Movie Review: “Spectre”

Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Naomi Harris, Ben Whishaw, Dave Bautista
Sam Mendes

“Spectre” is like a brand-new greatest hits album from that band that your parents loved. Only the hits have been re-recorded… with a new lead singer. It’s new in that it was recently created, but everything about it feels old and outdated, the legacy brand struggling for relevance in a world that has passed it by. The worst part is that they have no one but themselves to blame. The Broccoli family, who have owned the rights to Ian Fleming’s stories since time immemorial, has always been risk-averse when it came to messing with the James Bond formula, and they largely got away with it because they were the only spy thriller in town. With the debut of the spectacular “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” they’re lucky to lay claim to being the fourth best spy franchise in operation, even lagging behind the currently-dormant Jason Bourne.

James Bond (Daniel Craig) is in Mexico City to investigate a posthumous tip from his former boss M (Judi Dench), and in the process prevents a massive terrorist attack. Even better, he steals a ring from his target, one with a curious insignia engraved on its side that ultimately opens several doors in terms of useful intel. Unfortunately, Bond also made worldwide news with his stunt, and the new, living M (Ralph Fiennes) suspends him. Bond, of course, continues following the trail, which leads to seducing the wife of the man he killed in Mexico, and using the information he acquires from her to crash a top-secret meeting of international bad guys, who plan to manipulate governments via terrorist attack to join together for the purpose of sharing intelligence, ultimately putting the bad guys in complete control of all information.

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James Bond and the Specter of SPECTRE


James Bond #24 officially hits U.S. theaters this Friday and old-school Bond fans are chomping at the bit. For starters, the end of 2012’s “Skyfall” essentially brought the old band back together. It reunited everyone’s favorite oversexed, functionally alcoholic spy/professional assassin with a new M (Ralph Fiennes, stepping into Bernard Lee and Judy Dench’s shoes), a younger Moneypenny (Naomie Harris, stepping into the very big pumps of the great Lois Maxwell), and a vastly younger Q (in reality, super-youthful 35-year-old Ben Whishaw, taking the part that once belonged to Desmond Llewelyn, who was pretty much born craggy).

All that’s missing is just the right super-nemesis, but never fear: “Spectre” will be our first chance to see the reassembled team in action against its most famous opponent, a stateless organization bent on world domination for profit and for the sheer fun of being really, really evil.

The Face of Evil

But what will today’s SPECTRE be like? The original Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion and it’s leader, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, was alluded to in the first Bond movie, “Dr. No” (1962), and haunted the series for years afterward. Even so, at first, Blofeld was just a disembodied voice and a hand stroking an unusually compliant white cat. It wasn’t until 1967’s “You Only Live Twice” that we finally saw the face of the man behind the international organization dedicated to world domination at any cost.

That face changed considerably as he was played three times by three very different actors, beginning with the diminutive, creepy and bald Donald Pleasance as the original Dr. Evil. He would morph into the much more testosterone-driven Telly Savalas (later TV’s “Kojak”) in 1969’s “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” and would then grow a full head of hair to be played by the imposing Charles Gray in 1971’s “Diamonds are Forever.” As much as this might be an artifact of the lack of concern with continuity that was standard before the comic book geek takeover of Hollywood, it actually lines up somewhat with the Blofeld of Ian Fleming’s original novels, who lost and gained large amounts of weight and underwent major plastic surgery to elude detection.

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James Bond: The Spectre of a Boozehound


007 is many things – a near superhero, seemingly unafraid of death or anything else; a relentless womanizer, though occasionally heartbroken; and, of course, an inveterate boozer. One part connoisseur, one part super-functional alcoholic, there was a time when he appeared to never let the opportunity pass to show off his knowledge of all types of fermented beverages.

As of this writing, just a week before the worldwide release of the 24th canonical James Bond film on November 6, we don’t know for sure what JB will be imbibing in his newest adventure, although reports of an olive brine-infused dirty martini made with Belvedere Vodka have been circulating. We can tell you that, while a couple of true loves have come and gone through James Bond’s world over six decades of novels and films, his deep and intense relationship with booze is likely to remain eternal. What follows is a brief education on Mr. Bond and his deeply committed relationship with demon alcohol.

