Welcome 2015! What’s the first movie/series you’re watching on the first day of the year?

Happy New Year everyone!  Welcome to 2015, hope your first day of the year was a good one. I’ve bid 2014 farewell with this random recap post. Boy it’s been quite a busy year for me in terms of blogging and movie watching.

HappyNewYearThankYou

According to WordPress’ stats, this blog was viewed about 130,000 times in 2014. So THANK YOU for your readership and comments, it’s always so fun discussing movies with all of you 😉

I look forward to what 2015 has in store for us. I’ll be posting my list of most-anticipated movies released this year, one of them I’ll be seeing next week (Selma). I skipped the cinema on the first day of the year however, as I don’t get tomorrow off from work. So earlier today, my hubby and I decided to check out Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond on Netflix.

FlemingBBC

It’s a BBC’s four-part miniseries on 007’s author, starring Dominic Cooper as Ian Fleming and Lara Pulver as his love interest, Ann O’Neill. I’ve only seen the first part so far, but it’s definitely a handsome, glamorized version of Fleming’s life. It’s pretty much done in the vein of a Bond movie, down to the exotic locations, sexy girls and plenty of shagging than actual spying. Even the theme song is very John Barry-esque. Cooper looks nothing like Fleming and it seems that the series’ creator took a lot of liberty on the story, but as a Bond fan, it’s still an enjoyable piece of entertainment for me.


So folks, what movie/show did you see on the first day of 2015?

Weekend Roundup: Puncture & Everything Or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007, BBC’s Emma (2009)

Happy Monday all! It’s been a quiet weekend for me, I barely went out on Sunday as we’ve got everything old man Winter has got to offer. Frigid temp is not enough apparently, so we’ve got dumped with snow, sleet and freezing rain all afternoon. Perfect weather for staying in however.

Apart from going to Side Effects screening on Thursday [review later this week], I pretty much turned to Netflix and some borrowed movies from friends. Here are my mini reviews:

Puncture (2011)

PuncturePosterAs this comes out the same year at Captain America, no wonder this B movie gets lost in the shuffle. I remember seeing the trailer and I thought this must be a way for Chris Evans to show he’s got acting brawn on top of his physical one. I’ve got to admit I was curious to see how Evans fare as a drug-addicted lawyer who takes on a health supply corporation on behalf of a nurse who got punctured by a contaminated needle and contracted HIV.

It’s a David and Goliath legal drama that resembles the battle between a whistle blower and the tobacco giant in The Insider, but unfortunately the similarities ends there. The direction style is far less inferior, not exactly as gripping as the based-on-a-true-story premise. Apparently Evans’ co-star Mark Kassen directed the movie with his brother Adam, and this was their first feature film. Evans himself is quite convincing in his role, though his training as the First Avenger makes him look much too buff to play a junkie.  I really doubt the real-life Mike Weiss has a ripped 8-pack abs as he spent all his days either studying his case or snorting cocaine. Interesting to see Vinessa Shaw twice in one week [she has a small role in Side Effects], she was pretty good here as the HIV-infected nurse. The casting of Michael Biehn here is very baffling as he’s not given hardly anything to do at all, and his character’s portrayed as being so mysterious for no good reason.

Puncture_still

Despite the heartbreaking premise and a well-intentioned effort, the movie is pretty forgettable. Some scenes were over-dramatized and others are not substantial enough. The film also seemed to suggest the fate of Mr. Weiss is not as simple as an overdose, but there’s no follow up of that. I don’t think the ambiguity serves the film well at all. In any case, under a more experienced filmmaker, this could’ve been more engrossing.

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2.5 out of 5 reels


Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007 (2012)

EON_007Documentary

As a massive Bond fan, I can’t believe I didn’t know about this documentary until my hubby told me about it a few days ago! I’m also ashamed to say that I just realized what EON Productions stand for, and it’s really an apt title considering the length the producers had to go through in bringing the Bond books to the big screen. Here’s the full synopsis per 007.com:

Everything Or Nothing focuses on three men with a shared dream Bond producers Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman and author Ian Fleming. Its the thrilling and inspiring narrative behind the longest running film franchise in cinema history which began in 1962. With unprecedented access both to the key players involved and to Eon Productions extensive archive, this is the first time the inside story of the franchise has ever been told on screen in this way.

