The James Bond Quarantine Recap (Daniel Craig):

We’re almost at the end of this long, cinematic odyssey, and just when it was going as stale as a loaf of bread, the series reworked itself. Here, the filmmakers deconstruct the franchise again, more forcefully even than Dalton ever did, and then begin a gradual process of reconstruction, to bring back all the old tropes from the shopping list I outlined ages ago. Some of these things work, others don’t, and by the time we get to the last movie, it feels very much like we’ve come full circle.

When we last saw out mutual friend it was 2003. He was surfing tsunamis, riding Wonder Woman’s car, and bonking Miss Moneypenny in cyberspace. Now it’s 2006, and let me tell ya; what a difference three years makes…

Casino Royale:

Before anyone had a chance to watch the bloody thing, Casino Royale did not bode well conceptually. It was written by the same screenwriters who’d penned Die Another Day (never going to be considered for inclusion in the Criteron Collection) and based on a book where Bond does bugger all but play a few hands of cards and make pedantic drink orders. Worst of all, Brosnan buggered off to be a dad in Mamma Mia! and now JB was going to be played by one of the blokes from Our Friends In The North. And he was blond! Travesty! Blasphemy! Boo hiss!

Yet, even 14 years on, Casino Royale feels shockingly well-made. Not only is it genuinely cool and effortlessly confident, stripped of the dead weight of over 40 years of continuity, but the story is actually fucking about something for a change. Namely, the character of James Bond himself. Who he is, and how he came to be.

Now, it’s impossible to talk about this film without mentioning its biggest influences. The first is The Bourne Identity, a grounded, character-driven spy caper, which managed to make Bond look hopelessly out-of-step the second it was released.

Matt Damon’s super-spy never experiences much opulence. He’s dredged out of the sea by sailors with no memory of who he is, and with only a name to go on. He spends the entire movie mystified by himself, dodging CIA assassins all over Europe just by thinking on his feet and taking calculated risks. His main love interest is an ordinary girl-next-door-type driving a beat-up car, who’s totally out of her depth in the brutal world of espionage.

There’s no daft gadgets, no moustache-twirling villains with grandiose ambitions, or Evil Lairs inside active volcanoes. Everything in the Bourne films feels refreshingly close to home, and all the advantages that 007 possesses are actively working against Jason. As I pointed out before, DAD could have taken the same basic premise after Bond’s North Korea torture trauma, but instead it opted to resolve Bond’s latent trauma with a shave and new duds. Typical.

We’ve seen the Bond franchise try to mix with different genres in the past, but now that there’s a new kid on the block with the exact same initials, the series hops on the next bandwagon and tries to be a psychological action-thriller. You know, the exact thing it was supposed to be in the first damn place.

The second antecedent is Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins – another movie which serves to revitalise a franchise by opting for a realism-driven prequel after goofy excess alienated audiences. It’s a formula that’s since been done to death, but at the time it was pretty daring to have a film that built the Caped Crusader from the ground up.

Of course, Batman Begins was just a live-action adaptation of Frank Miller’s comic Batman: Year One. But the intent behind it is the same: to try and make a man dressed as a flying mouse seem halfway plausible. It examines the character of Batman by working backwards, to show where his quirks and traits actually came from. What made him decide to get a special car? Where did he learn to fight like that? Why doesn’t he kill criminals? Why a bat?

Bearing these two movies in mind, the creators acquiring the rights to Casino Royale (the first Bond book, and the one that actually turned spy fiction from a fad into an enduring genre) couldn’t have happened at a better time. Screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade deliver a focused, witty, and genuinely intelligent script after churning out a total farce last time, and every member of the cast is on top form.

The movie opens in black-and-white, with a shot of a nondescript London office. Here, JB confronts traitorous section chief Dryden, a smug toff in a suit who taunts/congratulates him on achieving 007 status. The scene is inter-cut with a graphic fight between Bond and his first target in a bathroom. There’s nowt aspirational about it, and it immediately serves to establish Bond’s dual nature. On the one hand he’s sophisticated, smart, professional and posh, capable of verbally sparring with Dryden and tricking him into making a tit of himself with a handgun. On the other hand, he’s a killing machine on par with a Terminator.

However, Dryden waxing flippant over Bond’s first kill touches a nerve, and when he’s halfway through snarking: “Don’t worry, the second one is easier,” Bond shoots him dead and quips: “Considerably.” It’s every bit as quick, dispassionate and shocking as Connery’s “You’ve had your six,” moment back in Dr No. But this time there’s actually some motivation behind it. Now there’s an implied tension between Bond’s adherence to duty, and his repressed, Byronic passions. Now, the drama isn’t: ‘What’s Bond going to do in the next scene?’ so much as: ‘What’s the next scene going to do to Bond?’

Let’s talk about the supporting cast, because they’re every bit as well thought out as Bond is. They still match the usual archetypes – MasterMind, M, Final Girl, et al – but now they feel like genuine people in their own right, not satellites that have had the misfortune to fall into James’ orbit.

Judi Dench is back as M, and although she has less to do this time around, she’s as welcome as ever. Indeed, it’s interesting to note that she’s the only element of the previous era that Purvis and Wade opted to retain.

The relationship between her and 007 has shifted ever-so-slightly. When Brosnan was wearing the tux, M was his boss first and foremost. She was his foil, constructed to be Bond’s opposite. Female where Bond was male, mature where he was young, no-nonsense and businesslike where Bond was irreverent and rebellious. This time M feels a lot more maternal: she doesn’t criticise Bond for being a dinosaur or a relic. Instead, when Bond fucks up she scolds him like a teacher in ‘not angry, just disappointed’ mode. Indeed, it’s his youthful recklessness and arrogance which she wants to keep in check, not his sexism or disdain for authority.

This Freudian relationship will become the focus of Skyfall (to the point where M feels like the deuteragonist, but for now it’s used to highlight the dilemma Bond faces in the third act of the film. Bond has to choose between the two most important women in his life: M, who represents his career as a spy and his duty to Q&C, and Vesper, who represents the freedom and happiness he could find living a normal life outside MI6.

Ah Vesper. God, she’s good. It’s really weird to think that Phoebe Waller-Bridge has only just been brought on as a script consultant for a Bond film, because Vesper Lynd feels so much like Fleabag, I’m surprised she’s not giving wry looks to the camera every five minutes. Eva Green has been rightly praised for her performance, taking the role of a Bond Girl and delivering a character who nearly eclipses Bond for sheer wit, charisma, and sex appeal.

A lot of the things that make Vesper work are the same things that made the best Bond Girls stick out. Like them, Vesper has goals and agency outside of getting Bond’s dick wet. She’s not totally qualified to be in an action movie, but handles herself with aplomb. She’s traumatised by the violence she experiences first hand (in contrast to Bond, the master of suppression) and still manages to pull herself together and kick ass.

The burgeoning relationship between her and Bond is spoiled because of tragic circumstances conspiring against them, not because of Bond behaving like a total arse-cake. Not only that, but Vesper also shows us that (all together now) Bond Girls are more interesting when Bond has to work to win them over. The dialogue between them is barbed and vitriolic. As such, it’s a joy to behold. Just take a look at the duel they have on the train:

VESPER: You're good at reading people?

BOND: Yes, I am. Which is why I've been able to detect an undercurrent of sarcasm in your voice.

VESPER: I'm now assured our money is in good hands.

BOND: You don't think this is a very good plan, do you?

VESPER: So there is a plan? I got the impression we were risking millions of dollars and hundreds of lives on a game of luck (Pause) What else can you surmise, Mr Bond?

BOND: About you, Miss Lynd? Well, your beauty's a problem. You worry you won't be taken seriously- 

VESPER: Which one can say of any attractive woman with half a brain.

BOND: True, but this one overcompensates by wearing slightly masculine clothing, being more aggressive than her female colleagues, which gives her a somewhat prickly demeanor. And, ironically enough, makes it less likely for her to be accepted and promoted by her male superiors, who mistake her insecurities
for arrogance.


BOND: Now, I'd have normally gone with 'only child' but, you see, by the way you ignored the quip about your parents. l'm gonna have to go with ... orphan.

(BOND looks smug, but VESPER smiles back)

VESPER: All right. By the cut of your suit, you went to Oxford or wherever, and actually think human beings dress like that. But you wear it with such disdain. My guess is you didn't come from money and your school friends never let you forget it. Which means you were at that school by the grace of someone else's charity, hence the chip on your shoulder. And since your first thought about me ran to orphan, that's what I'd say you are.

(BOND's smirk slips) 

VESPER: Oh, you are. I like this poker thing. And that makes perfect sense, since Ml6 looks for maladjusted young men that give little thought to sacrificing others in order to protect Queen and country. You know: former SAS types with easy smiles and expensive watches. Rolex?

BOND: Omega.

