Tagged: Skyfall

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 They became set in stone and the Bond films became fossilized and outdated even as they were made.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: Music To Write Comics By

I love movie and television soundtracks. I’ll often use a given soundtrack while I work, letting it fuel my writing. I can’t listen to music with lyrics in them; that interferes with my process. I’ll get themes, characters, even scenes or whole plots from the music. Soundtrack music is in service of the story that the film is trying to tell; it’s a part of the narrative, heightening the emotion that’s being invoked.

I have my own particular favorites. The composers usually have a large body of work but certain key works resonate within me – Jerry Goldsmith’s Chinatown and Patton, James Horner with Field of Dreams, Shaun Davey’s Waking Ned Devine, Elmer Bernstein’s To Kill A Mockingbird (has there ever been a more beautiful and evocative theme?) and, of course, The Magnificent Seven.

I’ve also been very fond of Alan Silvestri’s score to Forrest Gump but that one is hard for me to listen to anymore. It was also one of the favorites of my late wife, Kim Yale. We had it playing in the background on the morning that she died; in fact – as the last notes of the last track played, Kim gave out her last breath. The music will always be with me but I can’t physically listen to it very much.

What I find amazing is how many great composers in movies and television have the last name of Newman. It’s a fascinating family; the musical DNA runs strong through these people. Alfred Newman (1901-1970) was the scion of the family and has won more Oscars for soundtracks than any other composer. He worked on The Grapes of Wrath, Ball of Fire (I love this film!), Twelve O’Clock High, The Grapes of Wrath and How The West Was Won among many, many others.

He composed the theme for 20th Century Fox which is still in use today. You’ve heard it at the start of every Star Wars movie (although, alas, you won’t hear it in any future episodes since the franchise is now owned by Disney). He was the general music director at Fox for decades starting in 1940 and when he left, he was replaced by his younger brother, Lionel Newman.

In his younger days, Lionel was the accompanist for Mae West on the vaudeville circuit (which must have been an interesting job). He composed the music for the John Wayne film, North to Alaska (one of my fave Wayne films as I was growing up) as well as a passel of TV shows like The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. He was also the music director for TV shows such as The Time Tunnel, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, and Batman.

Alfred Newman sired other soundtrack composers, notably David Newman and Thomas Newman. You may know David from his work on the Disney animated version of Tarzan. He was also the composer on Serenity, the feature film follow-up to the TV series Firefly, a particular favorite in our house. It’s a really lovely piece of work. He also did the music for Galaxy Quest, that wonderful homage/send-up to Star Trek.

Thomas Newman is a prolific and talented composer and one of my absolute faves of the modern breed. His work is stunning, be it on the James Bond film Skyfall or Pixar movies such as Wall-E and Finding Nemo. He scored the films based on two Steven King works, The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption. He did the theme for the TV series, Six Feet Under, one of my favorite TV themes of all time. It’s quirky use of percussion sets the tone for the series itself.

One of the most played soundtrack CDs in my collection is the music Thomas Newman wrote for Road to Perdition. As he often does, Newman makes great use of minor chords, suggesting melancholy and loss. I have a strong streak of melancholy myself, always have, and it just responds to this music. Heart breaking and breath taking.

Last, and certainly not least, we have Alfred’s nephew, the astounding Randy Newman. Randy is a pop singer and composer par excellence; you must know his songs like “Short People,” “It’s Lonely At the Top,” and “I Love L.A.” among so many others. One of my fave pop writers/composers of all time.

Given his pedigree, it must have been inevitable that he would also take up soundtrack composing. You must have heard his work on The Natural, all the Toy Story movies, Seabiscuit and Monsters Inc (for which he finally won an Oscar after 15 nominations). If memory serves, his first words of his acceptance speech as he gazed out at the audience was, “Don’t you pity me.” He is a man of great wit, a dry humor, exquisite musical sensibilities, and a great sense of narrative. As you may guess, I am a fan.

There are some composers whose soundtrack albums I would buy without even seeing the movies. The Newman clan rank high on that list. They have, as an aggregate, just too much damn talent. It’s unfair to others, I know, but they make me happy.


