Tagged: James Bond

Meet the New Writers of James Bond 007 – Vita Ayala and Danny Lore

Vita Ayala and Danny Lore are writing the new “James Bond 007” comic, and if some people were ticked at a black woman taking over 007 before…

There’s been a whole lot of noise about Lashana Lynch, most recently seen as Maria Rambeau in Captain Marvel, being given the 007 number in the film currently known only as Bond 25. A black woman as 007?

We suspect there’s going to be even more noise over this. Bleeding Cool reports:

Vita Ayala and Danny Lore are the new writers for Dynamite Entertainment’s comic book series, James Bond 007, with art from Eric Gapstur . The new James Bond 007 #1 comic book will be published in October with covers from Jimmy Cheung.

Originally at www.bleedingcool.com

We here at ComicMix are big fans of Vita and Danny, and look forward to reading it in three months… unless, of course, they slip us an early look…

John Ostrander: The Bourne Formula

Spoiler note: Various plot elements of the Bourne movies may be revealed below. The movies have been out for a while so I’m assuming those who want to see them have seen them. Nevertheless, the spoiler flag is flying just in case.

There are a number of movies that, when I come across them on the tube, I’ll stop and watch them. I tell myself that it will be just until a certain scene or bit of dialogue but the fact is I usually wind up watching them through to the final credits. When this happens late at night, I can wind up staying awake for far too long and suffer for it the next day.

The Bourne series of movies fall into this category. They include The Bourne Identity/Supremacy/Ultimatum and Jason Bourne but not The Bourne Legacy which, despite its name, has no Jason Bourne in it and appears to be ignored by the series filmmakers so I do, too.)

The reason I’m doing this retro review is to look at how something that starts fresh can drift into formula.

The films center on an assassin working for a clandestine special ops CIA agency. Born David Webb, he has become Jason Bourne – among other identities. Trained to be a living weapon, Bourne (wounded on one failed assignment) has become amnesiac. Over the course of the films, he starts to recover that memory.

The series starts with 2002s The Bourne Identity, loosely (some say too loosely) based on Robert Ludlum’s novel of the same name. It was a refreshing take on the spy/action genre, which previously had been defined by the James Bond films. The action was more realistic as were the characters and the situation. There was a car chase but it involved what I think was a Mini. The villain in the movie was not a huge over-the-top megalomaniac but the very agency that employed Bourne. The female lead was not a striking Bond girl but a Bohemian woman named Marie. The film ends with Bourne and Marie putting a new life together for themselves and the agency that hunted them has been closed down.

The film was a big success and re-defined the genre; the Bond films were re-cast in the Bourne mode – tougher, grittier, more realistic. They had needed to change and Bourne showed the way.

The Bourne Supremacy (2004) continued the trend. There’s a successor to the black ops agency in the first film but there’s a traitor inside who frames Bourne for a failed mission. In attempting to take him out, Bourne’s love Marie is killed. This is startling; Marie was a major character in the first film and her death has a major effect on Bourne, giving him a motivation that continues through the series. Still, the Big Bad is again the Agency or, at least, elements of it. We’re seeing a pattern developing.

The third film in the series, 2004’s The Bourne Supremacy, once again has Bourne and the Agency at odds. This time, the film winds up bringing Bourne back home to the U.S., specifically New York City. He learns the truth about his origin and there are touches throughout that bring us back to the first film suggesting this is the final installment in a trilogy.

And it was, for 12 years.

In 2012, the studio tried to capitalize on its franchise with the Bourne-less The Bourne Legacy. It also tried to make Bourne more of a superhero. That didn’t work all the way around.

Last year saw Jason Bourne (with returning star Matt Damon) hit the theaters. Once again, a woman who is close to Jason is killed and once again the central villain is the Agency (or someone at the Agency). And the formula is starting to become obvious.

Every film has a car chase, each becoming more spectacular than the last. The first one was relatively modest and interesting. After that, any time Jason takes the wheel insurance rates are going up and there will be considerable collateral damage. In all the cars being upended or hit, I just imagine people being hurt and dying. I’m no longer impressed.

There will be a big hand to hand fight between Jason and… somebody. Somebody trained enough to give Jason a good fight but the outcome is never in doubt, It will be very violent and no music plays during it.

In every film, Jason says some variation on “This ends here.” Except it never does. If the studio has its way, it never will. So why even say it?

The antagonist is always the Agency or someone at the Agency. Always. Jason might as well be fighting Spectre and Blofeld.