Shaken, not stirred

Ask any cocktail snob and they will tell you that, generally speaking, cocktails that do not feature fruit juices should be stirred, not shaken. Shaking is said to harm the taste of gin and “cloud” drinks  of all types with ice crystals, making them a tad less pretty. James Bond’s creator, Ian Fleming – a snob of the highest order but not exactly a cocktail snob in the modern sense – simply detested stirred drinks and wanted them all shaken, all the time. So, when Bond ordered a martini, it was always shaken and never stirred. Personally, we think he’s wrong about gin martinis but right about vodka martinis.

The 21st century Bond derided the shaken/stirred controversy in the funniest line in 2006’s“Casino Royale” (“Do I look like I give a damn?” said a thoroughly stressed out 007 to a clueless barman.) He does, however, look on admiringly watching a shaken martini being made in 2012’s “Skyfall.”

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007 One by One: ‘You Only Live Twice’

Bullz-Eye is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first James Bond film with look back at every Bond movie, 007 One by One, along with a series of features about the Bond franchise, all laid out in our James Bond Fan Hub.

As the worldwide spy craze peaks, the James Bond series settles in for the long, tongue-in-cheek haul with this often maligned but very enjoyable entry, introducing the world to both ninjas and the original Dr. Evil. It also might have been the final appearance of Sean Connery as 007, except that it wasn’t.

“You Only Live Twice” (1967)

The Plot

A United States space capsule is hijacked, killing one astronaut. Naturally, the Americans assume the Soviets are at fault and world war seems a real possibility. There’s only one thing for the level-headed English to do: Stage James Bond’s death and send him on an undercover mission to Japan to expose SPECTRE head Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s plot to dominate the world by partially destroying it.

The Backstory

With enormous success comes enormous pressures and change was very definitely in the air as “You Only Live Twice” began production. Now one of the world’s most bankable stars after the mega-success of “Thunderball,” Sean Connery was contractually on board for only one more film and starting to be seriously fed up with all the 007 insanity.

Behind the camera, original Bond director Terrence Young had had his fill and “Goldfinger” helmer Guy Hamilton was unavailable. Editor and second unit director Peter Hunt, who had been instrumental in the series’ creative success, badly wanted to helm the project, but producers Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman apparently weren’t ready for a first timer for Bond #5. Therefore, a new recruit was sought out to join the small fraternity of James Bond directors.

An old hand at period pieces and war films, Lewis Gilbert was hot off an Oscar nomination for a classic-to-be about a compulsive womanizer who could give Bond a run for his money. “Alfie” starred Connery’s good friend, fellow movie spy, and now award-winning box office rival, Michael Caine.

Lewis Gilbert also brought along one of the very few directors of photography who could have reasonably stepped into the very big shoes of series regular Ted Moore. Freddie Young had won the first of his four Oscars a couple of years prior for David Lean’s visually stunning 1963 70mm masterpiece, “Lawrence of Arabia.” For the sake of keeping things consistent, all the other key collaborators, were back on board in their regular roles, i.e., composer John Barry, credit designer Maurice Binder, and production designer Ken Adam. For once, they’d all have a nice budget to play with, too.

The script, however, was an issue. The novel “You Only Live Twice,” was the last Bond book published in Ian Fleming’s lifetime and the story was problematic for more than one reason. For starters, it was actually the third and final installment in what literary Bond fans call “the Blofeld Trilogy.” EON’s original intent had been to film the books in their original order. That way Blofeld, who had been teased as a character starting in “Dr. No,” would get his long-delayed onscreen introduction in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” and finally suffer James Bond’s revenge in the follow-up, “You Only Live Twice.” Unfortunately, logistics made the ski chalet setting of “Majesty” impractical for the summer release EON and United Artists had their hearts set on.