VESPER: Beautiful. Now, having just met you, I wouldn't go as far as calling you a cold-hearted bastard.
BOND: No, of course not.

VESPER: But it wouldn't be a stretch to imagine you think of women as disposable pleasures, rather than meaningful pursuits. So as charming as you are, Mr Bond I will be keeping my eye on our government's money... and off your perfectly-formed arse.

BOND: You noticed?

VESPER: Even accountants have imaginations. (Pause) How was your lamb?
BOND: Skewered. One sympathises.

VESPER: Good evening Mr Bond.

BOND: Good evening Miss Lynd.

Try and tell me that five minutes of this backhanded banter isn’t 100 times more captivating than a space lasers and explosions. Go on.

It wouldn’t be fair to talk about CR without mentioning Mads Mikkelsen, a man for whom the role of ‘Bond villain’ was surely a career inevitability. Le Chiffré appears to be a traditional MasterMind (vaguely foreign, ‘deformed’ due to his heterochromia, boasting a metal-ass medical condition where he periodically weeps blood) but played subtly for a change. Also, unlike the Blofeld/Dr No/Stromberg crowd, Le Chiffré’s Evil Plan is simply to make money financing terrorists. He’s a glorified accountant: the perfect foil for someone like Bond, in a movie where the poker games are every bit as important to national security as the gun fights and car chases.

Le Chiffré is a bad guy on the back foot from the beginning. He’s not an omniscient megalomaniac with delusions of grandeur. He’s made himself the enemy of some extremely dangerous bastards, and is frantically trying to make a quick buck, to pay off the sinister criminal syndicate that want to serve his gonads to him with a side of curly fries. You’d think this would make him naff by comparison to his predecessors, but it only makes him more dangerous. Other MasterMinds are content to rest on their laurels stroking kitties until Act Three. Le Chiffré is terrified and desperate, and this only makes him more unpredictable.

The set pieces in CR are memorable without being OTT. We have Bond chasing a parkour expert through a construction site, foiling a terrorist plot on the runway of an airport, chasing after goons in a sinking building in Venice, frantically trying to restart his heart after being poisoned, and (most famous of all) having his balls mercilessly whipped. The above scenes are moments of pure spectacle, but they make an impression due to efficient storytelling, good editing, and sheer style. There’s no need for ski chases and flying cars when the movie opts to do new things.

But it’s Daniel Craig himself who ties everything together. It would be easy for his interpretation to have his Bond be an unlikable twat (okay, more of an unlikable twat than the norm), but DC is critical enough of the franchise to be uninterested in playing a character firmly planted on a pedestal, and this definitely works in the movie’s favour. Craig gets to build his incarnation from the ground up, and explore what moulded him into a womanising, emotionally-unavailable, sensualist, crusading civil servant.

A lot of this has to do with the fact that, as a prequel, Bond is able to go through some actual frigging character development. He starts off being young, overeager, and arrogant. It’s clear he’s keen to prove himself to his superiors, and hasn’t learnt patience, planning, or restraint. Bond changes, irrevocably, as a result of this story, and that’s almost unprecedented. Okay, so he changes into the person that we’re all familiar with. But that’s the very point.

All this culminates in the very last scene, where Bond, having lost the love of his life and nihilistically committed himself to a fully-fledged career in the secret service, shoots Mr White and introduces himself as “Bond… James Bond.” It’s the delayed moment the audience has been waiting for since the film began, and when the Bond theme kicks in for good measure, it works dammit! It works even if you found the last forty years of movies lacklustre.

According to this interview, the one line that convinced Craig to take up the part in the first place was Bond snapping “Do I look like I give a damn?” when asked by a bartender whether he wanted his martini shaken or stirred. This sums up the whole approach of Casino Royale. These little references to the mythology of 007’s fictional world, built up over some 43 years, aren’t throwaway or trivial. Instead, they serve to subvert the format and reveal character in ways the audience isn’t expecting.

Bond snapping: “Do I look like I give a damn?” only happens when he screws up big-time. The out-of-character moment serves to highlight the stress he’s under. Simultaneously, the fact that we later find out that his signature drink is named ‘The Vesper’ adds a retrospective touch of poignancy. Now, when we look back and see Bond chugging back vodkas in the other movies, we can interpret that as him paying a tribute to a lost love, and not as unaddressed substance abuse.

This is what you can do with a franchise with a lasting mythology. Deft modernism can enhance the story and develop the characters. References to the past shouldn’t always just be ‘Hey remember when such-and-such happened?’ moments that just massage the egos of fanboys. But deconstruction for its own sake isn’t inherently enthralling. When storytelling devices are used to build on what’s come before, and even make us see past works in a new context, that’s when a series can do what a standalone work can’t. That’s what makes things like movie marathons worthwhile … or so I tell myself anyway.

Sadly, it wouldn’t be James Bond if the franchise didn’t find a way to take its successes too far, and all the things that are on-key Casino Royale fall very flat in the next movie…

Quantum of Solace:

Golly, it’s hard to write about this film. I’ve seen Microcosm of Remorse twice now, and yet I can barely remember a thing about it. It feels like a night out where I blacked out from boredom rather than booze. I can’t work out whether it’s a terrible Bond film but solid movie, or a solid film and solid Bond movie, or just generally terrible. I think, somehow, it’s everything at once.

I get that expectations were high following Casino Royale’s success. However, in QOS, all that happens is that the modernist understatement of CR is itself taken to excess. It was all fine and dandy when the last film drew inspiration from Jason Bourne to reign itself in a bit. But Quantum feels like it could be any generic action movie with Bond plopped in, and all the attempts to establish a new continuity with the last film feels like we’re going back to self-plagiarising again.

This is the first time that a Bond film has directly followed-on from the previous one, which had a lot of potential as an idea. But Craig has aged visibly since last time, and the idea doesn’t really go any further than setting up the revenge plot, which we’ve already seen done several times. As such, it doesn’t really hold your interest, and neither does Bond going rogue after being framed for murder. I kept waiting for some delayed novelty that never arrived.

The MasterMind is a bit of a wet fart too. Compared the other villains we’ve seen, he’s utterly underwhelming. He doesn’t even have camp silliness to fall back on, because this film is so desperate to be taken seriously that it’s suspicious of anything fun. Apparently, director Marc Forster declined to dress up Dominic Greene with any kind of deliberate grotesquery, to emphasise the hidden and secret nature of the villains in our late-stage capitalist society. It worked for Benicio Del Toro, and it’s a neat idea but…

Seriously, can anyone else name five things about Greene that make him memorable as a character? I’ll give you thirty seconds. Shit, I’ll give you all day as long as you promise not to peek at Google. Bet you can’t think of anything. Seriously, you couldn’t pick him out of a crowd of one. Maybe he’d have worked as a starter villain for an even younger Bond, but after all the shit Jimmy went through last time, a yuppie with a fire axe just seems utterly underwhelming. It’s like if Commando ended with Arnold Schwarzenegger fighting Rick Moranis. At least A View To Kill had a blimp for Christ’s sake.

The movie sees Bond investigating the über-nasty baddie organisation Quantum, (which our lawyers have advised us to make clear is definitely NOT just Spectre without the implied threat of litigation). Spectre’s plan is to use Dominic Greene, an outwardly eco-friendly CEO with dastardly intentions, to pollute Bolivia’s water supply to monopolise the sale of H20. I could almost call this premise topical, after the Flint water crisis, so I can’t criticise it for lack of realism. But while I’m as sick of stolen diamonds and hijacked subs as the next man, this scheme is so boring that it’s difficult to care very much.

Olga Kurylenko is good Camille Montes, although her character is a xerox copy of Melina Havelock, and she shares decent chemistry with Daniel Craig. Crucially, she doesn’t actually hook up with James by the end of it all. Man alive! Has someone finally gained immunity to horniness-inducing Bond’s pheromones? We need to isolate that gene sequence ASAP.

Apparently, the decision to have Camille dodge a tryst with Bond was due to her being a rape victim, and the writers thought that having 007 seduce a sexual assault survivor would be in poor taste. I want to say ‘Better late than never’, but after 21 films without this kind of forethought, ‘Too little, too late’ is probably more apt.

The action sequences suffer from the same problem as the villain: they’re totally forgettable. By now, I’m used to these films parading wacky set pieces like killer fun-houses and ninja fights in front of me – if nothing else, they drew attention to themselves. I’m confident that there were car chases, fist-fights, and shoot-outs in Very Small of Regret, but I can form a clear picture of any of them in my mind.

A lot of this comes down to the editing, which was so choppy that even an ADD sufferer like myself felt like there was too many cutaways. You can watch this movie and count how long each individual shot lasts, and it’s rare for any of them to stick around longer than two seconds, which just makes it that much harder to follow. I know that this was a bad habit that a lot of action films in the 2000s picked up (Taken, I’m looking at you) but it doesn’t make it any less grating here.