REVIEW: Skyfall

Skyfall DVDSkyfall, now out on home video from MGM, is a sheer delight, holding my attention for the entire 2:23 running time, long for a Bond film but it felt just right. The four year financially-mandated layoff between the so-so Quantum of Solace and Skyfall is barely noticeable but the passage of time is an unspoken theme for the new entry.

Daniel Craig, not at all what Ian Fleming had in mind for 007, made the character his own through sheer force of will. When he helped reboot the series with Casino Royale, my biggest complaint was that he was too old to be an MI6 agent at the beginning of his career. With Quantum a direct sequel, we were still seemingly early in Bond’s career but I bought into it.

Now, suddenly, the third film deals with Bond being ready to be retired. We’ve clearly leaped ahead in this incarnation’s timeline, having totally gained M’s confidence to the point where she risks her career and reputation on him when England needs him most. But this is a wounded Bond, one who has been beaten down, who escaped death and seemed to have walked away from his responsibilities, swapping his Walther for a bottle and obscurity. Of course, when M and his fellow agents are threatened in the most heinous of terrorist acts, he has to come back.

We’ve seen Mi6 agents go rogue before, most recently when 007 exposed the perfidy of 009 in one of the Pierce Brosnan entries. But, this is the first time we’ve seen a truly frightening threat make it so personal. Javier Bardem steals the film with his turn as Raoul Silva, an agent M seemingly abandoned when she was the Hong Kong station chief back in the 1980s. His torture left him physically and mentally broken and now he is back to exact the most painful revenge possible.

After he makes M watch MI6 HQ blowup, Bond is back and unleashed after Silva but, being a wily opponent, it’s all part of a master plan. Not only will he beat M, he will make her suffer by breaking her current favorite, Bond. And here is my only quibble with the generally excellent script from Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan (this almost makes me forgive him for Nemesis). Silva’s plan is so intricate that it is entirely reliant on split-second timing and not once does he miss a beat, making him too perfect. When our hero needs that same timing for success, it is sometimes hit, sometimes missed but Silva never seems to miss a beat, straining credulity.

Skyfall-0071-300x180After two films to restage the early days, this film nicely allows itself to be a formulaic Bond adventure starting with a breathtaking (and plausible) motorcycle chase across the rooftops of Turkey. The film opens with two musical notes that immediately suck you into the Bond experience and they hint at the Monty Norman theme until it’s time for Bond to be Bond, James Bond. The audience applauded at the sight of the Astin Martin and the film’s best line may be M’s, “Go ahead and eject me. See if I care.” The movie comes complete with a visually fun title sequence, owing plenty of Maurice Binder’s work, and ends with the traditional status quo re-established, but freshened for the future. We have Q (Ben Wishlaw), Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), and a new M (Ralph Fiennes). Then we get Craig in the gun’s sight, the blood and the Norman theme in full throttle. Bond is back and we’re promised will return.

It’s a thrilling adventure that critics say owes too much to the Bourne films but really, it’s the other way around. The Bond films have been setting the bar higher and higher through the years, challenging others to match or exceed the standard for adventure films. Thankfully, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, caretakers of the franchise, are now willing to work with a variety of screenwriters and directors to keep things fresh. I had no idea Sam Mendes had a flair for action and he was most impressive so it was inspired of a drunken Craig to offer the job to him and then tell the producers what he had done. They get credit for not dismissing the notion.  And with that, I get the sense that the franchise is in good hands and with Craig aboard for one or two more, the second half-century seems to be promising.

xavier-skyfall-readThe transfer to Blu-ray is sharp, with great color and sound. Cinematographer Roger Deakins’ work is nothing short of spectacular and the digital photography is well captured here for repeat viewings. The sound equally matches the visuals, well mixed and lush.

The armload of extras begins with Commentary with Director Sam Mendes where the director takes us through the scenes and discusses them in-depth. It’s interesting to hear how the actors helped shape his thinking and shooting so we can follow the evolution from concept to final shot. We’re reminded that Star Trek Nemesis director Stuart Baird is a terrific film editor as seen here. There’s additional Commentary with Producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson and Production Designer Dennis Gassner but they fawn too much and you learn too little.