In two out of the four films, a woman close to Bourne is killed. The first time it was effective if startling and had real impact and consequences. It’s starting to look like a trope.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve enjoyed each Bourne movie I’ve seen and I wouldn’t mind seeing another. But what started out as fresh and different is becoming old and formulaic. That’s hard to avoid when you’re working on a series. How do you keep from repeating yourself especially when part of the attraction for the fans is that repetition of fave motifs and lines?

It can be done. The next Bourne should avoid the Agency or maybe have Bourne work with the Agency, Different settings, different stakes. As it stands now, they’re not doing sequels; they’re doing remakes.

The Bourne Repetition.

Ed Catto: Live and Let Love the One You’re With

Last week, the front page of The New York Times mourned the death of Roger Moore. Shockingly, they ran a photo from Live and Let Die showing the actor, as James Bond, in bed with Jane Seymour, right there on the front page.

How fitting. But there’s a catch. While I’m a big James Bond fan, amongst 007 fans, Sean Connery is always revered at the “real” face of Bond. I get that. And if fact, when I read James Bond prose adventures I generally conjure up Connery’s face and voice as I visualize the scenes.

On the other hand… there was a 70s sentiment that admonished us all to love the one we’re with. And growing up, Roger Moore was the Bond I was with.

I clearly remember the day when my parents were debating the merits of taking my brother, Colin, and me to see a movie. Now, my family reads a lot, so it was natural my parents read the James Bond novels. And Mom and Da, like much of America, had enjoyed the Sean Connery movies. So they knew the deal about James Bond movies. But my mom also read, and loved, Charlotte’s Web. The animated version was playing locally. But also in the local theaters was Roger Moore’s first outing as James Bond in Live and Let Die.

We were little boys at this time. My mom suggested that we all have a sweet, charming night out and enjoy the Charlotte’s Web movie. My dad, usually an easy going guy, roared, “I’m not going to take these boys to see some movie about a pig!” We went to see Roger Moore in Live and Let Die and our lives were changed forever.

Do you remember how this one starts out? Instead of being summoned into M’s stuffy office, there’s an urgent need for Britain’s top agent. It’s so urgent that the head of the British Secret Service and his secretary, unable to reach James Bond, travel to Bond’s apartment to fetch him for the mission.

And I do recall there’s also some exposition about Italy’s diplomats being upset because one of their top agents is missing, or “off the grid” as we’d say today, after completing her last secret mission.

Well… in a scene that would make any modern HR manager cringe, M, the head of the Secret Service, and Miss Moneypenny, his secretary, arrive and knock on the door of Bond’s flat.

There’s a quick scene where a groggy James Bond, played by Roger Moore for the first time, checks his watch. But it was a digital watch, and those were bleeding edge cool at the time. My brother and I were had never seen one before and were captivated by it. And then we realized that the missing Italian agent was naked in James Bond’s bed! Wow! My brother and I had never seen that before and were even more captivated by that!

I think this introduction, doubtlessly duplicated by millions of boys across the world, helped a generation embrace Roger Moore as their James Bond.
Sean Connery was great – but wasn’t he the guy who complains about the Beatles? Kind of like my grandfather?

No, Roger Moore was our guy.

A Dashing Rogue in a Pre-Bond Phase

The Saint, often called the Modern Robin Hood of Crime, was a globe-trotting adventurer created by Leslie Charteris. The character appeared in way too many books and short stories. Although largely ignored today, the Saint enjoyed very healthy cross-media exposure in radio, comics, serials, movies and television. To many, the first actor to portray the Saint on television, Roger Moore is regarded as the best. Moore brought a dashing sense of unflappable whimsy to the role, romancing beautiful women in gorgeous cities around the globe, while inevitably being drawn into some mystery or crime by a dastardly foe.

I discovered Roger Moore as the Saint after I discovered Moore as 007, although he played the character before becoming James Bond. It all seemed like a Junior Varsity warm-up to the James Bond series.  It was all there – the car, the bravado, the globetrotting, the casual affairs. But, there was no ignoring it was Bond-Lite compared the cinematic James Bond,

I lived in upstate New York, and watched one of the New York City stations, WNEW, that used to run episodes of The Saint after their “Late Movie.” The problem was that the movies were all of different lengths, so The Saint would start at different times each night. There was a stretch where I’d scour TV Guide to discover the precise time that the Saint started, and set my alarm so I could sneak downstairs at 2:20 am or 3:05 am to watch an episode. It was important to never miss the beginning of an episode.