I wish I had more to say about this one, but honestly: I’m drawing a blank. QOS reminds me of that mute girl you went to high school with, who sat at the very back of the classroom, too shy to ever make a peep, so that even the yearbook committee almost forgot to include them.

Nobody ever hated those kids growing up, because there was nothing to hate about them. But nobody ever got to know them either. They were so afraid of embarrassing themselves they settled for a camouflage of boredom. This movie has the same problems. It’s not confident enough in itself to make us laugh or cheer or gasp, so it feels like it’s settling for just not making anyone cringe.

The result? A movie experience that’s as bland as lukewarm gruel. Casino Royale was bold and brazen and engaging. QOS expects a pat on the back for repeating the very same tricks. None of it feels new and fresh, let alone Bond-like, even if there’s a shot of a naked bird smeared in crude oil.

The James Bond Quarantine Recap (Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan):

Now Roger Moore’s out of the way, the Modern Era of James Bond can begin. We’re now in the cynical 80s, a time when comic book and television characters were being deconstructed left, right and centre, and modernist pop culture was the order of the day.

The thing you need to understand about the latter Bond movies is that they’re all a reaction, in one way or another, to the public’s idea of the franchise. Not the actual content itself, or any individual film, but the tropes and conventions that, for better or worse, were the most memorable to mass audiences.

So remember the Bond Blueprint (TM) I outlined previously? Don’t throw that away; it’s still required reading for this syllabus. The next 11 movies still contain Femme Fatales, Masterminds, McGuffins and so forth, but with plenty of subversion (or outright aversions) to make them palpable to more critical tastes (snarky fuckers like me for example.)

Indeed, the following three actors playing Bond will all attempt to lend ‘realism’ to their movies in different ways. However, it takes time for the franchise to properly reinvent itself, and plenty of old bad habits still plague the series.

The Living Daylights:

It’s 1985. The Cold War is heating up again. Thatcher and Reagan ushered in an age of yuppies, coke, and egotism. A View To Kill met with a tepid reception, and Roger has decided that 57 is well too old to play England’s favourite spy. Thousands of aspiring writers devoured Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing and Miracleman, and most of them have completely missed the point.

Bearing that in mind, it’s about time for a dark ‘n’ edgy reinterpretation of James Bond, right? That’s what I’ve been saying for the last seven entries, but that’s not entirely what we get. Instead, there’s a tonal pivot which doesn’t stick the landing, but makes a broad statement of intent.

The Living Daylights, more than any other movie so far, owes a lot to Timothy Dalton. If you want to understand why his interpretation was so groundbreaking, then just take a look at this Playgirl interview with him from 1987. Dalton says:

“I definitely wanted to recapture the essence and flavour of the books, and play it less flippantly. After all, Bond’s essential quality is that he’s a man who lives on the edge. He could get killed at any moment, and that stress and danger factor is reflected in the way he lives: chain-smoking, drinking, fast cars and fast women.”

So Dalton’s mission statement is to move away from escapist fantasy, and see what there was in the novels that gripped peeps back in the 50s. Bond is no longer an aspirational character. He’s not someone that viewers should want to emulate. The drinking, gambling, and womanising – all the traits we’ve been told are what makes Bond cool – are now actually coping mechanisms.

Unlike Connery, Lazenby and Moore, Dalton’s Bond is someone who doesn’t actually seem to enjoy being a handsome playboy secret agent very much. Instead, he’s fed up of Queen and country, quietly resents the British government, and tells M to fuck off and leave him be at a moment’s notice.

Bearing that in mind, it’s worth asking what James Bond would be like if he wasn’t a spy. wouldn’t like my behaviour to be judged solely based on the time spent in my most-hated job. If Bond retired, or was cast out of the secret service, would he drink as much? Would he be as promiscuous? Would he take up new hobbies? Live abroad? Make new friends? Who is he, really, beyond his code name? Do we really know him at all?

Notice how Dalton seems to suggest that Bond’s flaws are what make him an interesting role. 007 was never meant to be a British superhero, the perfect example of rugged machismo and devil-may-care bravado. He’s a morally ambiguous character, one whose intentions, beliefs, and actions don’t always stand up to scrutiny.

Sadly, the ambitions of The Living Daylights are more laudable than the actual content. Although the tone shifts, the movie still has far too many action sequences to tick off to bother with stuff like drama and pathos. Still, isn’t it a joy to know that the creators are actually taking it seriously again?

The movie opens with JB and two of his pals performing a training exercise in Gibraltar. The agents parachute down to the Rock, when suddenly 004 is assassinated for real and Bond is forced to evade some sneaky commies by clinging to a speeding van. It’s gripping action, which takes a sudden nosedive when Bond drives a burning van off a cliff and gracefully parachutes down to a yacht, and is promptly handed a flute of champagne by a beautiful supermodel. There’s still plenty of camp to go around folks!

Things get more MGS 3 when Bond is dispatched to Bratislava to help a Russian General named Koskov defect to the West. Meeting him at a concert hall, Bond saves him from a sniper waiting in the wings, but is intrigued when he deduces that the gun-woman is an inexperienced civilian out of her depth rather than a professional killer.

After smuggling Koskov across the border, Bond returns to London for his usual info-dump, and learns that cuddly Russian granddad General Gogol has been replaced by the far more draconian General Pushkin, who is a lot more vindictive when it comes to dealing with enemy agents. He’s supposedly the chap who killed 004 in Gib, and not long after, he kidnaps Koskov and takes him to Tangiers.

M sends Bond on a mission to rescue Koskov and kill General Literary Allusion, reasoning that this will end hostilities between East and West. I would’ve thought that killing the head of the KGB would be a diplomatically short-sighted tactic. But I’m not an expert in statecraft, am I?

Things only get twistier when Bond tracks the female sniper down and finds out that she’s actually Koskov’s bae and that his defection was staged! Bond manipulates poor Kara into taking him to his location, pretending to be a mate of his, only for some KGB mooks to initiate Chase Sequence #20901.

Since they were at an alpine retreat with at the time, I started trembling at the thought of there being skiing still to come. But instead. Bond and Kara escape by riding her cello case down the slope, with Kara forcing Bond to make sure that her instrument isn’t damaged, much to his chagrin. Mildly amusing though this conceit is, it’s not exactly in keeping with the supposedly gritty tone of the story.

The intrigue doesn’t stop there. Bond learns from Kara that Koskov is due to meet an American arms dealer named Whittaker (played by Joe Don Baker, aka: the most American man in the world) to buy some weapons off him. Bond accosts Pushkin (played by Gimli, sorry, I mean John Rhys-Davies) at a hotel and interrogates him in one of the most sincerely intense scenes in the Bond franchise thus far. Dalton’s Bond has been gentlemanly up to a point, but suddenly he becomes every bit as menacing as Roger ‘Smack-A-Bitch-Off-A-Rooftop’ Moore was on a bad day.

Bricking it, Pushkin reveals that not only did he not order the death of 004 in Gibraltar, but that Koskov is actually evading arrest for embezzling government funds, which is why he was recaptured to be extradited. Bond teams up with Puskin to take down Koskov, but Koskov convinces Kara that Bond is actually a KGB agent. Because it’s still too radical for women to have too much agency in these movies, Kara believes her sketchy-as-hell BF, drugs Bond, and hands him over to Koskov.

Another twist! Bond is taken to Afghanistan as prisoner, and Koskov (quell surprise) betrays Kara and leaves her to die with Bond in a Soviet camp. It’s then that Bond allies with the Mujaheddin, who at the time were brave freedom fighters resisting imperialistic Russian oppressors. This partnership hasn’t aged well, and is a good illustration of why sometimes it’s not such a good idea to anchor JB too firmly in the real world.

Bond, Kara, and the Mujaheddin buddy up to disrupt a drug deal Koskov wants to profit off of. Bond gets into a fight with Koskov’s henchman and flings him out of a plane, followed by a big bomb which he drops on a platoon of tanks. Bond crashes the plane, destroying a gigantic pile of blow in the process (awww) and confronts Whittaker.

Whittaker is another highlight of the movie. He’s just mental enough to be memorable, with his toy soldiers and waxwork dictators, but scary precisely because he regards war as an amusing game. Bond manages to overcome him (in a fight that also reminded me a lot of a Metal Gear Solid boss with its unapologetic zaniness), Koskov is arrested, and the movie ends with Kara and 007 hooking up at a post-cello-performance party.

So did I like The Living Daylights? That’s a tricky one. The plot is grounded and intricate, with lots of double crossing, false flags, and faked deaths, the characters are shuffled about like so many chess pieces, and Bond assumes aliases, manipulates allies, and makes deductions.