Shooting Bond (59:24) can be seen in chapters or as a complete documentary and you can watch the film get made from every major aspect save Baird’s editing. The cats contributes to this so it’s fairly comprehensive and entertaining.

Skyfall Premiere (4:28) offers up snippets from the world premiere at the Royal Albert Hall, featuring interviews with Mendes, Craig, Harris, Bardem, and Fiennes. You also get the

Theatrical Trailer, Soundtrack Promotional Spot, and fifteen minutes of trailers for other films.


Volunteers to Assemble Skyfall Care Packages Next Week

Some Thoughts on SkyfallMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment are partnering with Operation Gratitude to launch the care package initiative “Operation Skyfall” in honor of the February 12 Blu-ray and DVD release of 007’s latest adventure.

Beginning at 10:00 a.m. Feb. 12 at the Army National Guard armory in Van Nuys, California, volunteers including military families, war veterans, fans and more will be on hand to assemble up to 7,000 Skyfall branded care packages to be sent to active duty soldiers overseas. The packages will include personal care items such as body wash, deodorant, shaving cream and other toiletries and will feature a DVD copy of the explosive 23rd installment of the James Bond franchise, Skyfall.

Skyfall is the most popular Bond film ever made and an action-packed film like this can really boost morale with our troops overseas,” said Operation Gratitude founder Carolyn Blashek. “Operation Gratitude has been supporting our servicemen and women for 10 years and this partnership was a great opportunity to provide some much needed entertainment along with toiletries and personal letters that our Military heroes greatly enjoy.”

Bond fans in Southern California are encouraged to come out and support “Operation Skyfall” by helping assemble the packages the morning of February 12 in Van Nuys. For more information on how to volunteer please OpGratVolunteer1@yahoo.com.

Fans can also send donations in the name of “Operation Skyfall” directly to Operation Gratitude by visiting www.OperationGratitude.com.

In Skyfall Bond’s loyalty to M (Judi Dench) is tested as her past returns to haunt her. With MI6 now compromised from both inside and out, M is left with one ally she can trust: Bond. 007 takes to the shadows – aided only by field agent, Eve (Naomie Harris) – following a trail to the mysterious Silva (Javier Bardem), whose lethal and hidden motives have yet to reveal themselves.

Superhero Movies and their Sad Perfect Badass Messiahs

Superhero Movie

Entertainment Weekly, of all places, presents one of the most thoughtful essays on superhero films and how– similar they’re all becoming, and even worse, how many other movies are aping them to great financial success and overall boredom.

Superhero Movies have evolved to the point where three of the genre’s standard-bearers can embody radically different filmmaking styles – this is a good thing, right? Well, maybe. But the problem is, when you dig underneath the three films’ respective stylistic excesses – and they are excesses; few genres in film history are more fundamentally decadent than the Superhero Film, with the ever-expanding budgets and the swooping digital-effects-crane-shots and the ruined cityscapes and the supervillains planning to conquer/pillage/destroy every city/world/galaxy in sight – there is a depressing sameness to lurking within each movie’s basic DNA.

via The Superhero Delusion: How Superhero Movies created the Sad Perfect Badass Messiah, and what that says about America | PopWatch | EW.com.

John Ostrander’s Favorite Things – 2012

This is the time of year when all manner of people and media post their best/worst selections of the year. The main purpose is to elicit outrage or agreement or bewilderment regarding the selections. Anyone can play. So I guess I will with these caveats. I’m not saying that what follows is the best of any the categories. It’s simply what I most enjoyed. Some books, TV shows, music, movies I simply didn’t experience (e.g. Argo and The Hobbit) or didn’t enjoy as much as those listed (i.e. the latest Dresden book, The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-Man). I’m only touching on what was new in 2012 – not those things I’ve enjoyed from other years and enjoyed again in 2012.

Caveats away. Let’s get down to it.

Doctor Who: The mid-season finale didn’t please me as much as I hoped. The departure of long time companions Amy and Rory had me scratching my head. However, the Christmas Special – The Snowmen – made up for it, introducing an intriguing new companion for the time and space faring Doctor and a tantalizing mystery. Steven Moffat – show runner and head writer – remains in fine form.

