalton, out went the eyebrow, and for a couple of films, which in retrospect, look better and better, there was a return to a badass Bond. But neither 1987’s The Living Daylights nor 1989’s License to Kill did very well at the box office either. Producer Cubby Broccoli panicked and out went not just Dalton but the grittier style. In came Brosnan and back came the eyebrow. Broccoli died shortly after, leaving his daughter and Michael G Wilson (who’d presided over the Dalton Bonds) to restart the process that Cubby had abandoned. By the mid-90s the time was right. Other directors were cannibalising 007 for their own big-budget actioners – James Cameron made True Lies, a Bond movie by any other name. While John Woo with Face/Off, Renny Harlin with The Long Kiss Goodnight, Tony Scott with Enemy of the State and Michael Bay with The Rock (starring Sean Connery) were clearly all at it too.

But though Brosnan’s Bond got dirtier during his four-film run – he grew a beard! – it’s taken till now to finally reboot properly. And so here we are, with the “blond Bond” – and what a gift to the publicity machine twittering fanboys are when someone takes their pacifier away. A reboot and a reset, Casino Royale puts Bond back in a tux and back at the gaming tables for a film that’s littered with slaughtered sacred cows – there is no pre-title stunt-filled breathtaker, instead a brutal, CCTV assassination by our new favourite Bond. There’s no sign of Q, and his “I think he’s attempting re-entry, sir”, or of many of the usual gang of pantomime regulars. There’s a distinct lack of rumpy-pumpy, though Bond does get a dalliance with Eva Green, as uber-Bond girl Vesper Lynd. And 007 even seems also to be completely indifferent to the making of the perfect martini – when the estimable Daniel Craig is asked whether he’d like it shaken or stirred, he replies “Do I look like I give a damn?” Unwilling financially to match Bay or Cameron and their legions of CG technicians, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson have decided instead to deliver a great spy thriller instead. The plot is bare-bones – on his very first mission, 007 must stop Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) from winning at cards in a casino in Montenegro, because if he does… no idea… something to do with funding all the terrorist outfits in the world. Does it matter? Not really. Because the film is in fact more interesting watched as an exercise in franchise renewal – Bond slo-mo walking out of the waves à la Ursula Andress, Bond actually washing blood off himself, Bond apparently dying. As an actual thriller… it gets about four-fifths there before losing its way towards the end, as some old Bond tropes (moving the action to Venice, in this case, for little reason) re-assert themselves and that familiar “are we nearly there yet” feeling takes hold. That apart, it’s a great Bond movie, and Daniel Craig, scowling when he’s not running (even free-running), is a great 007. Welcome back.

 

Casino Royale – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2006

 

James Bond’s Testicles

Daniel Craig and Mads Mikkelsen in Casino Royale

 

 

Have you ever noticed how James Bond is always getting his balls interfered with? The world’s most virile spy is bursting with so much testosterone that women want to get their hands on them and can’t help but fall into bed with him. Men, on the other hand, feel so threatened they want to crush him/them. Either that, or his heterosexual payload intimidates them so much that they come over all gay – again and again 007 is beset by the world’s elite effete, men with an exaggerated interest in long-haired cats and their own clothes, and who treat beautiful women with a casual disregard. Most notably there was the dual shape of Mr Wint and Mr Kidd in Diamonds Are Forever.

Ian Fleming loved a bit of flagellation – Commander Bond, god that’s so domineering – and the odd young chap, if his wife’s letters are to be believed. So maybe he was unburdening himself of something when he wrote all those scenes in which Bond’s family jewels are jangled. As for 007 – a book by Daniel Ferreras Savoye called The Signs of James Bond: Semiotic Explorations in the World of James Bond points out what should strike all of us as obvious, that the double-0 is nothing less than a representation of a gentleman’s cojones, while the 7 is the number nearest in shape to a gun. Tangentially, this also offers an explanation for all the doubling tropes in the titles (Living Twice, Another Day, Not Enough, Again).

Here is my own brief exploration of the occasions when the generative organs of Bond, James Bond (again the doubling) have taken a crucial role.

 

 

Dr No

No what? The first film and already the case is closed.

 

Goldfinger

Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe), the laser inching closer to the undercarriage of 007 (Sean Connery) – Bond: Do you expect me to talk? Goldfinger: No Mr Bond, I expect you to die. The threat to 007’s testicles generates the most remembered line of the series. Its most famous villain is later spoofed by Mike Myers as Goldmember.

