From Russia with Love (1963)


James Bond is sent to Istanbul to meet up with a Russian agent who plans to defect with a very important encryption device. The whole thing sounds like a trap, which it is. The super evil organisation SPECTRE plans to play the Americans and the Russians against each other, while at the same time getting even with the man who killed Dr. No. (that would be Bond, in the first film). Of course Bond flirts with Moneypenny, the secretary, he nails every broad with a pulse, including Russian spy Tatiana Romanova, and he's killed in the very first scene (but don't worry, it's a stand-in).


Well, howdy do, it's our old friends from SPECTRE again. Robert Shaw plays the mostly silent, blond assassin who's got the hots for Bond, some old lady plays some old lady known as No. 3 in the organisation, and a faceless man plays No. 1, leader of SPECTRE. We'll meet him again in an upcoming film.


So the Bond we know and love is starting to take shape. Most notably the familiar style of "an opening teaser scene, followed by a credit sequence with hot ladies, before we get into the real story" is established. In this credit sequence the barely readable names of the cast and crew are projected on top of a dancing scantily clad woman. Guess what part of her body the Double-Os are projected on. This film also marks the first appearance of Q, Bond's gadget guy, so that's something. What cool device does he have for Bond this time around, you ask? A briefcase.

While From Russia with Love is more Bondesque than the previous film in terms of its style, the story is actually worse. Bond doesn't even appear until 17 minutes into the film, and as if to underline my complaint that he's basically incompetent, he remains blissfully unaware of his primary opponent for the first 80 minutes! Plus, the film just drags. You know you're in trouble when Bond's instructions are "wait for a few days, then go home". This'll be riot! The really bad example of this is the unbelievably long gypsy party sequence, where the film spends an awful lot of time setting up a fight between two girls, only to drop everything the moment the bullets start flying.

Once again Bond is nearly killed a few times and outsmarted a few more. At one point his local contact even has to remind him that he should probably keep his eye on the ball rather than chasing tail. I mean, this guy actually has to remind a professional spy of his priorities! Come on!

There's no getting around the fact that Bond's greatest claim to fame in these early films remain the connection to modern spoof movies. Connoisseurs of that genre will be reduced to tears, when a single scene contains all the following references: A bad guy with dangerous fish (as in Naked Gun), a creepy old lady as right-hand woman (as in Austin Powers), and the bad guy stroking a cat (as in Cannonball Run II). An equally funny moment occurs when Bond's contact reveals how he spies on his Russian counterpart: He's somehow managed to install a full size submarine periscope below the room where all the secret meetings are held. Seems odd no one would notice a GIANT PERISCOPE emerging from the floor every time they hold a meeting in their super-secret lair!

Adding to the lackluster feeling of the whole thing is the final showdown with Robert Shaw's blond assassin. It takes place in a very small train compartment. They talk for an hour, there's a brief fistfight, and that's all she wrote.

Oh, and the film ends with one of those now-familiar punchlines. After fighting with an old lady with a knife in her shoe (and almost getting killed again) Bond looks at her dead body and quips: "She's had her kicks!" ....'Cause she was trying to kick him, you see.... With the shoe.... Which had the knife thing.... So yeah.... Good times. Anyway, "James Bond will return in Goldfinger" the end credits inform us. Can't wait.

No, I'm not being ironic.


Dr. No (1962)


Secret Agent James Bond, designated 007, is sent to Jamaica to investigate the killing of another agent. Bond makes his first appearance and gets his familiar gun. He flirts with Moneypenny, the secretary, and he nails every broad with a pulse, including simple-minded, sea-shell collecting, island girl Honey Ryder. Bond is almost killed by a spider, and there's a secret island with some nasty nuclear material and a dragon.


...The sinister Dr. No, who basically wants to change the direction of some rockets and then take over the world. The doctor is also a member of the secret organisation know as SPECTRE - whose full name is so ridiculous, it can't be printed here.


I didn''t think I had seen Dr. No before, but halfway through the film I realized I had, so what does that tell you about the plot?

Needless to say Bond's first outing has little to do with the modern high-tech action-adventures of Mr. Double-O-Seven. It plays like a cosy little detective story, à la Agatha Cristie, especially because it's set in a picturesque tourist paradise, and because Bond looks like a spoiled rich kid, getting ready for a garden party, rather than a stone-cold killer. Bond strolls around casually, he does a bit of investigating, he drinks a drink, he flirts with a girl, and then stumbles over a clue every now and then.