The other problem was that the plot of Ian Fleming’s novel, which involved Blofeld setting up a lavish sanitarium for wealthy suicides, just didn’t seem to be the stuff of a James Bond movie. It also ended with Bond fathering a child with Kissy Suzuki. Only a few elements from the book would remain in the finished movie, most notably the Japanese setting, love interest Kissy, and friendly spy boss Tiger Tanaka.

There was also a problem with finding a writer. Richard Maibum, who had worked on every Bond up to this point, was deemed unavailable. A rumored screenplay by renowned author Kingsley Amis had been reportedly dismissed. Another script was commissioned by writer Harold Jack Bloom, but little of his work would remain in the finished film.

The final choice of screenwriter turned out to be an interesting one. Decades after his death, Roald Dahl remains one of the world’s most popular children’s writers with such film-friendly classics as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “The Witches,” “Matilda,” and “James and the Giant Peach” all too his credit. He might have seemed a far likelier choice for writing an adaptation of Ian Fleming’s children’s book, “Chitty Chitty Bang-Bang,” the gig that was apparently keeping Richard Maibum busy. Nevertheless, Dahl had written his share of adult thrillers and had actually performed wartime espionage and been friends with Fleming. Scads of 007-inspired spy spoofs were upping the humor ante and this would be a somewhat more tongue-in-cheek Bond. Dahl’s dark sense of humor would be a plus.

The main thrust of the film’s new plot was apparently invented by Cubby Broccoli, however. Upon seeing a dormant volcano while scouting locations, he came up with the idea of using it as a giant villain’s lair. With the U.S.-Soviet space race at full swing, the Russian-Chinese split a topical news item, and terrorism on the rise, the idea of SPECTRE hijacking spacecrafts in order to start a world war on behalf of Red Chinese clients seemed like a natural.

The Bond Girls (Rule of 3 + 1)

Once again, 007 does the espionage nasty with three beautiful women on his Japan adventure. Shockingly, however, the movie’s main love interest is not one of them.

Ling (Tsai Chow) — This lovely lady of Hong Kong engages in mildly racist pillow talk with Bond and then reveals herself to be an accomplice in the spy’s elaborately faked death. Though her part is small, actress Tsai Chow was already a recording artists and a major star of the London stage in “South Pacific” and “The World of Suzie Wong.” Her very long film career would include parts in “The Joy Luck Club,” “Memoirs of a Geisha,” and the 2006 Bond reboot, “Casino Royale.”

Helga Brandt (Karen Dor) — The latest Bond villainess with preying mantis-like tendencies, the dangerous Ms. Brandt is the secretary/in-house assassin of the wealthy SPECTRE operative, Mr. Osato. She has her way with Bond, then fails at killing him. It’s only natural that she winds up a victim of SPECTRE’s signature approach to personnel management, which in her case means being fed to the CEO’s pet piranhas. Actress Karen Dor has enjoyed a very long career in German films and television that continues to this day. She also appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s unsuccessful spy thriller, “Topaz,” and the modestly titled horror flick, “The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism.”

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007 One by One – Thunderball

Critics and filmmakers may prefer “From Russia With Love” and “Goldfinger,” and many complain about those long underwater sequences but, to a lot of fans, Bond #4 remains the ultimate in spy action, intrigue, gadgets, and girls, girls, girls. It also remains the all-time box office record holder of all the Bonds. It’s also only the second, and so far final, Bond film to ever win an Oscar — for special effects of course.

“Thunderball” (1965)

The Plot

Unperturbed by the 007-related deaths of Dr. No, Red Grant, Rosa Klebb, and countless other operatives, the amalgamated baddies of SPECTRE return with their most diabolical plot yet. The plan this time is nuclear blackmail, as SPECTRE Operative # 2 takes possession of two hydrogen bombs and informs England and the U.S. that they’ll either part with £100 million or kiss one or two of their favorite cities goodbye. Without any viable strategy other than complete capitulation, the only respectable option for the free world seems to be sending Bond to kill, copulate, and skin-dive his way to victory over nuclear terrorism.