Sadly though, the many twists and breakneck pace means that there’s very little chance for Dalton to actually explore the character that interested him so much. There are fleeting moments where he’s allowed to be the brooding, Byronic, introspective lone wolf he discussed in interviews, but they’re all too brief. However, I have to give this movie credit for pivoting in the first place…

[Untitled Movie About A Zebra]

“Where am I?” asked Stirling.

“A Towering Inferno,” a voice behind him sniggered.

Stirling turned. A bellboy with a face like a chimpanzee stood behind him, his yellow smile an ear of corn. Something about it was disconcerting, so Stirling chose to ignore the remark.

“It’s damn hot in here,” he said.

“Oh yeah,” nodded the bellboy. “Damn hot.”

Stirling frowned at him, and mopped his brow with a handkerchief. There were knots tied in it. He wondered why. Had he forgotten something? What was he doing in this stuffy little elevator anyway? He could feel it dropping down and down, all the blood in his body sinking into his loafers.

A sullen note, which was both sharp and flat, rang out. The elevator shuddered to a halt.

“This is your floor champ,” said the bellboy with a wink. “Say hi to the fellas for me.”

“What fellas?” Stirling asked.

The bellboy shoved him out without replying, and Stirling watched the doors slide shut and heard the lift take off again, with even more of a sinking feeling than before.

He turned around. At first he thought he was in a warehouse, but it was far too hot. Lot of commotion. Plenty of lights and cameras and cumbersome pieces of rigging and scaffolding strewn about. Young guys fiddled with props while several self-important looking men argued with each other. It was utter pandemonium.

Stirling immediately relaxed. He knew where he was now. This wasn’t a madhouse. Just a film set. He was right at home here.

Hadn’t his agent phoned him just the other day? A favour being called in? A project languishing? Needed him to doctor the script before reshoots became a necessity. or something like that. He stared at the knots in his damp handkerchief, but couldn’t recall the specifics.

Nonetheless, in situations like this Stirling knew that it was all too easy for the voice of the writer to be lost in the cacophony. Once the final draft was typed up, the producers and director usually ignored you; charged ahead like bull-headed fools, totally missing the bare truth of the narrative.

Best course of action was to puff out your chest and shout louder. Try to steer them back on the right path.

Stirling grabbed a passing runner and dragged him to heel like an errant dog. Hot coffee spilled over the rim a cardboard cup.

“Listen sonny,” said Stirling as it dripped onto the floor, “The studio sent me to fix this shitshow. Where’s the director?”

“Which one?” asked the runner blankly.

Stirling stared at him. The spotted youth looked eerily similar to the bellboy. It was actually uncanny.

“What do you mean which one?‘” asked Stirling. “The only one. The definite article. Where is he?”

The runner pointed at the group of arguing men, whose voices were rising to a crescendo. Stirling sighed. Too many prima donnas on one picture. Same old story. This was going to be Poseidon all over again.

“Beat it,” he growed at the runner, and marched towards the squabble.

A man with long, dark hair was screaming in a strange accent at a bald Asian guy, while another attempted to interject from the sidelines

“I cannot have zebra looking like this, okay?” yelled the first man. “Scene needs zebra to look tougher! Needs more muscles! I want bigger zebra!”

He turned to nearby peon, who was nodding and scribbling notes on a clipboard at the same speed as a hummingbird beating its wings.

“Get zebra to gym. Make it work out some, okay?” the long-haired-man ordered. “Otherwise nothing good will happen with us here.”

“This is is bullshit Tommy!” screamed the bald guy. “We can animate the zebra. I can do it in two minutes. This whole thing should be 3D! That’s what the kids want-“

“We’re not loving what the little kiddies want today!” shouted Tommy, “Little kiddies and their superhero joking isn’t funny to me!”

“I cannot work!” cried out the third man, a portly guy with a soul patch. “Non finiremo mai di girare questo film!”

The tight circle broke apart, and each of the three men began hissing at their cringing assistants.

Stirling went up to the chubby Italian and boldly stuck out his hand.

“Hi, I’m Stirling,” he said.

“Claudio,” answered the Italian.

“The studio sent me,” Stirling said. “I think they said you were having trouble.”

Claudio lit a cigarette and drew in a deep lungful of smoke.

“Oh dio. Più disordine,” he muttered, before saying in English: “There is no problem with the project, we just disgreeing, si?”

“Can I see the script?” Stirling asked, undeterred.

The Italian nodded at his PA, who handed Stirling a dog-eared sheaf of papers. He glanced at the working title:

[Untitled Movie About A Zebra]

This did not bode well. He leafed through the script while Claudio smoked, but it seemed to have been composed in a kind of pidgin English:


ScENe 12 (INt) kiTChENn

I KEpT sAyiNg yOU daRLiNg, I WiLl nOt bE The eatINg oF mEat aNyMoRe. I aM vEGAn. THiS sHit sTiNKs.

wHAt? YoU hoMo? EaT MY sTEAk or i cHop It OFf!

I tIghTenINg tHe beLt so i noT fEel tHe hUngeR pAinS.

YOu shitTIng On dINNeR! I WOn’T ALLoW it!

ThINk aBOut fAt iN yoUr blOoD. ThiNk abOut cHoLeSteRol. ThiNk abOut tOxIN!

eAt iT!

(ZEbRA wAtcHeS THeM.)

ThEy eAtiNg him! THeN thEy eaT mE! Oh MY GooooOooooOOOD!


“Who wrote this crap?” Stirling asked, “I can’t make sense of it.”

The Italian’s face went beetroot.

“I write it!” he exclaimed. “If you don’t like it, fuck you too!”

He stomped away, spitting foreign curse words. Stirling folded the script, put it in his pocket, and approached the bald man next.

“Hi, I’m Stirling,” he repeated mechanically. “The studio sent me. I think they said you were having trouble.”

“I’m not having trouble,” the bald man snapped. “All these other losers are the ones having trouble. They don’t know what you can do with special effects. When I directed my second feature, there was this scene in a bus where-”

“Well it’s nothing a couple of rewrites won’t fix,” Stirling interrupted. “What’s it about?”

A glossy expression that Stirling had learned well to fear came over the man as he launched into an explanation.

“It’s about this guy, right, this software salesman. Really handsome, everyone likes him. He meets this girl. Really gorgeous girl. She’s a supermodel, and an astronaut, and a doctor, and he takes her out, but she thinks she might be fat, so she gives up pizza, and she loses ten pounds, and the guy is happy, so he buys a new Camaro, and they go dancing, but she falls over, but she isn’t hurt too bad, and then the zebras come.”

Stirling blinked at him.

“The .. the zebras come?” he said.

“Uhuh,” the bald man said. “Millions of them. They come out of the ground and stampede and breathe fire because of fracking. It’s, like, a metaphor.”

Stirling wet his lips, opened his mouth, and felt his tongue turn to granite. What happy fucking camper had greenlit this?

“Okay,” he said eventually, “So it’s a disaster movie. A disaster movie and a love story.”

“It’s all in the script,” said the bald man. He handed Stirling a loose collection of pages that added up to little more than a pamphlet.

“Um, this copy is different to the one I have,” said Stirling.

“Don’t read their scripts,” the man glowered. “Mine is the real movie. Yes?!”

A runner tapped him on the shoulder and pulled him away. Stirling read a few pages of the script and began to feel ill.



Baby I just got some great news…….. I got a promotion!!!!!!!

That’s great baby!!!!!! I just got some great news too ………………… I’m going to be on the cover of Playboy next week!!!!!!!

That’s great ………. you’re really great.


Yeah sure …………………………… I feel really great about my business.

Of course ……. OH EM GEE BABY!!!! Look!!!!!

(A dirty, angry, snarling, ugly, stinking, zebra is eating up the guts of a waiter. There are blood and guts everywhere. The blood and guts fly out of him and hit the walls. The floor is covered in blood and guts and sick and poop. Also the waiter is dead.)

Help John I’m scared!!!!

JOHN: Grab that gun baby!!!!


Christ alive. This wasn’t just a disaster movie. It was a disaster movie.

Stirling went to the long haired man, who was now being shown glossy pictures of steroidal zebras by a deputy. His outfit was bizarre. He wore a v-neck sweater, cargo pants, a black sport coat, two belts, and a thick set of sunglasses.

Hi-I’m-Stirling-the-studio-sent-me-I-think-they-said-you-were-having-trouble,” Stirling declared, without bothering to offer his hand.

“Hello yes, I’m Tommy. I’m needing the zebras,” the man said, in an accent doing a full tour of Europe without ever stopping for gas. “I need this movie to be Jurassic Park.”

“Jurassic Park?”

“Yeah yeah, it’s good,” nodded Tommy. “The zebras are a phenomenon, they are life, they are us. We’re all having Zebras inside that want to kill people, and when people see that, they will know that they can’t be alone also.”

Stirling rubbed his temples.