The theme song had that Rat Pack coolness to it, and each week Roger Moore would break the fourth wall right before it played. In the show’s teaser, before the theme song, the Saint would be in Rome or Madrid or some other exotic locale and another character would recognize him. “Wait, aren’t you Simon Templar… the Saint? ” they’d always ask. Then Roger Moore would sheepishly smile and look upwards, at the animated halo (he was the “saint”, get it?) above his head. This bit never got old and to his credit, Moore made it work for six seasons and 118 episodes.

As the story goes, one reason Roger Moore kept doing The Saint series was because he was saddled with overbearing alimony payments following an acrimonious divorce. I can only imagine.

Persuaded by the Riviera

But then the crew of The Saint magically transformed everything into another show called The Persuaders! This was bromance adventure of two wealthy rivals who became chums and started gallivanting across Europe. Roger Moore played a British aristocrat named Lord Brett Sinclair and his counterpart was a Brooklyn-American, charmingly overacted by Tony Curtis.

One can’t help but wonder if there might have been some financial or personal incentives to filming this series on locations across Europe. In The Persuaders!, viewers were taught that if you were clever or rich enough, all of Europe was just one big cocktail hour and there were more than enough beautiful women waiting to be charmed off their feet. Nice work if you can get it, eh?

Although The Persuaders! was shown during primetime on ABC in America in the early 70s, I discovered the show much later in syndication. While I certainly didn’t romance beautiful women as frequently as Lord Brett Sinclair did, I think the easy-breezy attitude of confidence and mischief was good to learn, at least in moderation.

Years later, after one of my business partners Joe Ahearn and I assumed ownership of the character Captain Action, we created a female counterpart. It was partially in as a result of exhibiting at comic shows, and partially a desire to create “James Bond’s daughter.”  Of course, we couldn’t make our character actually be James Bond’s little girl. Instead, we named her Nikki Sinclair and alluded to the fact that her father was an English Lord. So in essence, since Roger Moore played a similar character in The Persuaders!, we kind of found a way around making her James Bond’s daughter.

Oh sure, we saw Roger Moore as a mercenary in The Wild Geese (a kind of pre-Rambo Dirty Dozen movie) and we suffered though him as Sherlock Holmes (somehow it just didn’t feel right). He was also Beau Maverick, cousin to Bret and Bart and father of Ben, and starred in The Alaskans (the rumors were that he fell in love with his beautiful co-star). He could be a lot of things, but even Roger Moore couldn’t be everyone.

Roger Moore always seems cool and composed when not on camera. He was dapper and in fact took pride at developing his character’s wardrobe in The Persuaders! Gee, that was all so much fun – thanks for showing us how it was all done, Roger!

Mike Gold: Yep. It’s A Bird! Deal With It!

Yesterday, Frank Coniff, a.k.a. TV’s Frank, revealed a little-known event: the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema folks who are having those women-only screenings of Wonder Woman that’s upsetting the snowflake boys so much, also held another such event. They did a screening of Baywatch – but just for those people who wanted to actually see Baywatch. I don’t think it did very well.

Nor did the snowflake boys. They are really pissed about these women-only screenings of Wonder Woman. They say it’s discrimination. They say it’s sexist. They say that if there were men-only screenings of, say, the next James Bond movie those very same women would be picketing the theater. Yeah, that high-heeled shoe sure is uncomfortable on the other foot, isn’t it?

Well, they’re right. It is discrimination. How does it feel, snowflakes? As a man who these gerbils respect and some worship said before many of them were born… Get a life!

To give lip service to sympathy, these guys have had a rough couple of years. They had to deal with the fact that the new heroic lead in the Star Wars series is a woman. In Doctor Strange, the Ancient One was morphed into a woman, and a white woman at that. The new Star Trek teevee series, if it actually ever gets on the air, stars two women in the leading roles. One is black, the other is Asian, for those of you who are still pissed that Idris Elba played the part of Heimdall in the Thor movies.

You know why this act of discrimination doesn’t bother me? Well, men have been routinely excluding women for several millennia. Private clubs, public bars, juries, the polls, combat… you know, we guys can live with a couple of women-only screenings of Wonder Woman. It ain’t gonna hurt nobody, and, quite frankly, if it brings more women into the world of superhero movies, that inures to the benefit of Geek Culture overall. More, better movies for everybody.