Justified: Big tough ass series based on an Elmore Leonard character. This season was even better than the one last season, which is saying a lot. Star performances made the season starting with Timothy Olyphant as Marshall Raylan Givens, along with Walter Goggins, Nick Searcy, Neal McDonough as a truly scary bad guy from Detroit, and Mykelti Williamson as an equally scary local bad guy. It’s violent, sexual, badass, and Raylan Givens is so damn cool he should be illegal.

Fringe: It’s now on its final episodes and taking a whole different tack from the previous seasons. I’m hoping it all ties up and makes sense by the end but this was created by J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci who also did Lost and the ending of that got a little bit away from them. Still, John Noble’s Walter Bishop is a delight to watch and is reason enough to tune in.

The Daily Show/The Colbert Report: This got me through the freakin’ election. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are both geniuses. Stewart does the faux news show and Colbert does a faux conservative commentator ala Bill O’Reilly. Colbert’s may be the more brilliant show but I have to admit that Jon Stewart makes me laugh more. However, Colbert did perhaps the last interview that famed children’s book writer Maurice Sendak ever gave and its hysterical and touching. Both shows are must-see TV for me.

Suits: I would not have bet you that a series set in a high powered law firm with people I don’t especially like would keep me riveted, but this one sure does. Gabriel Macht, Patrick J. Adams and Rick Hoffman are superb but for me the best characters are two women – Gina Torres (who you might recognize from Firefly) as the really tough head of the firm and especially Sarah Rafferty as Macht’s tart tongued, all knowing secretary who steals the show. Morally complex, suspenseful, and witty.

Kate Bush: 50 Words For Snow: I’ve been a big Kate Bush fan for a long time and it becomes an event when she brings out a new CD. Kate Bush is one of the most influential female singer/songwriters in the music business. This is one of her best CDs in recent years and the duet she sings with Elton John, Snowed In At Wheeler Street, is haunting. I play it over and over again. It’s influencing a concept that I’m working on. I love this CD.

The Avengers: The most perfect cinema realization of the Marvel comics ethos. Joss Whedon (director and writer) rules. This made umpty gazillion dollars and you’ve probably seen it. One of the best moments: Hulk vs. Loki. ‘Nuff said.

Lincoln: I’ve talked about this in one of my other columns. Daniel Day-Lewis gives one of the great movie performances of all time but he’s not the only one. Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones. Hal Holbrick, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who has had a very good year), James Spader and so many others make the film an acting delight.

Skyfall: James Bond’s 50th Anniversary in films and this one is a knockout. Bond is not simply an icon in this film; he’s a character with a deeper story. We see a seedy Bond, we see a Bond off his game, we see an aging Bond who may be outdated in the modern espionage world and knows it. This is right up there with my other two all-time favorite Bond movies, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger and it may be my favorite of the three. A key to the film’s success was hiring noted director Sam Mendes who delivered not only the action set pieces we expect from a Bond film but visual style, pacing, and performances. Daniel Craig gives his best outing yet as Bond, Javier Bardem’s Silva is one of the scariest all time Bond villains and Judy Dench – ah, Judy Dench. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I’m talking about and, if you haven’t, I won’t ruin it for you. It’s not just a good Bond film; Skyfall is a really good film – period.

The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection: One of the pleasures of series books is coming back and seeing characters that you’ve come to regard as friends in a setting, a world, that has become real to you. Alexander McCall Smith has done that for me with his No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books, a detective series set in Botswana, Africa, and starring his woman detective, Precious Ramotswe. This series is a long ways from a hardboiled noir detective. The stories are gentle and filled with characters I love. The challenge with series books is to give the reader everything they remember and want in the series while also covering new ground. It’s a tough trick to pull off; the books could become stale. This series progresses slightly with each book and stays fresh. I look forward to my next trip back to Botswana.

Favorite Person In the Whole Wide World: My Mary. Who else? Love you, cutie pie.

I’ll be back next year. Happy New Year to you all.