“What? What the fuck does that mean?!” he said. “What’s it about!? I can’t seem to get a straight answer out of anyone.”

“Okay, so man owns horses on farm,” explained Tommy enthusiastically. “He work hard and no-one appreciate him and his neighbour is real mean guy. His girlfriend, she is cheating on him, and he decide to raise zebras instead.”

Stirling nodded. This was more hopeful.

“What then?”

“Then the girl’s mother, she gets cancer, and then her father gets the AIDS, and the zebras are all sick. Jonny works so hard to make it right, but then neighbour starts painting his horses to look like zebras and making them kill people, so Jonny kill him and kill girlfriend and flies away.”

Stirling stared at Tommy, who stared right back at him.

“He … he flies away?” said Stirling.

“Uhuh,” nodded the long-haired-man. “He was vampire all the time. It is metaphor, yeah?”

“Right, a metaphor,” muttered Stirling. “Do you have your own script as well?”

“Don’t read theirs,” Tommy said. “Please see this as real movie, okay? The world must see this. It’s beautiful story.”

He reached into a large satchel, and pulled out a thick doorstopper of a script, marked with various annotations and highlights.


ACT 10, SCENE 11 SCENE 12 SCENE 14 [must please have less scenes]

(ZARA sighing slutty sexily puts Jonny breakfast on table and stomps her foot on the carpet tile ground.)

Promotion! Promotion! That’s all I hear about. Here’s your coffee latte tea cocoa coffee and English muffin and burn your mouth.


(A beating.)

I hurt your feelings did I? [Have Zara bending over and showing ass.]

Fed up with these zebras honey they take everything from us me. They killing Jimmy, blow up New York and now I read newspaper.

(JONNY throw papers at ZARA feet toes legs soles slippers shoes.)

It is momma. The zebras sex her. They sex her face clean off [dramatic] and now her skull is eggs!

Oh no!

It’s bullshit! [more intensity here for scene]

(ZARA sit on Jonny cock dick face lap and take off top and naked. They are climbing onto table and soon making out on breakfast. Zara shows booby and Jonny is putting him in her butt.)

I love you Jonny!

And you my cherry babydoll little girl!


The heat had become stifling. Stirling shuffled over to a quiet corner of the set. He found a place to sit and read through each script, cover-to-cover, quickly and carefully. None of them gelled into a coherent whole, in terms of pacing, story, theme, tone, or genre. The only ubiquitous elements were a man, a woman, and a zebra.

Time slipped away from him. It was a meaningless concept when you were on set. Beads of sweat slid down the back of his shirt collar. Runners brought him coffee after coffee, and he jotted down notes in his notepad as he shuffled pages, trying to wring some sense out of the lunacy.

After much blocking and rewriting, Stirling requested a typewriter and a desk. He sat beating the keys, mashing out the script in a tin shop percussion fuelled by caffeine and adrenaline. He felt like a plastic surgeon working on some hideous burn victim, trying to shape the deformed into something halfway passable.

“Let me guess friend?” someone beside him asked. “The studio sent you?”

Stirling jumped and turned. Leaning against a wall was a square-jawed man with thick brows, smoking a cigarette. He was unremarkable aside from his attire: a pink angora sweater and matching beret, a white satin blouse, a dark pencil skirt, and a pair of high-heeled pumps.

“Yeah,” Stirling said. “Stirling.”

“Ed,” said the transvestite.

Stirling chose not to draw attention to his clothes. He’d seen some sights, living in Bangkok for the last few years. Cities like that made you open-minded.

“What do you do Ed?” Stirling asked. “Wardrobe department, or-?”

“HA!” barked Ed, with a melodramatic flick of his head. “Hardly! I was the director, and this was my picture … at least until the rest of these amateurs showed up.”

He shot a look of cold venom at the other would-be-auteurs. Stirling noted with dismay that they seemed to have multiplied, like fungi.

“They’ve got some nerve, showing me up like this,” said Ed. “This was supposed to be my big comeback! This was a pet project for me friend. I had a whole vision for it.”

“Oh yeah?” Stirling said, “What was it about?”

Ed sat beside him, rummaged in a dainty handbag, and pulled out a flask. He took a long gulp before offering it to Stirling, who gratefully swigged before it disappeared for good. The hot whiskey did little to quench him. It was so damn hot.

“We open on a hippodrome in ancient Rome,” Ed regaled, framing the scene with his manicured fingers. “Every day these horses are ridden for Caesar’s pleasure. But there’s one horse, the slowest and lamest, who knows he’s different. A thing apart from the others. And his rider’s hiding a secret too: she isn’t a man at all. She’s woman in disguise!”

“Okay,” said Stirling carefully.

“So when he’s harnessed to his rider’s chariot,” continued Ed, “He decides to impress Caesar. He gallops and gallops and wins the race, and he’s brought before the emperor, and he rises up, and transforms into a beautiful zebra!”

“Huh… You know, that’s not actually half-”

“Then the Martians show up,” Ed carried on. “They’ve got death rays and sun bombs and particle crossbows and they invade Rome, so the emperor climbs onto the zebra and rallies his legions and fights em off. Bella was going to play Caesar.”

“Uhuh,” mumbled Stirling, head in his hands.

“It was a metaphor you know,” said Ed.

“Of course it was,” replied Stirling.

“They ought to show me some fucking respect!” Ed suddenly snarled. “I was the first. I was a pioneer. Millions of people have watched my films. They’re repeated on TV. Played at festivals. My masterpiece was showing every midnight while these bozos were in diapers!”

He took another drag on his cigarette, before strutting away.

“God help us,” he muttered, “In the future.”

More time passed. Workers rushed to and fro. More arguments broke out over the slightest minutiae. Meanwhile, Stirling dropped into the script. He could feel the story taking shape, becoming a living organism instead of a freakshow. He just needed to knit the disparate threads together.

It felt like a night and a day had been and gone when the script was finally fixed. It wasn’t going to win him any awards, but it had a beginning, middle and end, and some jokes thrown in for good measure. They’d credit it the whole mess to that critical darling, Alan Smithee. Stirling wouldn’t be surprised to find him down here too.

There was still a lot of commotion. The long-haired-man and the bald guy seemed to have reached a compromise on the Zebra issue, and now Tommy was buck naked and painting himself with black and white stripes.

“I’m playing zebra now, okay?” he told the others, “I work out a lot so I do the part my way. No Mickey Mouse stuff.”

Stirling shook his head and tapped a guy who was adjusting a camera on the shoulder.

“Hey,” he said. “I need to speak to a director. Any director.”

“Yeah I’m the director,” the man replied gruffly, “What do ya-“

He turned around. Stirling was shocked to see the state of his legs: even under his baggy pants, he could see they were misshapen and twisted like bent branches.

The man’s weathered face broke into bright smile of recognition.

“Stirling! What are ya doing here buddy?”

“Do I know you?” asked Stirling, as the man took his hand and cranked it up and down.

“Do I know ya?‘ he says!” laughed the man, “Oh that’s rich! If it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t be here myself!”

“I’m sorry,” said Stirling, feeling his arm go numb, “I meet a lot of people and I don’t always-“

“Harold!” the man said grandly, “Harold Warren! We met at that coffee house when you were filming Route 66.”

Memories, at once cringeworthy and hysterical, floated like soap bubbles to the surface of Stirling’s mind. Memories of a conversation with a bragging salesman.

A challenge. A wager.

A movie.

“Remember me now?” grinned Warren, his firm as tight as a clamp on a hubcap. “I couldn’t believe I was talking to a Hollywood bigshot.”

“Yes,” said Stirling slowly. “You sold … fertiliser?

“Correct!” beamed Warren, grinding the bones of Stirling’s hand. “I said that making a spooky movie was easier than selling manure, and you disagreed with me. So-“

“So we made a bet, and you made a movie,” croaked Stirling. He pulled out his handkerchief to mop his cheek, and wasn’t surprised at all too see that the knots had untied themselves.

“Wrote the story treatment on a napkin right there and then,” nodded Warren. “Made the whole thing for just under 20 grand.”

“I remember,” said Stirling. “What was it called? Mangos: The Cans of Fruit?”

Manos,” said Warren firmly. “Manos: The Hands of Fate. Everyone laughed. First they laughed at the script, then they laughed at the reels, and then they laughed when I said I’d fix it in the edit.”

“Yes,” said Stirling. “There was a faun or something, and a lodge, and-“

“They said I couldn’t polish a turd,” said Warren. “But I always say: making movies sure beats shovelling shit. Am I right?”

“But you… you died in ’85,” said Stirling, his mouth now as dry as burnt toast. “I got a letter from your family.”

“Yeah, I kicked the can,” said Stirling. “End scene. Fin. Now I’m stuck in on this feature, mucking out the horses. Zebras. Whatever.”