Hollywood has been saying women do not go to heroic fantasy movies, and they point to the box office failures of such films as Catwoman, Elektra and Supergirl. Personally, I think the fact that all of those movies really sucked had something to do with the revenue deficit. I’m looking to Wonder Woman to change that. Talk about your superhero feats.

I think these screenings sound like a lot of fun. If not for the snowflakes pissing in the fountain and my own political sensibilities, I’d be jealous. I wish the snowflakes were jealous as well. That’s far more adult than their current behavior.

Damn near the entire ComicMix staff already has their tickets for Wonder Woman, with the arguable exception of Glenn Hauman, who is in Ireland right now teaching falcons how to write code. Did I mention our staff is more than 50% women? Seriously. How many of the snowflakes wanted to read Emily’s piece about Wonder Woman fashions yesterday? Only those with girlfriends. Both of them. Buh-dump-bump.

Some snowflakes say they are going to boycott Wonder Woman. They’re too late. If they wanted to do some good, they should have boycotted Batman v. Superman. But for those few who do give Wonder Woman a pass, hey, there’s always seating available for Baywatch.

Mike Gold: The Great Superhero Movie Backlash

Mike Gold: The Great Superhero Movie Backlash

Over the millennia, I’ve written enough reviews to denude the Shoshone National Forest. My fellow commentators here at ComicMix have as well, and some of my best friends have been critics. So, as you read the following rant, please keep in mind I am not referring to those people… but I am referring to damn near every other critic practicing their arcane craft these days. From reading their recent criticism, I have come to the following conclusion.

Most critics seem to be sick to death of superhero movies and teevee shows. Even many of those who are enthusiasts of the superhero genre.

It’s not hard to understand this. Even if you have seen 90% of all the superhero movies and teevee shows released in the past decade and enjoyed most of them, there’s an important difference: you made the choice to see them. For critics, it’s their job. They are more-or-less forced to watch these productions, usually in exchange for a paltry paycheck. I am sympathetic to their plight, although I do not believe anybody is writing criticism to fulfill their court-mandated obligation to community service.

If this was a reaction to Batman v Superman or the Fantastic Four movies or Amazing Spider-Man 2, I’d be more understanding. Now that the embargo has been lifted, I’ve read the “advance” reviews of Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 and, while it did garner some very good notices, it is clear to me that a rather large gaggle of such critics really went far out of their way to put some hate into their criticism. The comment most typical to these writers is some variation of “Well, yeah, it’s fun and entertaining and the performances are solid, but it’s too much like the first one.”

By this, I gather they mean that Star-Lord, Rocket (he will always be Rocket Raccoon to me), Drax, Nebula and Groot are in this movie as well. Well, they are the Guardians of the Galaxy, so they’re in the movie. That’s the deal. National Periodical Publications once made a Superman movie without Jimmy Olsen and Perry White; that was as wrong as it was cheap. Critics who feel Guardians 2 was overcrowded with already-seen characters are missing the point… and went to extremes to damn it with faint praise.

If you think Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 sucks, fine. You’re the critic; tell us why. But if you think a movie is “fun and entertaining and the performances are solid,” then don’t hold your dissatisfaction with the quantity of superhero movies against any one movie. It is obvious that professional critics have minimal impact on box office – at best – and by putting a movie you found to be enjoyable in a negative context, you are doing absolutely nothing to reduce your forthcoming superhero movie burden.

Besides, I doubt anybody ever told John Wayne there were too many westerns. Well, maybe John Ford, but I certainly doubt anybody ever told John Ford there were too many westerns.

Are superhero movies a fad? I don’t think so. We’ve always had a lot of them, but the passage of time has painted them with a nostalgic afterglow. Zorro, Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Flash Gordon, James Bond and their ilk have been in the theaters for over a century, and the industry is still making movies about these same guys.

Each movie should be evaluated on its own merits. If it’s a remake of a great movie, okay – the bar is higher as the filmmakers must justify why they’re remaking a great movie. But the argument should be about quality and not quantity. When it comes to sequels, let us remember that there have been quite a number that many critics define as superior to the original. Godfather II and From Russia With Love come to mind. Rotten Tomatoes gave Spider-Man 2 (the one that was good and not Amazing) four points over its well-received predecessor.

There’s a more direct way to say all this.

Before sitting down to watch a movie, pull that stick out of your ass. And don’t get wrapped up in the capes.