Seriously, James Bond must be the most ineffective agent ever. It's a miracle he's still alive! Not only does he give his real name to everybody, he also walks into one obvious trap after another, and if you want to distract him, all you need to do is parade a beautiful woman in front of him, and his mission is instantly forgotten. There's even a scene in this film where an important witness manages to swallow a cyanide capsule, while a perplexed Bond merely looks on. With all the horror of a Brit who just saw someone pick the cappuccino instead of the Earl Grey tea, I might add.

Oddly enough the sinister plot of the film is not really revealed until the last half hour. The titular villain is mentioned a few times, but mostly Bond is concerned with the island, where the bad guy's lair is located, not the bad guy himself. Except for a scene where his disembodied voice orders a henchmen around Dr. No doesn't even show up until 20 minutes before the end! And by then all you can think about, when you see the archaic technology and the whole design of the bad guy's lair, is just how much Austin Powers owes to this film.

Finally we have to mention Ursula Andress. She's a knockout as Honey Ryder. The scene where she emerges from the water is a true classic. She's a 60's woman, with all the beautiful curves that follow. We'll have none of those bulimic sticks on this agent's watch, thank you very much. Appreciate that Mr. Bond.

Well of course Dr. No is a bit dated, why wouldn't it be? It's from 1962 after all. That's not the problem. The problem is that even by the standards of the '60s it's hard to imagine why anyone would think this guy needed another movie. License to kill? License to doze off in the midday sun, more like it.

This Double-O-Seven is as harmless as they come. Point in fact: He needs five hits with a shoe to kill the spider in his bed. Five.


James Bond Marathon I: The Connery Years

Time for another marathon. You probably think I've been slacking off lately, but I've actually been working hard behind the scenes. Honestly, I have!

This marathon came about because I just couldn't handle the idea of those depressing, emotionally draining indie movies nominated for Oscars this year.  I figured I needed something fun instead, so why not revisit the old Bond movies?

This marathon will feature the six original Sean Connery, plus the one featuring George Lazenby. I'll probably get to the others as well, at some point, but I make no promises.

The movies in this marathon will be:

Dr. No (1962) Link
From Russia with Love (1963) Link
Goldfinger (1964) Link
Thunderball (1965) Link
You Only Live Twice (1967) Link
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) Link
Diamonds Are Forever (1971) Link

Tomorrow I'll post the first review, and then a new one more or less daily. And don't worry, they're fairly short this time around.

And before you ask... No, I have no special qualifications for writing about James Bond, I was never really a fan, but I promise to do my best. This is the part where you say: "Your 'best'? Losers always whine about their best. Winners go home and f**k the prom queen."

And on that note, we'll begin. Watch this space.


Jurassic Park (1993)

Every now and then you need to revisit the films that have redefined and reshaped the film industry as we know it. So, the time has become to revisit the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park.

Back in 1993, when the first film arrived, the world went dino-nuts, the dawn of the modern age of computer generated imagery was created in an instant, and when historians look back through time to discover where it all went wrong, where Hollywood self-destructed, they'll discover that this was the point of origin.

But I digress... Let's begin:

As much as I love Jurassic Park, and as much as I love Steven Spielberg, there are an awful lot of things that bug me with the first Jurassic Park film, and frankly, I want to get those out if the way first. When Spielberg directs a film - even if it's a bad one - it has a certain rhythm and style. He rarely makes clunky or inelegant films. However, something's off with this one.

Just take the opening scene, the arrival of a Velociraptor in a cage. Doesn't it feel strangely staged? I can see what the film is going for and it does accomplish what it needs to do, but I almost feel like I'm watching a reconstruction and not a real scene. From the awkward shots of workers anticipating the arrival of a dinosaur, with all the excitement of wax figures, to the fact that you can clearly tell there's no animal in the cage during those wide shots. Like I said, it feels off.

Then we proceed to the introduction of our two leads, Sam Neill's Dr. Alan Grant and Laura Dern's Dr. Ellie Sattler. Ah, City of Awkwardness, once again we stroll through your beautiful streets. Can I just point out the freakish pronunciation Neill employs throughout the entire movie, as if English is his second language? And let's not forget that the film fails so miserably to establish their relationship that I was genuinely surprised when it was revealed that they're a couple. Then we're introduced to Jeff Goldblum's character Dr. Ian Malcolm. Of course Goldblum specializes in weird acting, and he seems to love the opportunity to go even more overboard here. I kinda like it, so I won't trash him, but please make a mental note of how he behaves in this film, we'll need that when we revisit his character in the sequel.