“I-I don’t understand,” stammered Stirling. “I’ve been sent by the studio, I think. To doctor the script or … or something. I need to speak to the director.”

“Oh I’m the director,” said Warren. “Don’t listen to those other guys. This is my baby, pure and simple.”

Stirling wrenched his hand out of Warren’s grip.

“Where’s the executive producer?” he asked wildly. “I wanna speak to someone in charge!”

“Why, speak of the devil,” said Warren. “Here is is now.”

Stirling spun around. A man in well-tailored clothes grinned a simian grin at him. His face was identical to the bellboy’s, to the runner’s, to the many other set dressers working feverishly all around him.

“Hello Mr Siliphant” smiled The Producer, “Come with me please. Your time’s up here.”

He put his arm around Stirling and turned him aside.

“Hey, Stirling!” Warren cried after him. “If you ever need any compost, for your back yard or whatnot, give me a call, all right?”

Stirling mumbled a feeble reply as the producer led him away.

“We had someone like you down here before you know,” The Producer drawled. “Mr Alighieri. He was just passing through too.”

He was guiding Stirling towards the elevator. Even through the fabric of his suit, Stirling could feel his fingers on his shoulder. Like ice. Like death.

“Don’t worry about Warren,” The Producer whispered in his ear. “Or Wood, or Wiseau, or any of the others. They’ll get out of here too.”

“When?” asked Stirling.

“As soon as they finish the picture,” said The Producer. “Or, at any rate, when they finally make something worth watching. That’s the deal.”

“Monkeys,” Stirling shuddered. “Monkeys doing Shakespeare.”

Tommy was rearing up on his back legs, painted like a beast, his yawning mouth braying a shrill whinny. The other directors were screaming at him: a cursed mob vainly cursing. The Producer regarded the damned contentedly.

“Pride,” he said. “The daddy of all sins. That’s why they’re here.”

As the doors slid open, Stirling could still hear them bickering in the blistering heat. Someone wanted to change the zebra into a turkey. Apparently it was a metaphor.

“Poor bastards,” sighed Stirling. “They don’t have an ounce of talent between them. It’ll go on and on forever.”

The Producer pushed him into the elevator, and pushed the button for the top floor.

“Well,” he chuckled, “That’s why it’s called development hell…”

Half-Life: Resonance

It began with the Black Mesa Incident.

On May 16, 2003, scientists working in Sector C of the
Black Mesa Research Facility triggered a Resonance Cascade.

At 9:47 AM, 27-year-old Anomalous Materials research associate
Dr Gordon Freeman pushed Xenium sample GG-3883 into the
Anti-Mass Spectrometer.

A cataclysmic quantum event occurred. Hundreds perished immediately.

Hostile life-forms began their incursion. The military was dispatched to neutralise the threat and terminate all witnesses.

The Xenian forces triumphed. Thousands more lives were lost.

In desperation, the Science Team sent one man to the Borderworld.
The same man who inadvertently caused the disaster itself.

Despite overwhelming odds and unfathomable opposition, the
One Free Man eliminated the entity masterminding the invasion.

A tactical thermonuclear detonation totally destroyed the facility shortly thereafter.

The Opener of the Way was lost in the void. Portal storms ravaged the Earth.
A vast and baleful regime arrived, and seized the offensive.

Humanity was subjugated in seven hours. Billions have died.

Only a dozen people survived Black Mesa.

This is the story of one of them.

The James Bond Quarantine Recap (Roger Moore):

Live and Let Die:

If you thought that we’d dispensed with James Bond interacting with minorities, we now have Live and Let Die, which is Bond doing blaxploitation. Or should that be ‘Bondsploitation?’ Never mind.

Now, I haven’t seen many blaxploitation movies, so I don’t know what the basic story devices are, but this movie seems to be suffering from an identity crisis. You can see that this is the point where EON was worried the public’s appetite for spy films had been whetted, and were trying to pin James Bond on whatever hot new trend was popular at the time.

Sometimes this can work. Look at the Marvel movies, and how few of them are actually straight superhero flicks. They manage to successfully blend the conventions of comics with other genres. Ant-Man = Heist Movie, Thor = High Fantasy, Guardians of the Galaxy = Space Opera, Captain America = Period War Movie/Political Thriller.

So for the record, ‘Bondsploitation’ isn’t an inherently bad idea. With movies like Shaft, Coffy and Foxy Brown giving black actors and performers newfound visibility, it’s an appealing concept to throw James Bond into one of these stories to see what happens. But this idea hinges on one important factor: making James Bond a fish-out-of-water.

You see James Bond, especially Moore’s Bond, is probably the whitest man in cinema. He is staunchly, uncompromisingly, white, British, imperialist – a caricature of an English person.

Bearing this in mind, were I to write a film like this, I’d play up Bond being totally out of his element in the ghettos of the USA. He’d misunderstand slang, make a clumsy remark to a black Bond girl which would put them off him, ask for a vintage wine in a seedy bar and be met with dismay.

Bond would try to play out his usual tropes, but his own prejudice would foil him every time. Only after overcoming his own bias would 007 earn the right to sleep with the lassie, make the quip, etc., etc., and this delayed gratification would mean that the audience would accept the didacticism.

Why not have Bond partner up properly with Agent Strutter? Strutter could act as the deuteragonist, and correct Bond when he makes bigoted assumptions or gets out of his depth. Their conflict could drive 007’s racial epiphany. Bond would still be competent, but in totally unfamiliar territory, and would have to show a bit of humility and, dare I say it, grow as a character, to save the day.

Interestingly enough, in the book this is kinda what happens. Although Bond remains racist, his CIA chum Felix Leiter admonishes him several times for it, and it’s clear that Bond’s attitudes are backward even by Fleming’s standards. Hell, they could have gotten away with making Felix black this time around. That would mean that Bond would have to come to grips with the ‘but some of my best friends are [x]’ bigotry which even the most well-intentioned liberal can slip into. A nice helping of humble pie might be just the thing to ingratiate this uptight G-Man to a black audience in the 70s.

But instead Moore is thrown into a blaxploitation film and shown to perform better than a black protagonist, on his own terms and without much effort, which feels like the movie simply isn’t respecting the genre it’s adopting.

It’s worth mentioning that Roger Moore is actually a good actor when he’s given a chance to be. Watch him in The Saint, and you’d assume he’d be the perfect Bond: charming, sophisticated, romantic, but dangerous when pushed too far.

But unfortunately, the character is overshadowed by his own quirks. He’s formed a tedious shell of martinis, tuxedos, cars and puns around himself and killed the actual person inside. As such, Moore doesn’t get a chance to properly drive the James Bond car. Instead he’s like a train conductor: taking us on a journey, but on rails with the same stops at the same places each time.

This is exemplified by his first scene, which sees M and Moneypenny making a social call while he bangs a Random Bint at his house (looks like Knightsbridge to me, lucky bugger). This necessitates a farcical runaround with Moneypenny trying to prevent Bond’s boss from catching him sleeping with a bit of young totty. Once M delivers his exposition, Bond uses a magnet gadget to unzip the lassie’s top, and jests: “Sheer magnetism, darling.” Christ. This series is starting to resemble Confessions of a Window Cleaner.

The plot involves Bond travelling to Harlem to foil a drug dealer called Mr Big, which seems fairly grounded. Forget lasers and nukes and ransoming NATO, Mr Big just wants to corner the smack market, which is what every real-life kingpin wants to do.

The trouble is that the black gangsters aren’t allowed to be just that. Instead of the Barksdale crew, Mr Big’s criminal syndicate employs a virgin fortuneteller who can genuinely see the future, and a voodoo cult run by a man named Baron Samedi who has actual magic powers. By the way, if you think that JB is going to handle voodoo, a real religion people sincerely believe in, with any actual sensitivity, then I have to ask if you’ve been paying attention up till now.

So Bond goes to Harlem, gets called a honky by men wearing the most aggressively seventies outfits imaginable, and finally obtains a lead on Mr Big. He travels to the Caribbean, and meets up with the son of Quarrel from Dr No (I like to imagine them exchanging Christmas cards over the last decade) and his CIA contact Rosie Carver.

Rosie initially appears to be a capable blacksploitation heroine, and the fact that she’s played by Gloria Hendry would make you think that she’d be a cool, take-no-shit foil to Bond. I keep praying for a cool, take-no-shit foil to Bond materialise … but she never does, and Rosie comes down with a critical case of The Bimbos immediately. The James Bond franchise continually insists upon telling us that screaming damsels in distress are actually deadly secret agents, and provides no evidence to prove it.

Rosie is sadly the latest victim of this tendency, turning out to be a double agent who screams at everything before being killed. What a waste.