The producer of this doc is John Battsek who also produced the Oscar-nominated Searching for Sugar Man, and I’m happy to say that this film absolutely delivers. It was not only well-done in terms of productions, filled with fun footage from various Bond films and accompanied by John Barry’s fantastic Bond music, this has become my favorite documentary ever. Yes of course the subject matter is of great interest of mine, but there’s much to be said about its production quality and exceptional access to the inside story of the key players.

EON_Cubby_Sean_Ian_Harry
Broccoli, Connery, Fleming and Saltzman

Though I’ve heard about the split up of Broccoli and Saltzman, it’s still quite tragic to see. The same with how George Lazenby threw fame away as quickly as he gained it, and the rift involving Connery and the producers, especially between him and Saltzman. It’s such a treat to see all Bond actors appear in the film to talk about their Bond role, interesting that all of them has their share of struggle surrounding it. The film paints a very sympathetic picture of the late Cubby Broccoli in particular, but his history certainly checks out, without a doubt he loved the character of Bond all the way back to how he’s written by Ian Fleming. It would seem that his involvement in this lucrative franchise went above and beyond the chase for profit.

Kudos to director Stevan Riley for crafting a compelling documentary that’s as thrilling and entertaining as the Bond adventures. Certainly there’s as much at stakes unfolding behind the camera as in front of it, the drama involving Kevin McClory, one of the producers of the oh-so-ill-advised Never Say Never Again is especially riveting. I had just seen the documentary on Ian Fleming that’s included in The Living Daylights Blu-ray recently, so some of the details on the famed author was already known to me. Yet it’s still fascinating to learn about it, I’d certainly be interested in seeing his biopic. This film definitely enhances my appreciation for one of my most favorite movie franchises. A must-see for anyone who’ve seen at least one Bond movie, and absolutely essential for any Bond fan.

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4.5 out of 5 reels


BBC TV’s EMMA (2009)

BBC_Emma2009I’m quite fond of Romola Garai, whom I think is one of the most underrated British talents ever. So when my co-worker lent me the dvd of the 2009 BBC adaptation of Emma with her in the starring role, I couldn’t wait to watch it. I always felt that the 1996 version with Gwyneth Paltrow to be just ok, well apart from Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightley of course. Oh how I’d love to see him as Knightley in THIS adaptation.

Emma is not my favorite of the Jane Austen’s collection, that would be Sense & Sensibility. Yet I quite like this adaptation largely because of Garai’s casting. Though she was 27 at the time, she looked believable as the 20 year-old Emma Woodhouse, a pretty & privileged girl who loves finding suitors for her friends. She portrays Emma as suitably vivacious and naive, as well as a bit of a spoiled brat. We like Emma despite some of her blunders and careless decisions, and Garai’s able to capture her remorse as well as her bubbly nature. Of course this being a miniseries, her character development is far superior than the film version.

Some thoughts about the rest of the cast. Michael Gambon is an interesting choice as Emma’s father who always assumes everything is hazardous to one’s health, he somehow makes his fussy nervousness as something endearing. As I’ve mentioned above, I love Northam’s interpretation of Knightley. I think Jonny Lee Miller is not bad, but I wonder if someone else in the role would’ve been a better choice as he doesn’t seem to be much older than Garai (there’s supposed to be a 17-year difference in age) Plus, I kept thinking of him as Edmund Bertram, the role he played in 1999’s Mansfield Park (one of my fave period drama heroes). Interestingly enough, Blake Ritson who played Mr. Elton also played Edmund in the 1997 BBC version! Certainly BBC has a pretty small pool of actors to choose from, ahah. Ritson is a far better casting choice than Alan Cumming in the film version. I mean, he was just so darn creepy, plus it’s really too much of a stretch to imagine him as a vicar.