NEW YEAR’S EVE: Mindy Newell




Here I present Part 2 of my rankings of all the Eon-produced James Bond films.  Last time we ranked and examined 23-14.  This time we count down from number 13 to number 4.  Next time we’ll do the top 3.

On with the rankings:

13. Skyfall

O-ver Ra-ted!  I do not understand all the love for this movie.  Sure, it looked great and had some nice action—but so did “Quantum of Solace” and a bunch of the others listed beneath it here.  The plot had gaping holes, the villain succeeds at every single thing he wants to accomplish, the last reel of the film is actually dull, and the time frame for the character is impossible to pin down.  (He’s early in his career!  No, wait!  He’s the aged, grizzled spy, nearly washed up!  No—wait! Etc.)  It gets bogged down in the zillion nods to previous films and everything that happens in the first three-fourths seems clumsily contrived to set up the situation the producers desired at the end.  Not a favorite by any means.
12. Diamonds are Forever

It hasn’t aged well at all, it rehashes previously-used storylines, and parts of it don’t make a lick of sense after repeated viewings.  Even so, while not greater than the sum of its parts, it does contain some fantastic parts.  In particular you have to love the two assassins and the sublime Charles Gray as Blofeld.  And above all we get Connery back for one last go-round in the Eon series.  Dumb but fun.
11. For Your Eyes Only

The other particularly watchable Roger Moore Bond film (besides “Live and Let Die.”)  The bit with him romancing the teen-aged skater is a bit creepy, as he’s starting to show his age by this time.  But the more straight-ahead spy story is a welcome relief after the last few entries.  And the crossbow-wielding leading lady is terrific.
10. Dr. No

Crude—nobody associated with the production had quite found their footing yet—and it looks like it was filmed on a budget of about seventeen dollars.  But it’s undeniably fun, and the DNA for the entire rest of the series is on display here, though it hadn’t quite gelled yet. 
9. Tomorrow Never Dies

I have a soft spot in my heart for this one because it was the second in Pierce Brosnan’s run, and he’s my favorite Bond of all; and because it features the great Michelle Yeoh as a Chinese agent to rival Bond himself.  I would pay good money to watch a movie series or read a book series featuring Yeoh’s solo adventures—or Tiger Tanaka’s.  It’s also fun that the villain is a sort of Ted Turner/Rupert Murdoch mashup.
8. Live and Let Die

The first and best of the Roger Moore run.  The voodoo stuff is genuinely frightening—certainly it was to this kid back in the Seventies!—and the iconic moments like the jazzy Bourbon Street funeral and the rotating bar booth remain pleasant memories.  And Moore was still young enough to seem plausible in the role.
7. Thunderball

The Connery films were starting to seem a bit similar at this point, but the underwater stuff was new at the time and the villain was about as fun as any before him—though setting him on a ship and giving him an eyepatch might have been a bit much.
6. Casino Royale

Daniel Craig exploded onto the screen as one of the best Bonds of all, in one of the absolute best movies.  Parts were confusing to me at first; a lot happens in this movie.  Ultimately, though, it’s dark and intense and so much fun.
5. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

George Lazenby is underrated, in my view, while the film itself is somewhat overrated by Bond aficionados, in my view.  The whole bit in the allergy clinic in the middle gets a little sillier with repeated viewings, rivaling the worst of Moore’s excesses later on.  But it’s a really good spy story and there’s no denying the power of the ending.
4. Goldeneye

My favorite Bond actor in his best Bond film.  I love nearly everything about this movie.  We’d waited so long for Brosnan to play the part.  When it came out,  it represented a (you’ll pardon the expression) quantum leap forward in the sheer “epic-ness” of the series, back to what they’d been able to achieve (for far less money) in Connery’s heyday.  It sports a supporting cast, including Alan Cummings and Sean Bean, as good as any film in the series.
So there you have my numbers 13-4.  Next time we’ll look at the three best James Bond films of all, in my estimation.
Be sure to visit www.whiterocketbooks.com to listen to our James Bond podcast episode (or find it on iTunes) and also to check out the many great books we have available.  See you next time!