Spectre Stalks Home VIdeo with February 9 Release

Spectre bluray coverLOS ANGELES, CA (January 5, 2016) –The 24th James Bond adventure SPECTRE, from Albert R. Broccoli’s EON Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, and Sony Pictures Entertainment, will be available to own on Digital HD™ January 22, and  on Blu-ray™ & DVD February 9 it was announced today by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.

Taking in more than $850 million (USD) worldwide, SPECTRE dominated the worldwide box-office making it one of the most successful Bond movies ever, shattering records in nearly every market it was released, led by a historic performance in the UK.  The latest installment from one of the longest-running film franchises in history gives fans never-before shared insight into the complexities that made James Bond the man he is today.

In SPECTRE, a cryptic message from the past sends James Bond (Daniel Craig) on a rogue mission to Mexico City and eventually Rome, where he meets Lucia Sciarra (Monica Bellucci), the beautiful and forbidden widow of an infamous criminal. Bond infiltrates a secret meeting and uncovers the existence of the sinister organisation known as SPECTRE.

Meanwhile back in London, Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), the new head of the Centre for National Security, questions Bond’s actions and challenges the relevance of MI6, led by M (Ralph Fiennes). Bond covertly enlists Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) to help him seek out Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), the daughter of his old nemesis Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), who may hold the clue to untangling the web of SPECTRE. As the daughter of an assassin, she understands Bond in a way most others cannot.

As Bond ventures towards the heart of SPECTRE, he learns of a chilling connection between himself and the enemy he seeks, played by Christoph Waltz.

Sam Mendes returns to direct SPECTRE, with Daniel Craig reprising his role as 007 for the fourth time. The film is produced by Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli.  The screenplay is by John Logan and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth, with a story by John Logan and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade.

With the Blu-ray, go behind-the-scenes of Bond’s latest mission with in-depth special features. Watch how the jaw-dropping opening scene was created in Mexico City.

Blu-ray™ Special Features:

  • SPECTRE: Bond’s Biggest Opening Sequence
  • Video Blogs
    • Director – Sam Mendes
    • Supercars
    • Introducing Léa Seydoux and Monica Bellucci
    • Action
    • Music
    • Guinness World Record
  • Gallery

DVD Special Features

  • Video Blogs
    • Director – Sam Mendes
    • Supercars
    • Day of the Dead Festival
    • Introducing Léa Seydoux and Monica Bellucci
    • Action
    • Music
    • Guinness World Record

Ed Catto’s Year End Favorites

1 Ed Catto Column Year End Books

There’s a lot going on in Geek Culture right now. I’m just amazed how shows like Supergirl, The Flash and Jessica Jones have engaged faithful fans and created new fans simultaneously. I’m surprised to be reading about Santa Con and noting the similarities to the explosive Cosplay growth at every comic convention this past year. And I’m encouraged by the all the great Geek Culture books, comics, merchandise and collectibles out there – and ecstatic that it’s so creative and fun.

So this week, let’s take a pause and look at a few of these treasures. This isn’t meant to be a Holiday Buying Guide – but if you get a little cash from your Aunt Agnes this yuletide season, you might want to zip down to your local comic shop or bookstore and check these out.

2 Wally Wood Artisan IDWWally Wood’s EC Stories Comics Artisan Edition, Edited by Scott Dunbier

Scott Dunbier is so much more than just an editor at IDW. He’s a passionate fan who’s committed to creating product the way he’d love to see them –and not afraid to blaze a few trails along the way. In recent years, his “Artist’s Editions” have created a new category, replicating the look and feel of holding the actual, oversize comic pages upon which artists typically pencil and ink their illustrations.

Scott has created books that are reproduced from the actual original artwork pages, so in addition to every ink line and stray pencil mark, you can also see the corrections, whiteouts, touch ups and scrawled notes in the margins. It’s an astounding experience for fiction lovers and art lovers.

HomeStay_Page01-Jpglo-650x957And in the “he’s done it again” category, Scott and IDW have created the Artisan Edition. This format is similar, but it presents the pages reduced to a size we’re all more accustomed to seeing the final printed product at; the typical book/magazine size. For an artist like the great Wally Wood, who packed every panel with brilliant and thoughtful detail, this is a feast for your eyes.  If artwork had calories, you’d go over your daily allotment reading just one story illustrated by Wally Wood.