Solitaire (the aforementioned prognosticator) doesn’t fare much better, and is yet another one of our rapist protagonist’s victims. Solitaire has been held prisoner by Mr Big. Bond finds her and uses a loaded deck of cards while she performs a tarot reading to trick the sheltered girl into thinking that it’s her destiny to sleep with him. When she does, she loses her magic virgin powers and her life is seriously endangered as a result.

So does this mean that Bond is the kind of person who would carry a deck of 48 cards, all of which are ‘The Lovers’, just on the off-chance he needs them to get his end away? Yes. Yes it fucking well does. About the only good thing that happens to poor Solitaire is that she gets to beat JB at poker.

Bond and her escape to New Orleans together, and a lengthy chase ensues in a double-decker bus. They’re then captured by Mr Big, who peels off his obvious latex mask, and reveals himself to be, (shock-horror) Dr Kananga – the dictator of the Caribbean country that Bond ‘n’ Solitaire have just fled from.

Now at this point, it’s worth mentioning that the villains in Live and Let Die are easily the best part of it. Mr Big is an embarrassing Jive-talking stereotype, but his alter-ego Kananga is two steps ahead of Bond for most of the film; a charismatic, suave bastard. His henchman are just as cool: we have a creepy goon with a wheezy voice called Whisper, a claw-handed hyena of an enforcer named Tee Hee, and Baron Samedi, either an actual Haitian god or a cackling lunatic, whose performance has to be seen to be appreciated.

Kananga gives Solitaire to Baron Samedi to be sacrificed, and Tee Hee and Whisper leave Bond on an island in the swamp to be eaten by gators. This scene genuinely is quite tense, if only because the lizards are 100 per cent real, and health and safety regulations didn’t appear to be a priority on the shoot.

Bond manages to escape and hop on a speedboat, and another lengthy chase ensues. It would be another Temple of Doom Minecart affair were it not for the inclusion of Sherrif JW Pepper: a fat, racist, redneck slob of a sheriff, who seems more like a character from the Blues Brothers than a James Bond film. He’s desperate to arrest Bond for causing such carnage while evading capture, and normally I’d be on his side. But he’s so loud and obnoxious that schadenfreude kicks in when he’s later told that Bond is a MI6 spy and has carte blanche to do what he likes.

Bond goes back to the Caribbean, and rescues Solitaire from the voodoo cult in a scene that’s weirdly reminiscent of Fey Wray getting kidnapped by the Skull Island natives in King Kong. This leads to a really odd moment where Bond is holding up about 60 people at once with his pea-shooter. Baron Samedi appears in a puff of smoke. JB shoots him, he shatters like a vase, reappears about five foot to the left, and Bond throws him into a coffin filled with snakes. It’s a really anticlimactic and perfunctory end to such a hammy character.

But nothing, I mean nothing, compares to how Bond finishes off Karanga. Bond and Solitaire infiltrate his lair and are captured immediately, because Moore’s Bond is about as stealthy as a rhino in a tutu. Both are chained to a hook and slowly lowered into a shark-infested pool. However, Bond uses his magnetic watch to escape and gets into a knife fight with Karanga. They fall into the shark pool together, but Bond is bleeding underwater, the fish are closing in, and then…

… Then Bond force-feeds Karanga a compressed air bullet, Karanga inflates like a balloon, a fake Yaphet Kotto dummy floats into the air, and he explodes like a giant party popper. I laughed so hard at this scene I actually pulled a muscle in my gut. It’s the most ridiculous, stupid, mental death scene of all time. I don’t know what anyone involved in it was thinking.

There’s a final scene on a train (which seems to be an internal reference to FRWL) where, as usual, The Henchman tries one last time to kill Bond. But I can’t remember it. As far as I’m concerned, the film ends with a drug lord being Violet-Beauregarded to death, and no-one can tell me otherwise.

Live and Let Die? I wish they had let it die.

The James Bond Quarantine Recap (Sean Connery and George Lazenby):

From Russia With Love:

From Dr No, we proceed to From Russia With Love, which is also surprisingly grounded … to a point.

The plot is complicated enough that you might not be able to follow it if you went for a piss without pausing. The nebulously/fabulously evil organisation SPECTRE wants to nick a knockoff ENIGMA machine. So they hatch a plot to get a sexy Russian bird to seduce Bond (“Of course! Women! His one weakness!”) so she can convince him to pinch it from the Soviets. SPECTRE will then assassinate him, steal it for themselves, and let the limey’s take the blame. That’s actually some proper espionage!

But what the first half of the movie actually involves is Sean Connery going on an all-expenses-paid trip to Turkey, where the Local Contact turns out to be a sleazy Chuckle brother who takes him on a ‘Fear and Loathing in Istanbul’ odyssey of booze and whores. It cannot be overstated how much of a dirty bastard Kerim is. He looks like someone who would try to sell you one his daughters from his hotdog stand.

At one point in the movie he takes Bond to a gypsy camp and they they watch two women mud wrestle for literally no reason. I know that JB has a lot of sex appeal, but this smackdown in the midden comes from nowhere, goes on far too long, and makes the actresses look like diarrhoea dressed up.

The Final Girl is Tatiana Romanov. By the way, it really annoys me how Russians always have that second name in movies. Why not go the whole hog and call all the Brits: ‘John Windsor?’

Tatiana is a plausible seductress but an implausible secret agent. I don’t buy her as someone who would slit your throat for state secrets, or that she’s skilled at mind games and manipulation. She just seems like someone who fancies James Bond. Wow; he won’t know what to make of that tactic love!

I think the movie would have been improved if she’d been gas-lighting Bond – drawing him into a web of lies and gaining his trust and sympathy, so that her antagonism is something with actual emotional stakes, then her redemption will be more meaningful. At least have her be a bit of a badass who can hold her own in a square-go.

But of course, because Bond has to be the best at everything, has to dominate everyone, this doesn’t materialise. Instead she falls for him, he pumps her, and she’s never heard from again. What was risked? What was learned? Nothing. Apparently if you bed gorgeous and two-faced Russian agents you can just get away with it if you’re good in the sack. Fine.

However, the antagonists are far better than Dr ‘Lobster Mitts.’ Red Grant is basically just James Bond but evil, by which I mean, a murderous rapist in a suit … but with blond hair! In a few movies time, when Bond will be dispatching goons with a Jokeresque level of comically-mocking relish, the lines between Grant and Bond will fugue into total ambiguity, and we’ll wonder why they didn’t partner up, Man From U.N.C.L.E style.

The main thing I noticed was a potent sexual tension between Bond and Grant. They have a long scene on a train where Grant has Bond at his mercy, and Grant is telling him he’s going to kill him. Sean Connery treats him as a serious threat, with none of Bond’s typical smirking through danger. But his out-of-character engagement makes it seem like 007 fancies Grant and wants leftie daddy to have his way with him. At least he’s interested in getting to know Grant before he kills him, which is more than you can say for Miss October Revolution.

The Final Boss of the movie is also our very first Henchman, Rosa Klebb, who is awesome. In typical James Bond fashion, you can tell she’s a baddie because she’s an older woman in a position of power wearing a frumpy uniform, which epitomises all the evil commie values that our man JB loathes. I’m not sure if Klebb is supposed to be telegraphed as a lesbian because of this. It would make sense, since it would categorise her as ‘deformed or abnormal’ by JB’s warped standards, and is lazily offensive, so it’s probably the case.

Anyhow, the climax of the movie involves her trying to kick Bond in the shins with knife shoes, so we have to watch Connery wrestle someone who looks like Terry Jones playing Brian’s Mum for 10 minutes, before Tatiana decides to waste her.

However, it does have another good hat toss at the start, so all is forgiven Albert Broccoli…


Okay, so I just want to preface this by saying that I actually liked this film. It’s good. It does hold up. I enjoyed it.

… But, this is the movie where the original sins of the franchise first rear their ugly heads. Everything which this movie does well will be attempted again in a later film, but worse, beat-for-beat. It’s easy to see why it was copied so much, since it works well, but let’s count the clichés which are established for the first time:

  • Death Trap: James Bond is manacled to a table and almost has his peen singed off by a laser.
  • Henchman: Goldfinger’s main muscle is a strange foreign man with a silly name who kills people in a daft way ( to whit: mute/giant, Korean, OddJob, throws a razor-bladed hat.).
  • Elaborate Evil Scheme: To use a nuke to irradiate all the the gold in Fort Knox and make a shit-ton of $$$.
  • Final Girl: a femme fatale called Pussy Galore, who owns a number of planes and resists Bond’s rugged fuckability for nearly 13 minutes (a new record for womankind).
  • Gadget: An Aston Martin DB9, equipped with hidden guns, slippy oil, and an ejector seat (has Q been playing Mario Kart?)
  • Daft Villain Death: Goldfinger gets sucked out of a plane window when he accidentally shoots it.
  • Shootout: The US soldiers pretend to have been knocked out, then turn the tables on GF, drive off his goons, and save Bond.