Martha Thomases: Where Are Our New Nerds?

In last Monday’s New York Times Media Watch columns, they ran a list of the ten films released this year that had the highest box office ion their opening weekends. What’s amazing to me is that the top five (Marvel’s The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, Hunger Games, Amazing Spider-Man and Twilight: Breaking Dawn: Part 2) can all be classified in the fantasy genre, or, as I like to call it, nerd stuff.

Of the next five (Skyfall, Brave, Ted, Madagascar 3 and Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax), three are aimed primarily at children, and one is a James Bond film, which has its own separate but overlapping geek audience. Only Ted could be considered a movie aimed at what was once the wide, mainstream audience, and even then, because it is an R-rated comedy, that limits the wideness.

When did our beloved nerd culture become so dominant? I was certainly the only girl in my high school (which was all girls) who read superhero comics, and if anyone else read science fiction or fantasy, they were in the closet about it.

Even in the 1980s, when Frank Miller and Alan Moore and Art Spiegelman were publishing work that attracted mainstream media attention, there wasn’t much spillover to the medium of graphic storytelling.

When I first went to work for DC, the most common reaction I encountered when people learned what I did was, “Do they still publish those?”

For that matter, even today, the success of the movies listed above doesn’t do much for comics. There’s a history of tie-in films boosting the sale of books (for example, Gone With the Wind), but that doesn’t always overlap to your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, or comic book store.

Still, I don’t think fans like us can claim to be outsiders anymore. We might not be the cool kids, but we aren’t unwanted loners, either. What are today’s nerds about?

Is it Steampunk? Is it libertarian politics? Are there still obscure rock bands to follow, or has everything been American Idol’d to a bland pap. What distinguishes the kids getting beat up and/or ostracized today?

Besides being queer, I mean.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman and This Week’s New DC


Dennis O’Neil: Movies, Comics, and Heroes

Okay, first another bow toward my friend and colleague, John Ostrander. No sense in reviewing Skyfall, the new James Bond flick, since, in his November 18th column, John already wrote virtually everything I might have written about the entertainment. Let us agree: best Bond ever, for the reasons John cited.

It’s been a banner year for this kind of show, hasn’t it? We had two of the best superheroes – no, let’s not be mealy mouthed, Marvel’s Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises were, though quite different, the best superhero movies yet. (You want to disagree? Fine. This is only my opinion and, doggone it, I’ve misplaced my cloak of infallibility. Wonder if I could borrow the pope’s…) I think there’s been, among media types, a discernible learning curve. They have learned how to do this kind of material really well. Not that all such material is really good, but now there is the possibility of it being as good as anything out there. And, maybe more important, there has arisen the consensus that it ought to be good; no need to phone it in just because it’s that comic book stuff.

Reasons? Hey, do I look like a savant? Let’s just make one guess and hurry on.  The guess: for the past couple of decades, many (if not most?) of the bright, creative kids have been comics readers. The form is familiar to them and they’re friendly to it. “Of course the movies can be good,” they might say. “Why wouldn’t they be good?”

The first Hollywood guys who tried adapting comics to the screen were on unfamiliar turf; to the current guys it’s home territory.

That was the guess, plus addenda. Now, the moving on, in the form of a confession: When I was a drifting, quasi-beatnik/peacenik, still on the south side of the dreaded 30, Bond was a Guilty Pleasure. A peacenik buddy (who was not as quasi as I was) and I saw the movies, first run, and enjoyed the action and adventure and romance and pretty females – all the Bondian delights – but! There was what I thought was an unhealthy glorification of consumerism – no, whoever has the most toys when he dies doesn’t always wins – and this aspect is, blessedly, almost absent from Skyfall. The other guilt-inducer was a bit thornier: wasn’t James Bond a fascist?

Sure, the word “fascist” has been tossed around and in the process lost some precision, but it usually involves unquestioning obedience to some authority figure, presumably for the common good. (Has any leader ever claimed to act for the common bad?) Strongly implicit in this conduct is that the authority figure gets to decide what the good is. So enter Bond: His friendly neighborhood authority figure, M, tells him to go commit bloody mayhem and he does. No questioning of right or wrong–just do the mayhem, often merrily. Recent history has demonstrated the inadvisability of blind obedience to the boss.