 

Thunderball

Again, no comment necessary.

 

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Bond (George Lazenby), disguised as the androgynously named Hillary Bray, remarks that his family coat of arms has four balls on it. Later, one of the young women who heard his claims looks up and giggles “it’s true” after Bond drops his kilt.

 

You Only Live Twice

In the book Fleming devises an exquisite interrogation technique when Blofeld puts Bond, disguised as a deaf mute, on a bottomless chair over an active geyser and tells him his testicles are about to be blown to heaven. Being a deaf mute, Bond will be forced to just happily sit there and take in the scenery, won’t he?

 

Live and Let Die

Bond (Roger Moore) is again tied to a chair, where he is to have his finger cut off before the henchman moves on to more “sensitive parts”.

 

Never Say Never Again

Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera) aims a gun at Bond’s (Sean Connery) crotch, asking him to guess where the bullet is going to hit.

 

Moonraker

Bond (Roger Moore) honours Jaws (Richard Kiel), the only henchman to turn up in two movies, by kneeing him in the groin, to a “clang” sound effect.

 

GoldenEye

The first meeting of Bond (Pierce Brosnan) and the new M, a woman (Judi Dench), draws the line from M: “If you think I don’t have the balls to send a man to die, you’re dead wrong.”

 

Casino Royale

Bond (Daniel Craig), naked, tied to a bottomless chair, is whipped with a knotted thick rope by Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) who aims it directly at his testicles. The film’s title sequence is of silhouetted men. The game at the card table is poker, Texas Hold ‘Em.

 

Skyfall

Javier Bardem’s Silva places his hand very high on the leg of Bond (Daniel Craig), suggesting either interest or threat. Maybe a bit of both.

 

Got anything to add? Be my guest…

 

James Bond 22 Film Box Set – at Amazon

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Die Another Day

Pierce Brosnan and Halle Berry

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

26 March

 

AE Housman born, 1859

On this day in 1859, Alfred Edward Housman was born, in Bromsgrove, UK. Most famous for his poetry cycle The Shropshire Lad, Housman was the son of a solicitor. His mother died when he was 12, on his birthday in fact, and Alfred became a bookish withdrawn child who excelled at academic subjects. He won a scholarship to Oxford, where he failed to get a degree, thanks to a mix of indolence, arrogance and infatuation with a fellow student, Moses Jackson. In spite of a lack of degree Housman wrote and published academic works about Greek and Roman writers in his spare time, and eventually gained such a reputation that he was made a professor of Latin at University College London in 1892. He proceeded to become a foremost textual critic with a reputation for intellectual rigour and a terrifying lecturing style. He was also quietly writing poetry and it came as a shock to colleagues when this academic “descended from a long line of maiden aunts” – as one fellow don described him – published The Shropshire Lad. In contrast to the facade of the severe academic, it was composed of simple, nostalgic, occasionally maudlin verses in the style of folk song. It was aimed at the heart not the head and has been in print ever since.

 

 

 

Die Another Day (2002, dir: Lee Tamahori)

“But since the man who runs away, Lives to die another day” are the lines from Housman’s A Shropshire Lad that provide the title for the 40th anniversary Bond movie. Being an anniversary Bond, the producers have peppered it with references to previous 007 outings, not least in the scene where Bond is conducted through Q’s underground workshop, where gadgets and relics from decades long gone are given another moment on camera – look, there’s Rosa Klebb’s shoe, that thruster pack from … quickly searches imdb… Thunderball. Halle Berry’s orange bikini and her slo-mo walk out of the sea onto the beach being another clear throwback, to Ursula Andress’s goddess-like arrival on the screen in Dr No, the first Bond movie. Die Another Day is the sort of film that is remembered for individual scenes rather than its plot – though its kickoff in North Korea, where a bearded Bond has been held and tortured for months was a shocker at the time (a real country! facial hair!). It’s also the film that gave us the laughable invisible car, Madonna’s attempts at acting, shocking CGI, lines of dialogue with the subtlety of a chemical cosh – “I take it Mr Bond has been explaining his Big Bang theory” and so on. Brosnan is a very good Bond who had the misfortune to arrive on the scene just as two great presences in the 007 universe were shuffling off. The first was the Soviet Union, which had barely shut up shop months before GoldenEye was mooted. The second was Cubby Broccoli, producer of every Bond film since the first, who was barely involved in GoldenEye and dead by the time the next one, Tomorrow Never Dies, hit the screens. Brosnan’s Bond has to contend with both of these upheavals – the re-arrangement of world affairs, plus the attempts by Broccoli’s daughter Barbara and stepson Michael Wilson to re-invigorate the franchise, the success of which would only become fully apparent once Daniel Craig took over. Until then we have Brosnan in his last outing as 007 – relaxed, funny – two Bond villains (Rick Yune, Toby Stephens), Bond girls (Halle Berry, Rosamund Pike, Madonna, if we’re being generous), extreme surfing, armoured hovercraft, and a henchman called Mr Kil.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Support cast including John Cleese (Q), Judi Dench (M) and Michael Madsen
  • David Arnold’s lush, John Barry-like score
  • Brosnan’s most relaxed performance as Bond
  • Halle Berry