Emma_Garai_Miller

Overall this is a lovely adaptation with fun dialog and gorgeous scenery. Kudos to the production quality, the color scheme, costume, music, etc. that makes for a very enjoyable watch. That said, I still much prefer the Masterpiece Theater’s production Sense & Sensibility as the story is inherently more heart-wrenching to me. It’s worth noting that the screenwriter Sandy Welch also wrote the 2004’s North & South, which is by far my favorite BBC miniseries ever.

4.5 out of 5 reels


Well, that’s my weekend viewing roundup. How ’bout you, seen anything good?

007 Chatter: (Ian) Fleming’s Bond – The James Bond of the original novels compared to the 007 movies Part 2

Welcome to another edition of 007Chatter!
Just because Skyfall has been released in the US now, doesn’t mean we can’t continue talking about Bond. So this is the second part of Marcus’ post where he compared the Ian Fleming’s Novels to the Bond Films. In this post, Marcus takes a closer look at what is going on inside Bond — his relationships to the two important women in his life provide a great contrast to his movie image.

Check out PART I if you haven’t already.

Thanks again to Marcus Clearspring for these two-part posts!
Check out his movie blog Cinesprit and his writing blog.

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My introduction to Bond movies were double features at our small town cinema. Two Bonds on the big screen for half the price of one blockbuster ticket in London. Once I discovered that deal, I was eagerly opening the weekly listings to see when the next double feature was showing. Like most people who were happy with the movies, I wasn’t really aware of the books. Then I discovered several Bond books on the family bookshelves which changed my view of the Bond character completely.

Only five of the movies really follow Fleming’s novels closely. Dr No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. All the first movies made, with the exception of You Only Live Twice, which mixes in so much new stuff that it greatly differs from the novel.

The novel would be difficult to adapt to the screen. The first one hundred pages consist largely of Bond and Tiger Tanaka, head of the Japanese Secret Service, talking about cultural differences between British/Western ways and Japanese/Asian perspectives. The final showdown does not take place in a hollowed-out volcano as in the movie. You Only Live Twice is an exception, a very strange novel in many ways. The final showdown is quite literally fantastic. Definitely to be recommended if you are open to a different kind of 007 narrative.

In general, the movies liberally mix and match individual scenes and characters from the novels. The best example is Live and Let Die. The movie has very little to do with the novel except for Bond chasing Mr. Big’s drug ring and visiting Harlem. However, some of the most memorable action scenes from Live and Let Die are mixed into other movies. For example, the scene in For Your Eyes Only with Bond and Melina, the woman  with the crossbow, being dragged as shark bait behind a boat.

Then two scenes in Licence to Kill. The one where Felix Leiter has been fed to sharks and has a classic Fleming line attached to him saying “He disagreed with something that ate him“. The other is when Bond breaks into the warehouse belonging to Crest. The scene is much longer in the novel and has far more suspense. As I said in my first post, its surprising that many action scenes are more engaging in the novels.

I’d like to focus on two topics which generally put Bond’s character in a negative light. His relationship to women and the perception from the movies that he’s merely a blunt instrument, an assassin with no introspection. Both topics are different in the novels.

There is a common perception that Bond is a misogynist and only sees women as “disposable pleasures.” Particularly for the movies of the 1970s that is often true. The phrase, I believe, is from Fleming’s Casino Royale and quoted in the movie. However, in the novels, I would argue that’s only a setup by the author to get Bond more emotionally involved.

It’s like in romantic comedies and dramas. In the beginning, the male or female lead declare to their best friend how they are totally finished with serious relationships because men/women are so awful. We all know that’s a setup, that they will hook up at the end with the person they disliked the most in the beginning. The greater the distance created, the greater they can fall in love later on. I think Fleming does this too. Only, it’s not served as a fluffy romance, so many people don’t seem to recognize it behind the rough and tumble macho disguise. Why else would Fleming have Bond literally call  himself a misogynist, then have him fall in love? Bond gives a simple explanation. It’s because he has never met a woman he could have an interesting conversation with. Surprising insight, if you only know the movies.