The Backstory

With the series chugging along at the rate of roughly one movie a year and a worldwide spy craze underway, an observer might well have expected that the James Bond phenomenon had peaked with the blockbuster success of “Goldfinger.” Then again, a lot of people in 1965 were also figuring that those flash in the pan teen idols, the Beatles, had peaked with “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”

The EON Production team led by producers Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman knew that their hot streak was still very much in play. They cannily chose to triple-down with a budget roughly three times higher than the already relatively high ($3 million!) “Goldfinger” budget and all-out marketing and cross-promotional blitz. As luck and skill would have it, the most eagerly anticipated Bond film would ultimately top the box-office success of “Goldfinger” by $20 million with a worldwide take of $141.2 million — not quite enough cash to satisfy a Bond villain, but getting there.

The amazing part is that the film was ever made at all, as the project had been plagued by legal difficulties for years. “Thunderball” began life as a screenplay that James Bond creator Ian Fleming developed with, among others, screenwriter Jack Whittingham and producer Kevin McClory. Fleming eventually tired of the complexities of getting a Bond movie on the screen and abandoned the project. He nevertheless used a great deal of the abortive script’s story in his 1961 novel of “Thunderball.”

Things got complicated when producers Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman entered the mix. Broccoli and Saltman’s EON team originally initially saw “Thunderball” as the best kick-off for the Bond series, even if its action would have to be scaled back considerably to fit their budget. A lawsuit brought by Kevin McClory nixed the idea, even though writer Richard Maibum had already completed a screenplay.

The suit was eventually settled out of court by an ailing Ian Fleming. With Fleming having passed on and an obvious cash cow of enormous magnitude before him, victorious rights holder McClory agreed to an EON-produced film of “Thunderball” on certain conditions, including that he be the sole credited producer.

With McClory on board, it was time to reassemble the Bond team. Though flush with success, “Goldfinger” director Guy Hamilton pleaded exhaustion. In his stead, original Bond director Terrence Young was induced to return for one final outing, while such key personnel as editor Peter Hunt, director of photography Ted Moore, production designer Ken Adam, stunt man/action choreographer Bob Simmons, and composer John Barry all happily returned. As per the writing MO on the early Bond films, the work of American screenwriter Richard Maibum was given a more English make-over by a Brit, TV scribe John Hopkins. To handle the considerable challenge of filming underwater, EON turned to nature film specialists Ivan Tors Productions, who had achieved great success filming aquatic material for television with their hit shows,”Sea Hunt” and “Flipper.”

As for the stars, while the pressures of true superstardom were starting to weigh on Sean Connery, he was still on board and not yet ready to kill the golden but increasingly painful goose that was Bondage. For his leading lady, EON passed on three actresses soon to become superstars — Raquel Welch, Julie Christie, and Faye Dunaway — before settling on their final choice. More about that below.

The Bond Girls (Rule of 3 + 2)

Bond keeps up his sexual batting average with his usual three trips to home plate in “Thunderball.” Oddly enough, while more than maintaining his rascally ways when it comes to women, he manages what appear to be purely professional relations with two of the film’s five “Bond girls.”

Madame LaPorte (Mitsuoaka): The part was uncredited, and we never find out much about the French operative who assists Bond’s revenge mission against Jacques Bouvar in the opening sequence. Even so, the subtly exotic Madame LaPorte definitely lends an air of intrigue to the opening adventure. The French-Eurasian actress, Mitsuoaka, born Maryse Guy, was a former stripper who seems to have spent a lot of the sixties riding the spy wave around Europe, having already appeared in such early sixties capers as “License to Kill” and “Agente 077 Missione Bloody Mary.” She passed on in 1995.

Paula Caplan (Martine Beswick): Bond’s gorgeous “island girl” assistant appears to be an entirely competent MI6 operative. Even though we’ve barely seen them even flirt, Bond is clearly upset when she meets an unpleasant but honorable end under the custody of SPECTRE — though not so upset that he can’t handily boff an attractive enemy operative. Very much a cult star in her own right, this marks either the second or third and final Bond-girl appearance for actress Martine Beswick. She had also played one of the feisty-but-affectionate Gypsy women in “From Russia with Love” and might have appeared as one the dancing silhouetttes in the “Dr. No” credit sequence.

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