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Die Another Day – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Build Your Own Bond

Tired of waiting for the next 007 movie to open? Here’s a solution that even Q would find fiendishly ingenious

His name might be Bond, James Bond but at the beginning of 2011 the studio responsible for the most successful franchise in spy movie history found itself in dire straits. It was broke, dead broke.

It looked like the mighty roar of the MGM lion was about to be silenced forever. In the event last minute refinancing bailed the studio out and, to the joy of fans everywhere, Bond 23 returned from an enforced layover and went back into production.

But for diehards who’d been expecting Daniel Craig back in 2011, the news that it’s going to be November 2012 before the world’s most famous spy is on the big screen again is very bad indeed.

Here at Aqua Vitae’s secret lair we decided to take matters into our own hands and kill time by assembling a DIY superspy. But where to start? All the Bonds to date have something to offer. There’s Brosnan’s hair. Craig’s pecs. Dalton’s grit. Lazenby’s up-yours attitude. Moore’s raised eyebrow.

Then we realised we could stop messing about and just use all of Sean Connery, and the best Bond film of them all, 007’s second outing, From Russia with Love. As Bond producer Michael G. Wilson put it in 2008 – and this was after Daniel Craig’s excellent 2006 debut – “We always start out trying to make another From Russia with Love and end up with another Thunderball.

Ah, 1965’s Thunderball. Only the fourth Bond film and already the slide into Austin Powers parody is complete. Bond may be played by Connery but he’s less your lethal agent licensed to kill more your smartmouthed quipster. There are girls, there are gadgets. Lots of them. What there isn’t is a plot. And the film is way too long. Even worse, worst of all when it comes to Bond in fact, the film has underwater sequences.

Using the almost prehistoric From Russia with Love as some sort of template might seem surprising. But FRWL is current co-producer Barbara Broccoli’s preferred Bond too. And Timothy Dalton’s, Daniel Craig’s and, we rest our case, Sean Connery’s. “It was with this film that the Bond style and formula were perfected,” said Barbara Broccoli’s dad Cubby, the producer who started it all with Dr No in 1962.

So we’ve found our lead character, using a time machine to nab a 33-year-old Sean Connery, the former milkman, bodybuilder and coffin polisher. Now let’s build a film.

First there’s that simple gun-barrel sequence. Now there are many wonderful things to be found on Youtube but montages of all the gun-barrel opening sequences from all the Bond films are not on that list – even when guitarist Vic Flick is twanging out the Bond theme as they play. To all the geeks and freaks who are posting this stuff – please stop. In spite of what the film says, you only live once.

Then we’re on to the thrilling pre-title sequence. An innovation in From Russia with Love and one that’s stuck, it’s notable for having almost nothing to do with the rest of the film, is often wordless, and frequently features body doubles, either overtly (in FRWL we see Bond being killed by an assassin – except it’s not Bond). Or on the sly – Roger Moore might be a decent skier, but he’s not that good.

Moving, in Bond-honoured fashion, swiftly on, we then get a title sequence of gyrating lovelies (or a gyrating Daniel Craig in Casino Royale), which leads to the introduction of the “Bond song”, some of which have been great (Louis Armstrong, Paul McCartney and Shirley Bassey). Some not (everything since A-ha did The Living Daylights – don’t write in).