Alright, so the film takes us to the titular park and sends our heroes on their first tour, along with park owner John Hammond's grandchildren. This is where the "Dr. Grant doesn't like kids"-subplot truly kicks in. Really? That's the best you could do? Gee wiz, ya think he's gonna like maybe I dunno know, change his mind about kids after going through some traumatic experiences with these ones? It's not like there is a whole lot of different places this plot can go. It's so annoying. And lame.

Finally, my last complaint about the film is the glaring continuity errors. Now, I usually never notice stuff like that, or I notice it and let it pass, but there are so many here, it just bugs me. It seems lazy. Come on guys, $65 million should buy you at least one script girl.

Okay, I'm done. Enough with the hating. It's going to sound like I don't even care for the movie, which I do, despite its flaws. Actually, the most striking thing about Jurassic Park is that it's still a kick-ass ride. Even after all these years, bigger and better movies, and repeated viewings, the magic of discovery is still breathing in the belly of this beast. I get chills every time we see the island for the first time - all credit must go to John Williams for the spectacular theme - I still get a rush when we see the first big dino, and I hold my breath when the T-Rex escapes from his pen! And I've seen the film at least 20 times!

Of course the central idea of the story is ludicrous. And I'm not even talking about the cloning. No, I mean the fact that this whole park and all these creatures have been created in secrecy... Seriously? When you think about the sheer logistics of this whole endeavor, it doesn't make ANY sense.

Also, why would you make raptors?

But it doesn't matter! This film suspends disbelief so efficiently that real life scientists looked positively amateurish, because they hadn't already done the same thing. It all begins with the introduction video, which carefully in layman's terms explains what's going on, so even the cheap seats can understand it. It's one of the most perfect examples of effective exposition in a movie. Not only does the film manage to build up a believable premise, it even manages to tackle the ethical questions inherent in this premise, despite the fact that it's really just an excuse to create a cool action movie... You've got to respect that!

Once we get past the sense of discovery, the ethics and the introduction to the park, the film transforms into a non-stop series of epic action set-pieces. That's the last hour of the movie. It starts with the "glass vibrating"-shot, and ends with the roar of the T-Rex. Between these two moments we get one exhilarating scene after another. The T-Rex escapes! The kitchen chase with the raptors! The rebooting the park sequence! Even down to the ridiculous climax, which somehow works.

This is the true backbone of the film. This is where Spielberg never makes a wrong move. Now, of course he gets a fair amount of help from a crack team special and visual effects people. Yes, Jurassic Park was a great breakthrough, 15 years ago, but the truly amazing thing is how well it holds up next to modern effect blockbusters. This is mostly due to a pitch perfect combination of CGI and animatronics. This has literally never been done better.

Shots of large scale robots, created by Stan Winston and his team, are cut back-to-back with computer generated images from Dennis Muren and the boys at Industrial Light and Magic. Back then there was no other way of doing it, because the workload would have been impossible if it was all CGI. But there's an added bonus to this, which seems to elude most modern visual effect supervisors: It's a lot harder to figure out how a sequence is done, when there a change of technique every other shot. A new technique means different flaws to look out for, and you can fool the audience longer, by switching back and forth constantly. This is why much more elaborate - and by all accounts "better" - CGI sequences fail to work in modern films, because even the most untrained eye can spot the flaws, when they are repeated over and over again. Think of it like this: The magician can make the ball disappear convincingly once, but if he does the same trick 20 times in a row, almost everyone in the audience will be able to figure it out.

I also have to praise the cinematography of Dean Cundey. I know most cinephiles will probably prefer Janusz Kaminski's back-lit, monochromatic style in Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), but I much prefer the more colorful and - dare I say - romantic feel of Cundey's work in this film. This feels appropriate since we're dealing with a fairlytale here, in a manner of speaking.

Finally, let me just give a shout-out to the great supporting cast. I've already voiced my concern about the the leads, but I have nothing bad to say about the secondary players. The late great Bob Peck, as the matter-of-factly game keeper. Wayne Knight, as the portly, backstabbing computer expert. Even Samuel L. Jackson is good, despite the fact that all he does is smoke and punch a keyboard. Richard Attenborough still creeps me out, though.


First time I saw Jurassic Park at the cinema I went right out and bought a second ticket for the next available show. I still feel the magic I felt back then, when I watch the film today. There are very few films I can say that about. That must mean something.

Next up: The Lost World: Jurassic Park, the only sequel Spielberg ever did, not counting The Indiana Jones Trilogy, and Jurassic Park III (2001), the sequel he didn't even want to do.

Oh, and one last thing: I want to give a shout-out to my grandmother Johanne, who can't pronounce Jurassic Park (she calls it "Jura-sic Park"), but still loves to watch all three movies, even though she's in her late 80's. Makes me so proud.