The difference is that, in this film, it all coheres. Everything functions towards furthering the story (okay, apart from a revenge subplot that goes naewhere) and as cool as the gadgets are for 1964, and as big as the spectacle of Fort Knox is, it all works because it feels halfway believable and Bond isn’t invincible.

There’s plenty of one-upmanship between him and Goldfinger, but it’s balanced well, and Bond only barely manages to save the day. Look at the scene with the laser for example: it’s great because, for once, Bond is on the back foot, and can’t smirk and pun his way out of it. Goldfinger holds all the power and Bond essentially begs to be spared with as much dignity as he can manage. It’s genuinely tense (not least of which because Connery was actually scared about having a blowtorch sear his gonads).

Bond gets captured and handcuffed to the bomb, and only barely escapes in time, before getting his ass handed to him and winning through sheer chance. He’s actually pretty helpless – all he does is uncover the scheme, pass info to MI6 and the CIA, and survive until the end. You know, like an actual spy.

… However there’s also several mental moments that are worth listing here:

  • The movie opens with James Bond on a mission, where he first appears swimming in a pond wearing a duck-shaped hat as a disguise. Except, no duck would ever pop out from underwater, and even then he only swims with the ‘duck’ paddling on the water’s surface for three seconds before standing fully upright and running to cover. This leads me to believe that James Bond just likes going on covert missions wearing a duck on his head, stealth be damned.
  • At one point James and Random Bint are engaged in a car chase, and an old biddie appears with a machine gun and starts shooting at them. Who is she? A mercenary? A henchwoman only three days from retirement? Goldfinger’s dear old mum? We never find out.
  • Bond kills a baddie in a bathtub by chucking a fan into the water, electrocuting him. He then quips: “Shocking.” Okay, typical dad joke stuff. But then there’s a pause and he says “positively shocking” once more for emphasis, like an insecure comic who’s annoyed the audience hasn’t laughed enough at the punchline.
  • James Bond slags off the Beatles at one point. Saywood believes that Bond probably listens to nothing but Elgar and Radio 4. I agree.
  • At one point Bond and his bro Felix Leiter are chatting, and Bond’s ‘Random Bint of the Week’ wanders up and asks what they’re gabbing about. Rather than politely asking her to excuse him while he has a private conversation, Bond just says (I shit you not) “Not now: man talk,” and slaps her arse. England’s finest.
  • Pussy Galore seems like an awesome Bond girl, because she’s capable of beating Jim up, doesn’t take any of his shite, and looks great wearing jhodpurs. ‘Wow’ I thought, ‘a strong female character who says she’s immune to Bond’s charms.’ But no, after a judo fight Bond forces himself on her in a barn. Then she instantly falls for him and Bond apparently bones all the gay out of her. There’s no justice.

Also, in this movie Moneypenny takes Bond’s hat and throws it on that hatstand for him, in a subversion of the format which was the best thing in a Bond movie up to that point for me. It genuinely made me cheer out loud. And later on Bond has a fight with a man who challenges his hat-throwing prowess, and they have a hat toss-off. I can’t wait to see if Bond being able burping the alphabet will ever help him in the future.

I Watched a James Bond Film (for the First Time) Every Day During Quarantine:

“I wanted Bond to be an extremely dull, uninteresting man to whom things happened … I thought: ‘By God, James Bond is the dullest name I ever heard.'”

– Ian Fleming

You know, it’s a bummer when you feel excluded from a cultural touchstone. It sucks when everyone seems to be in on something you just can’t get into. For me, there’s one franchise that’s always turned me off, and that’s James Bond.

It’s weird. I mean, I’m absolutely obsessed with another long-running British series, about a charismatic, world-saving adventurer, played by a revolving cast of actors, who first became popular in the early sixties. But your man JB? Nah! Never interested me.

He always came across as a smug, posh twat. And as a smug, posh twat myself, I’m very defensive about how my demographic is represented. Call me unaspirational (you can’t; it isn’t a word), but I’ve never been able to see the appeal of watching a man more handsome, rich and successful than me bed countless women way out of my league and drive cars I’ll never afford. He just seems to be rubbing it in.

This came to a head a few years ago when my housemate and I had a drunken argument about whether I had any right to hate a franchise when I’d only ever seen one movie in it (Casino Royale – which I actually liked for the record). I pondered this the next day and long after, wondering if maybe I’d misjudged poor 007. Maybe if I gave the movies a chance, I’d actually enjoy them? It was worth a punt anyway.

So after I was condemned to stay indoors indefinitely over the coronavirus pandemic, I suddenly found myself with oodles of spare time on my hands. So I decided to take a chance on James Bond. Not only that, but I was going to do it properly, no mucking about. No matter how boring, camp, sexist, racist, pompous, or silly things got, I was going to watch all 24 movies in order, and probably No Time to Die when it came out too.

Me and my housemates Michael and Saywood are currently 11 movies into this franchise, and I honestly still can’t work out how the escapades of a Tory tit in a tux can be worth an estimated $19.9 billion. But ultimately the experience has, in its own weird way, been entertaining. Here’s what I learned so far:

Why ‘Back to the Future’ is My Favourite Screenplay: Part One

Okay, so I’m going to preface this by saying that I know that Back to the Future (or BTTF from now on) isn’t THE GREATEST FILM OF ALL TIME™. 

There are many films that are better works of art, which asked more profound questions, which pushed the boundaries of cinema as a storytelling medium, or just had better special effects. 

But BBTF isn’t trying to be a work of art, or a solemn meditation on the human condition. It’s a popcorn flick. The mere fact that it cannibalises so many genres (sci-fi, rom-com, high school drama) tells you exactly where it stands on the scale of high/low culture. 

Yet I sincerely believe that Back to The Future is a perfect movie. It’s not trying to do everything a film can do, but it achieves complete perfection in almost every aspect of its execution. Most of that comes down to its screenplay. 

When people think about great screenplays, they probably think of someone like Aaron Sorkin or Charlie Kaufman. I adore both of them but BBTF’s screenplay is criminally underrated and technically brilliant. The first act is an absolute a masterclass in how to set up exposition, reveal character, and entertain an audience simultaneously. 

I’ve watched this film dozens of times. I’ve talked about it for hours. I’ve made anyone I know who hasn’t seen it watch it. Which seems daft: it’s a movie about a time-travelling car for fuck sake. But if you trust me, and read on, I’ll prove to you that there’s not one single wasted line in this script. Every piece of dialogue counts: either setting something up, moving something forward, or paying something off.

However, before we delve into the actual story (in great and tedious detail) we need to look at where this film came from, and how several careful redrafts turned it from ‘summer blockbuster’ to ‘timeless classic.’


When talking about movies as ubiquitous and over-referenced this one, it can be difficult to enjoy it as a fresh experience, the way moviegoers in July 1985 would have. This movie has been homaged and parodied so often, that everyone knows it. It’s a bit like that old quote about seeing Hamlet for the first time: “It was just a bunch of famous quotes strung together!” 

So we need to give ourselves selective amnesia. Forget Deloreans and incest jokes and hoverboards. Picture yourself as an average schmuck sitting down to watch this movie, and pretend you know nothing about it. If you do I promise you’ll get more out of this deep-dive. 

It’s easy to forget about what an elegantly intriguing premise BTTF actually has. It was following a trend; 1950s nostalgia was everywhere in Regan’s cynical America, and lots of movies released at the time were harkening back to the good old days. But if this movie, or anything else like it, hadn’t been made, you could pitch it now and it would still be a genius idea:

A teenager goes back in time and gets stuck in the past. He screws up his mum and dad’s courtship. Now he has to get them back together and get home before he’s erased from existence.

The stakes are high, the goals are clear, the clock is ticking.

Most good stories stem from one moment of inspiration. BTTF came about when writer and producer Bob Gale found his dad’s yearbook, and discovered that his father had been very different as a kid to how he imagined. This lead him to wonder: ‘if I met my dad at the same age that I am now, and he didn’t know I was his son, would we have been friends?’

That’s basically the heart of BTTF. Everything else: the time machine, the mad scientist, the bolt of lightning, the terrorists, they’re all plot devices that Bob Gale invented to get a son to meet his parents as kids. What’s amazing is that all of the plot points that get Marty to that place are interesting, entertaining, and creative, and they all enhance that simple conceit.

Central to BTTF is the idea of compliment and contrast. Most of the jokes in the film are essentially either ‘the past is a foreign country’ or ‘there’s nothing new under the sun.’ They’re funny because we have the benefit of hindsight. But that’s not something we start the film with. 

Remember, if you’re a dude from 1985 and you’re seeing this for the first time, you know nothing about Marty McFly, or his weird car, or his goggly-eyed pensioner mate. All the dramatic irony, the stuff that makes the script sing, is set up in Act One, and it gets to work right away in the very first scene.