Bond only falls in love twice in the novels. That is with Vesper in Casino Royale and Tracy in On her Majesty’s Secret Service. Vesper, the sphinx, is the first woman he can talk to with ease. Tracy, a woman with “issues”, becomes Mrs Bond.

These are some of the most fascinating parts in any of the Bond novels. It’s this very tough character, an assassin, being caring and tender, able to relate to another person. Mixed with action and imminent danger this delivers a great result. It goes far deeper than the stock “hero getting the girl” because Fleming adds so much interior to Bond’s character.

Bond’s introspection is what sets him apart from many other action heroes. He will question what he needs to do and what he has done. He will ponder the moral and ethical sides of his actions, question the service he works for. There is an entire short chapter in Casino Royale, where, while recuperating in the clinic, Bond speaks to Mathis about his job, pondering whether he should quit. He questions whether his actions are any better than those of the villains he hunts. Some interesting thoughts and answers from Mathis which are worth reading and thinking about.

One thing to keep in mind is that the novels were written in the 1950s and obviously do not reflect what’s considered politically correct today (see note below on Live and Let Die). It’s a post World War II era. The onset of the Cold War.

Here’s a brief personal ranking of the novels.

Best:

  • On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
  • From Russia with Love
  • You Only Live Twice
  • Dr No
  • Thunderball
  • Goldfinger

Mediocre:

  • The Man with the Golden Gun
  • Live and Let Die*

* Caution: “Live and Let Die” contains many racial references considered highly offensive today.

Weak:

  • Diamonds are Forever

Special mention:

The Spy Who Loved Me is an exception in the series, written entirely from the perspective of a woman. James Bond only has a short appearance. You can’t really count it as part of the normal Bond novels. It is interesting though and I plan on re-reading it.

There would be lots more to say. I can only encourage anyone interested in Bond, to check out the novels and discover a depth of character not present in any of the movies to date.


So that concludes the two-part post on how the Ian Fleming’s Bond books compare to the Bond movies. 

What are your thoughts on this topic?

007 Chatter: (Ian) Fleming’s Bond – The James Bond of the original novels compared to the 007 movies Part 1

October is Bond month as the producers are celebrating the 50 year anniversary of the first Bond film, Dr. No, which opened in the UK on on October 5, 1962. In addition to the Skyfall countdown, here at FlixChatter we are taking an in-depth look into the world’s most popular movie franchise and its origins.

Special thanks to Marcus Clearspring for this two-part posts in comparing how the original novels of Ian Fleming compared to the Bond movies.

Check out Marcus’ movie blog Cinesprit and his writing blog.

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Fleming’s Bond

When you think James Bond, you probably think Martinis-and-bikinis, “shaken not stirred” and of course “Bond, James Bond”. The James Bond of the movies is a kind of superhero. However, Ian Fleming’s original novels show far more depth of character and certainly no superman. He may actually have a few things in common with some of the darker superheroes, only he has no superpowers. Although he has gadgets, they rarely spring him from danger in the novels.
The complete collection of Ian Fleming books – photo courtesy of ebookee.org
Fleming’s Bond is a character with doubts, who is vulnerable and expresses his fears. The most extreme example is when Bond falls into a long depression for several months after the death of his wife Tracy. The story begins with Bond visiting her grave, and his boss M back at the office, telling Bond to shape up or ship out. This is the beginning to Thunderball in the novel. Bond is not sent to the health clinic to work undercover. It’s an ultimatum. He goes there because he is too depressed and out of shape to work. He discovers the bad guys by chance. It is surprising how dark the beginning is, but it’s also very memorable.
The movies have so far never portrayed Bond like this. We saw him place flowers on his wife’s grave in For Your Eyes Only, but that was followed by an action-comedy sequence with Blofeld at times so camp it was close to Austin Powers. The Thunderball remake Never Say Never Again had Bond sent to the clinic because he was supposedly out of shape, but that was all. It too was upbeat, almost comedic, with no mention of any other trouble.