The other rule that was “broken” here is that this Artisan Edition presents several different stories, and covers, from a bunch of different EC comics. This provides the reader with a fantastic assortment of artwork and adventures from this influential artist, clearly one of the greats of the industry.

Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz

3 Trigger Mortis 007Most of the folks reading this column probably saw the latest James Bond adventure, Spectre, and probably enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun for long-time fans but had a fresh cutting edge vibe that kept it from being stale or stodgy.

That’s exactly what author Anthony Horowitz has done with the newest Bond thriller, Trigger Mortis. This spy novel is set in the past, right after the James Bond adventure with Goldfinger. And the good news is that Pussy Galore, the quintessential Bond Girl –is still hanging around at the novel’s start.

This novel weaves in some original Ian Fleming chapters. These were pages he had written for a proposed James Bond television show.  And the nice part about a James Bond novel is that the reader can cast his or her favorite Bond actor in the lead role. This one seems tailor made for Sean Connery, and in my mind’s eye it played out like a lost James Bond movie broadcast on the old ABC Sunday Night at the Movies.

One other note: Horowitz provides Bond with exposure to alternative lifestyles in this book, and presents Bond rising to the occasion. In the original novels, Bond sometimes exhibits a misogynistic or close-minded side, but that was refreshingly absent here. Bravo!

4 Pistol Whip DHThe Complete Pistol Whip by Matt Kindt and Jason Hall

I’m blessed with an abundance of generous people in my life. One of them is my cousin Yamu. Despite a childhood filled with non-stop reading and re-reading old 60’s Marvel Comics bequeathed to him, and his brother Peter, by their baby sitter, Yamu is always enjoying new and different comics. He still enjoys the capes-and-tights stuff, but he’s great at finding fresh new voices and then helps spread the word.

Yamu gifted me The Complete Pistol Whip and what a treat it’s been. Dark Horse publishes it, but Top Shelf published the original series. Kindt is currently gaining accolades with Mind Management, but this is where it all started. In fact, Pistol Whip was named as one of Time Magazines Top 10 Graphic Novels of 2001. (How’d I miss that?)

This is a lovely book that still seems fresh and innovative, despite being almost 15 years old.

5 Out And About Dad Jim JosephAnd much like the Wally Wood book with all the imperfections and corrections, this collection also lovingly provides the reader with many thoughtful, small extra touches. One of my favorites – they’ve printed a tear in the book as if several pages were ripped in the same place. They aren’t of course, but it adds to the astonishing attention to detail that makes this volume a reading experience.

Out and About Dad: My Journey as a Father with all its Twists, Turns, and a Few Twirls by Jim Joseph

This book isn’t a graphic novel, but it does have many of the hallmarks of heroic fiction. On one hand, it’s the story of a guy trying to do the right thing and working hard to be a good father. He faces his challenges with a great deal of courage and humility. And in the end, he ultimately triumphs. Jim usually writes insightful marketing books (his Experience Effect series are marketing “must reads”) but this very personal memoir is outstanding and I can’t recommend it enough.

* * *

And in the meantime, I hope you’re enjoying your Yuletide. You (probably) deserve it.



Box Office Democracy: Spectre

In Casino Royale, a bartender asks James Bond if he wants his martini shaken or stirred and Bond looks back at the man and responds, “Do I look like I give a damn?” and if your theater was anything like mine the crowd went nuts. It was a clear signal that we were discarding some of the older more tired aspects of the Bond franchise.

In Spectre, Bond orders a martini, adds that he would like it “shaken not stirred” and it was a deflating moment. It was a sign that for whatever reason the people responsible for making Bond movies are no longer interested in making something exciting or fresh (or even a transparent attempt at grabbing for Bourne fans) but to make the thing they’ve made so many times before. While Casino Royale felt like a look ahead in to the 21st century of action movies Spectre is a wistful glance back at the 1970s, and that’s not what I want out of a movie anymore. Spoilers ahead.

The thing that separates Spectre from the Bond movies at all is that the plot continues its trajectory away from sweeping supervillainy and more towards personal conflict. While the eponymous organization is surely evil as their board meeting of crime activity suggests the plan they hope to execute in this film is honestly rather mundane. Spectre wants to be the technical backbone for a multinational security surveillance treaty, essentially a slightly more evil version of the Trans Pacific Partnership, a bad thing certainly but it pales in comparison to irradiating all the gold in Fort Knox or holding the world hostage with stolen atomic bombs. Perhaps this is supposed to reflect the changing face of global fear in the modern world but once I’ve accepted all these other things it just feels like lower stakes.