Moving even more swiftly on we then have Bond’s Briefing By M, at which point 007 is confusingly addressed as Commander Bond, a Flirt With Moneypenny, a Rendezvous With Q for some wacky gadgetry, the most useless-looking gadget being the lifesaver later on. Before audiences start checking their watches it’s a sprint on to An Exotic Location, where Bond meets A Henchman or two (in FRWL it’s Robert Shaw with obviously evil bleach-blond hair and Lotte Lenya as Rosa Klebb, the knife in her shoe only outdone in deadliness by her hatchet face.

There’s just time for a teasing meeting with The Villain (Ernst Stavro Blofeld in FRWL), then a Bad Bond Girl, a CIA Buddy and a Good Bond Girl before Bond heads back to the Villain’s Secret Hideaway and, doh!, immediate capture. Here, instead of shooting Bond on the spot, the Villain tells Bond his Evil Plan before popping out for a second (to let the White Cat out, presumably), leaving Bad Bond Girl to free the otherwise completely bolloxed Bond. Cue ticktock countdown, sirens, lots of running around, The Villain’s attempted escape, his death and a big post-climactic finish featuring Bond and Bond Girl on a boat. Here sex is alluded to in time-honoured British comedy fashion, perhaps most groanworthily in the line delivered by Brosnan’s 007 to Denise Richards’ Dr Christmas Jones in The World Is Not Enough – “I thought that Christmas only came once a year”.

Apart from the Christmas gag, almost everything else just mentioned is in From Russia with Love. And if you look hard enough you’ll see that even in the Daniel Craig Bonds most of the elements from the Best Bond Film Ever are there too; all the canny producers have done is juggle them about a bit, and hidden Q and Moneypenny backstage the easier to sell the “reboot” idea.

You now have the ingredients to build your own Bond. Which elements will Bond 23’s director Sam Mendes – of American Beauty, Road to Perdition and Revolutionary Road fame – select? The rumour mill is suggesting a “classic Bond”, the return of Moneypenny and a character not unlike Blofeld. Diamonds might be forever. But so, it would seem, is From Russia with Love.


Daniel Craig in Skyfall
No time to die: Daniel Craig in Skyfall



Live and Let DIY


Other bits you might need to build your own Bond


Villains

Bond: “Do you expect me to talk?” Goldfinger: “No Mr Bond, I expect you to die?” Whether it’s Goldfinger, Blofeld, Zorin, Dr No, Scaramanga, Le Chiffre, your standard issue Bond villain does love to talk. So much so you’d swear his dastardly secret weapon was his tongue.

Bond Girls

Pussy Galore, Honey Ryder, Xenia Onatopp, Plenty O’Toole, Holly Goodhead – they’re not so much names, more invitations. But the ones 007 gets serious about – Teresa di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg) in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) in Quantum of Solace – never make it to the end credits.

Henchmen

Oddjob, Jaws, Mr Kid and Mr Wint, Baron Samedi, Nick Nack and Rosa Klebb. Most henchmen are forgettable; a few are not. Either way they all end up dead. Fried, stabbed, crushed, dry-roasted, you name it, allowing 007 to make one of his appalling quips.

Martinis

Bond’s own Martini recipe, now called a Vesper, is three shots Gordon’s gin, one of vodka, half a shot of Kina Lillet, shake over ice, add lemon peel. Shaken, not stirred, of course. Unless it’s Casino Royale, when Daniel Craig’s 007 is asked how he wants his prepared and replies “Do I look like I give a damn.”

Q

Though a supporting character, Q, played for many years by Desmond Llewellyn, often got the best laughs in the film. His memorable “I think he’s attempting re-entry, sir” from Moonraker is a standout, but Llewellyn’s advantage was that the most banal line – “Now pay attention 007” – could come with an explosive payoff, literally.


© Steve Morrissey 2011, updated 2021




Update April 2021: This piece was first published in Aqua Vitae magazine, Dubai. Since then Daniel Craig has played James Bond twice more, in Skyfall (referred to as Bond 23 in this piece) and Spectre, both of which re-asserted the classic Bond formula, down to a return of a Blofeld type (Javier Bardem’s Silva) and Miss Moneypenny (Naomie Harris). And very good they both were too. Blofeld himself (now played by Christoph Waltz) resurfaced in Spectre. Who knows where No Time to Die will take us, later in 2021?

Until then, there’s this very smart collection of ALL the Bond movies (apart from Never Say Never Again, which is not an “official” Bond movie) – Connery to Craig by way of Lazenby, Moore, Dalton and Brosnan – all the way from Dr No to Spectre.


You can buy it here at Amazon

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