The possibly closest portrayal of Fleming’s Bond in the movies for me is Timothy Dalton in Licence To Kill, and to some extent Daniel Craig in Casino Royale. As of the Daniel Craig era you can imagine the producers using a downbeat opening like in Fleming’s Thunderball because attitudes have changed. It’s okay now for Bond to be vulnerable and the story to have some gravitas. When they tried that with Timothy Dalton in Licence To Kill, audiences were not yet ready. It was 10-15 years too early.
Fleming’s Bond is always focused and very rarely distracted. There’s a scene in Goldfinger where Bond sees a pretty girl in an open sports car and is tempted to follow her. Then he smiles and mutters to himself that he needs to keep shadowing Goldfinger. You may recall that scene from the movie. It’s an exception in the novels rather than something you would expect, as you do in the movies. Likewise, you won’t find scores of bikini-clad girls sunbathing around swimming pools. No five-star hotel concierge greets Bond after several years by name and announces that a Martini is waiting. Not in the books.

What makes Fleming’s Bond so interesting?

[ruth’s note: I found this illustration by Gabriel Hardman above from this site, inspired by this description from Fleming’s Casino Royale novel: As he tied his thin, double-ended black satin tie, he paused for a moment and examined himself levelly in the mirror. His grey-blue eyes looked calmly back with a hint of ironical inquiry and the short lock of black hair which would never stay in place slowly subsided to form a thick comma above his right eyebrow. With the thin vertical scar down his right cheek the general effect was faintly piratical.]
There have been many new authors who have written Bond novels since Ian Fleming. Make sure to start at the source, with the real deal. There may be some good 007 novels by other authors but I have not heard of any to surpass Fleming’s originals. When I refer to “the novels” from here on, I mean solely Ian Fleming’s books.
What I find particularly interesting in Fleming’s novels is the way we get to see and feel everything that Bond does from inside Bond’s head. That’s a totally different perspective to the movies. We get a multitude of thoughts and emotions racing through Bond’s head. Doubts, strategies, fears, next moves. All this is mostly told as a running commentary.
Many action scenes in the novels are better than in the movies. I know that sounds odd because movies are normally better at action than books, but this is one of Fleming’s strong points. A good example is the car chase in Casino Royale. It has far more detail and suspense than the movie, which only shows Bond catching up, then the final rollover of his car. The novel manages to put you inside Bond’s head, with him in the driver’s seat, following his every move and thought. He sits there thinking about how Vesper got herself caught. Complaining about her and worrying at the same time as he shifts gears and his thoughts race. These are some of the best moments in the books because you get both the internal and external action.
I would never have thought it could be exciting the way someone shifts gears and moves along serpentine roads, but it is the way Fleming writes. I know someone who used to drive rallies and they thought Fleming’s descriptions were great. Especially if you are bored by the fast cuts of current movie chases which abbreviate so much, you will appreciate the detailed and engaging way Fleming writes his action scenes.

Focus and Purpose

The fight scenes are full of precision and purpose. Often brutal, but never for show. Bond often considers each move in advance. However, not as in many movies where the hero recites a bunch of moves to show off how easy it’s going to be and how cool he or she is. If there’s any comparison in movies, Fleming’s Bond takes the approach of a Clint Eastwood type character. Someone who gets straight down to business when he has to and takes the shortest, most effective route without any showing off.
The skiing scenes in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service are another great example. The movie’s ski scenes are great due to Willy Bogner’s amazing photography, but the novel has the advantage of putting you inside Bond’s skin as he tries to escape from Blofeld’s mountain lair.

The movies are glamorous, mainstream action entertainment. The books get inside Bond’s head and under his skin. It’s a very different perspective. It’s the main reason to read the books. In the next post I’ll take a closer look at what is going on inside Bond. His relationships to the two important women in his life provide a great contrast to his movie image. His introspective side shows how critical, and at times cynical, Bond can be of his own job.


Well, that’s it for Part I. Is there anything you miss in the movies, or which you think might be better in a novel?