Where the stakes are much higher are with Bond himself. This movie goes to incredible lengths to show that all of the personal problems, depicted on-screen or otherwise, that Bond has experienced have been the direct result of the machinations of Ernst Stavro Blofield, the man in charge of this massive criminal organization. The events of the previous three films were all leading to this and it’s probably best you don’t pick at that too much because it doesn’t make much sense at all. I see what they’re going for, that it would be nice for these movies to feel a bit more personal, but I’m quite sick of hearing about Vesper at this point and it makes the film feel more generic because every action film is going for this kind of thing, the climax of this film could easily have been a Lethal Weapon finale, it doesn’t feel particularly unique.

I might be asking too much from a Bond movie. Spectre provides so many of the things we expect from these movies. There are stunning locations, beautiful cars, exquisite tight-fitting clothing for both men and women, and a healthy dose of quips in dry British accents. That’s the franchise right there, that’s enough for the vast majority of the audience and if we accept that those are the bullet points Bond movies are supposed to hit this one does a great job: I would very much like to visit Morocco, drive a DB10, look as good as Daniel Craig and be as cool as a British secret agent. This is top-notch escapist power fantasy.

I don’t understand all of the casting choices in Spectre. Dave Bautista is asked to show none of the charm he displayed in Guardians of the Galaxy as he basically plays a brick wall for Bond to bounce off of in this film. I’m not even sure he has three lines if we’re not counting screams and grunts. Christoph Waltz is a brilliant performer as ever but he gets only the bare minimum of screen time for a Bond villain. He gets to reveal his evil plan, he gets to arrange an elaborate death trap, and he gets to participate in a chase. Waltz is in one scene in the first half of the movie and that creates anticipation but also makes the rest of the events feel less important. The worst casting was Andrew Scott as the head of British intelligence. You can’t cast someone most famous for playing a scheming villain, cast him as the smarmy new authority figure and then expect to get a meaningful third act beat out of his inevitable betrayal.

Perhaps I was just wrong about what this run of Bond movies was supposed to do. It seems that they don’t want to move in a new direction for the franchise, instead it looks like they wanted to create the illusion of a brave new direction while they went and rebooted everything even further back. We have a stuffy older man as M again (sorry Ralph Fiennes), we have Moneypenny back again, we have Q delivering tricked out Aston Martins, and we have villains in elaborate remote bases with their fluffy cats and their slow avoidable death traps. Pierce Brosnan could have been in this movie; hell, with a filter or two this could have been Timothy Dalton, and that’s disappointing. This could be a modern action franchise but instead it seems willing to go back to trading in nostalgia and clichés.

John Ostrander: Bond… My Favorite Bond

James Bond

I am reluctant to name anything “the best” because that appellation is usually very subjective. It’s easier to name something as “my favorite” because… how can you argue that? You may say that I have no taste but my favorite something is my favorite.

James Bond has existed in the movies for over fifty years and as a character in books even longer. A large number of actors have played the part onscreen and all of them (yes, even Roger Moore) have had good films. Some turkeys in there, too.

For many people, James Bond is Sean Connery. I can fully understand that – he was the first to depict 007 onscreen and many of the traits he introduced became defining tropes. I would argue, however, that some of the excesses that crept into the franchise also started during the Connery years. The over the top villains, the elaborate sets by Ken Adams, the women as sex objects and so on. They became set in stone and the Bond films became fossilized and outdated even as they were made.

When Daniel Craig became the new Bond in 2006, the entire series was revamped. The whole approach to Bond changed. The franchise was very much influenced by the Jason Bourne movies. Bond was more realistic and so were his opponents. Skyfall stripped Bond down; at one point, he is out of shape, seedy looking, and not in command of himself or the situations he finds himself in. He’s aging and the film admits that; Bond has to work to become the Bond he was once again, if he can.

So – what is my favorite Bond, both actor and movie? Again, no disrespect meant to the other Bonds but my favorite actors playing the character are Daniel Craig and Sean Connery. Correspondingly, my favorite Bond movies are Skyfall, From Russia With Love, and Goldfinger. If I had to choose between Connery and Craig which actor is my favorite? Which of the three Bond movies is my Number One?