Again, we can pretty much find Skyfall innocent. The authoritarianism is muted, and neither Bond nor M seem to be happy about the mayhem. And they both seem fallible.

Maybe this kind of analysis is bringing too much baggage to what is, after all, just show-biz. But I’m glad I did it 50 years ago, and I don’t think it’s unhealthy to do it now.

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases


John Ostrander: The Bond Evolution

James Bond, as a movie franchise, has been around for fifty years and the franchise celebrates in magnificent fashion with the latest installment, Skyfall. For me, it’s definitely the best thus far of the Daniel Craig Bond movies and it may be my choice for the best of all the Bond movies. I know that “best” is, as often as not, a personal, subjective opinion rather than an objective choice. People can cite certain criteria as the basis of their opinions but who determines the criteria? For example, there are those who regard and will always regard Sean Connery as the best Bond and anything else is heresy.

Let’s look at Skyfall in context of the past fifty years of Bond films. On my list of the best Bond films are From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, and Daniel Craig’s first outing as Bond, Casino Royale. As much as I really enjoyed the latter, Skyfall is superior.

To start off, we have an A list director in Academy Award winner Sam Mendes (for whom Craig played in Road to Perdition, made from Max Allan Collins’s graphic novel). Together with cinematographer Roger Deakin, there are some stunning visuals in the film. This is the best-looking Bond movie ever.

The action set pieces, including the opening, are breathtaking, as are the opening credits by Daniel Kleinman, who also did several other Bond films including Casino Royale. The visuals in the opening credits actually play into the story and what has just happened onscreen with a hallucinatory effect.

A Bond film also heavily depends on its villain and with Javier Bardem’s Silva we have one of the greats. You can detect a touch of Heath Ledger’s Joker in him but not blazingly so. He smiles, he laughs, he’s brilliant, he’s predatory and he lusts for Bond’s body. Bardem knows how to both underplay the character and take him over the top. Considering that the character doesn’t even appear for the first hour or so into the film, the impact is indelible.

A Bond story doesn’t always have to make sense; it often provides the framework for the derring-do and the action but this one actually digs a bit into both the character of Bond and of his boss, M, played by the stunning Judi Dench. She is so tough and no nonsense that she could have been a white, British Amanda Waller. The most important relationship in the film is between M and Bond and ultimately it’s very touching, very human. The story doesn’t just keep everything very status quo; the situation and the characters are challenged and there is change.

The movie lets Bond fail early on, lets him get seedy, lets him fall off the mark in his skills so that he has to work to reclaim them. It addresses the question of whether or not Bond and M are dinosaurs, are they truly needed in this age of computer wizardry. (Yes, they are.) It also addresses the fact that Craig, and Bond, are getting older. In the Roger Moore era, it was glossed over as they gave Moore turtlenecks to hide his wattle. Here, Bond looks older, more worn, and it is suggested to him that he has lost a step or two and maybe its time for him to retire.

The movie pays service to the Bond films of the past without being strictly tied to its continuity. It doesn’t reboot the franchise so much as evolves it. During much of the Moore era, the franchise just got silly and even later incarnations didn’t change things much. Then the Bourne movies came out and the status quo changed. Bond had to change as well and that started with Casino Royale but has found its culmination here. At the same time, the Bond franchise doesn’t shy away from its past; there is a suggestion that between the last film, Quantum of Solace, and now many of the previous Bond adventures may have taken place, specifically Goldfinger. It redefines Bond and his world so that they work for today.

Skyfall digs deeper, attempts more, looks better, and challenges both the characters and us, more so than any other Bond film. Yes, I’m including From Russia With Love and Goldfinger. That’s why I’m saying it is the best Bond film ever. And don’t we want it that way? The best is not the past; it’s now and, hopefully, in the future. When people ask me what is the best story I’ve written, I always say, “The next one.” I hope to go to my grave thinking that. Gives us something to work for and to look forward to. Me? I can’t wait. Bring on the next Bond!

MONDAY: Mindy Newell