It’s so hard to compare. While certain tropes remain the same, there are so many differences that it’s as if there are two different characters named James Bond. Sean Connery’s Bond is very much a man of his time – late 50s to mid 60s – while Daniel Craig’s Bond is very much of today. In From Russia With Love, Bond is perhaps closest to the Ian Fleming novels’ version of the character. That’s not always a good thing; the books, in addition to being highly chauvinistic, could be terribly racist. It can make you cringe.

Goldfinger, without a doubt, is the most entertaining of the three films but, for me, Skyfall is better written and has the best director in Sam Mendes (an Academy Award winner for American Beauty). It’s full of grace notes and visual flourishes, such as the scenes in Shanghai. Some shots are just stunningly beautiful.

To be honest, while I love Goldfinger, for me the choice for the best Bond film comes down to From Russia With Love and Skyfall. The Bonds depicted, though, are so different! In the end, I give the edge to Skyfall as the best Bond film. It suits my sensibilities. And, yes, for me the best 007 is Daniel Craig. Heresy to some, I know, but there it is. That’s also a very tight race.

The favoritism of Craig’s Bond may increase with the release of the newest Bond film, Spectre, in November. The current series has dug deeper into who the character is and this promises to further that exploration. After fifty years, they’re still finding something new to do with James Bond.

I can’t wait.


John Ostrander’s Writing Class: Our Characters, Our Selves

I’ve had a chance recently to catch some, not all, of Showtime’s series, Penny Dreadful, and I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit. It takes the same concept of Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (combine genre characters from the Victorian Age into a single story) and uses it with mostly horror and supernatural characters and elements, again in Victorian London.

The “real” penny dreadfuls were the pulp fiction of their day, precursors to the pulp magazines and also comics. The TV series was created by John Logan (who, among other things, wrote Skyfall and will be writing the next two James Bond films as well) and is the co-executive producer along with James Bond director Sam Mendes (he also directed The Road to Perdition).

There are also other Bond connections, including Timothy Dalton as the African explorer Sir Malcolm Murray, who is the father of Mina Murray, who just happens to be a character in the novel Dracula. Eva Green, who was the “Bond Girl” Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale, plays Vanessa Ives, a medium and possibly a witch. Among interest to we pop culture geeks would also be Doctor Who’s companion Billie Piper as a prostitute with a possibly very dark future.

The show also features Victor Frankenstein and his creature(s) as well as Dorian Gray and a werewolf. To say more would spoil the story for those who have not yet experienced it. The show is well acted, well directed, well written and with first class production values. First class altogether as well as being suspenseful, creepy, and shocking.

What I like most about the show is the complexity of the characters. No one is wholly admirable nor wholly despicable. One of my favorite characters is Frankenstein’s Creature, who sometimes goes by the name Caliban; he is tragic and sympathetic and dangerous all at the same time. You learn things about all the characters and you’re not sure you should root for them – but you do.

All of which really leads up to the true topic of this week’s column – creating complex characters. It is both easy and difficult. It falls back to one of my cardinal rules – we write what we know, especially about people and life as we have experienced them.

What defines a given character is what they want and what they are willing to do to get what they want. By want, I mean really want – not just sorta kinda want. What do they need, what do they desire, what do they lust for, what must they have? Something primal. The more intense the want (the motivation), the better it will drive the story. The reader must not only know what the character wants, they have to feel it. They must feel the desire behind it.

What prevents the character from getting what they want (at least initially) is what makes the story. That’s the conflict. How the character copes with that conflict reveals what their true character is. Same as in life. If the need were easy to satisfy, the story would be quickly over.

Sometimes the conflict is with a person (the antagonist), sometimes an object (a mountain), sometimes a situation (a hurricane, for example). Think of your own life. What is most likely to keep you from getting what you want? As often as not, the answer is you yourself. You have doubts or fears but what is most likely to get in your way is a competing need. You want A but you want B as well and they are mutually exclusive. However, your inner child wants both. That conflict has to be resolved for the story to reach its climax. What we choose, what the character chooses, tell us and tells the reader who the character truly is.

Character exists within opposites. Never try to explain them away. Make the reader feel both desires and identify with both. State them, dramatize them, play with them before you resolve them.

Keep in mind that there may be more than two conflicting wants; in life, we may have dozens. Not all of them have to be resolved; only the main ones. Also keep in mind that it is not only your protagonist that has these conflicting needs; all your characters should. It should be true in your stories because it is true in life; it’s never simple, it’s never easy, it’s never neat and that is what makes it fascinating. Conflict is not just external; it’s internal. Apply what you know to the characters you write.

That’s the job.