Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Done!



We did it!

I really wanted to get through the Bond films before October and we totally did it. Now it's time to be like Bond and Melina, quiet down, and have a little rest.

At least until tomorrow when we start the Countdown to Halloween. After all, that's why we had to be done by October in the first place.

Skyfall (2012) | Music



During production of Skyfall, regular Bond composer David Arnold was working on the music for the 2012 Summer Olympic ceremonies, but he contends that it was something else that lost him the Skyfall job. And he's probably right. Director Sam Mendes had worked with composer Thomas Newman on every one of his films except Away We Go, which used original songs by singer Alexi Murdoch. It made sense that he'd want to work with him again on Skyfall, and indeed Newman has also written the score for Mendes' SPECTRE.

For the theme song, Sony recommended Adele to Eon Productions. They agreed and Adele wrote the song with Paul Epworth, who'd produced her 21 album. The music is oh so cool and sinister, but Adele's voice and the lyrics turn it into a positive song about two people - Bond and M, in the film - who help each other overcome their obstacles. It's cool, it's sexy, it's uplifting. I've been dreading the decision about whether to let it bump "View to a Kill" from Number One on my list, but now that I'm here, I have no problem doing that.

Daniel Kleinman is also back in top form after a lackluster credits sequence in Quantum of Solace. As Bond - wounded in the teaser - goes over a waterfall and sinks to the bottom of a river, the theme song starts and a hand grabs Bond. It then becomes a giant hand, pulling Bond into a hole of swirling sand.

The rest of the credits could be a dream Bond has as he's dying. There are images of him as a shooting range target with blood pouring from a hole in his shoulder. Later, the same Bond-targets are on fire, burning into nothing.

But there's a cool narrative through the credits sequence, too. Image leads to image, so we're underwater with some women and guns are falling around us, then we move through the cloud-like sand and the seaweed becomes a forest of trees with a cemetery and falling daggers. The cemetery leads us to the gate of the Skyfall estate, which leads us to the house, which has a crack in it, which is filled with Bond's face, and then we zoom into his eye. And on and on. The whole thing is weird and beautiful with some images - like the targets and the Skyfall house and gate - reappearing as the drowning Bond's mind returns to them.

I can't quite explain why he's hallucinating about Chinese dragons, but that country does figure heavily into the movie and the dragons look great, so who's complaining.

I loved most of Arnold's stuff on the movies he did, but Newman is great too. He's certainly a lot more free with the Bond Theme than Arnold was on the last two films. That's appropriate though, since Skyfall is getting the series back to basics.

The fanfare to the Bond Theme pops up by itself a couple of times: when Bond catches the train during the cold open and again at the end when Silva blows up the Aston Martin. There's also a nice, acoustic guitar version playing as Bond leaves the casino in Macau.

The first time we hear the full Theme is when Bond's air support shows up at Silva's island. That seems like a curious place to put it, since Bond isn't doing anything cool at the time. But then I thought about how Skyfall is reintroducing the idea of any kind of support to Bond's world. After lone-wolfing it for two movies, Bond now has a team to work with: particularly Moneypenny and Q. Playing the Bond Theme as he's being rescued then becomes a subtle way to reinforce the idea that he's really not Bond without his friends.

The other two times we get the full Theme are total nostalgia blasts: When Bond takes the Aston Martin out of storage and when he faces his new M in the new (old) office. That last time leads into the closing credits which feature a David Arnold remix of the Bond Theme that then leads into a medley of Newman's various pieces for the film.

Sadly, the gun barrel sequence is at the end again for the second film in a row. I don't have really strong feelings about that, but I also don't see the point in moving it. It's starting to annoy me.

Top Ten Theme Songs

1. Skyfall
2. A View to a Kill
3. "Surrender" (end credits of Tomorrow Never Dies)
4. "You Know My Name" (Casino Royale)
5. The Living Daylights
6. "Nobody Does It Better" (The Spy Who Loved Me)
7. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
8. Diamonds Are Forever
9. You Only Live Twice
10. From Russia With Love (instrumental version)

Top Ten Title Sequences

1. Casino Royale
2. Skyfall
3. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
4. Dr No
5. Thunderball
6. Goldfinger
7. GoldenEye
8. From Russia with Love
9. The Spy Who Loved Me
10. Die Another Day

Skyfall (2012) | Villains



Raoul Silva has some henchmen, but they're not memorable or important. He's all the villain Skyfall needs. Other movies have given us anti-Bonds before, but one cool thing about Bond's changing with the times is that his evil opposites change too. As Bond grows more complicated, so do they. Roger Moore's cartoonish Bond got Scaramanga, who was nothing more than another womanizing assassin. Since Brosnan's Bond was commenting on and questioning his role in the world, Alec Trevelyan provided a voice for that, challenging Bond with tough, thoughtful questions. The major focus of Daniel Craig's Bond has been his relationship with M and his trust issues in general, so Silva shows us what happens if that gets out of control. Silva is the proto-Bond, at least of Craig's version. He got too close to M and it drove him mad.

M tells Bond that Silva's sin was "operating beyond his brief." That doesn't sound too serious, especially considering all the times that Bond's done that himself. Silva's only crime was hacking the Chinese government without orders, and for that M gave him up to them in order to retrieve some other agents and ease the transition of power from Britain back to China. It seems totally harsh for his crime, but that's the point. Silva's obviously unhinged, but that's the result of his being betrayed by M, not the cause of it.

Javier Bardem does great things with Silva. He's crazy, but Bardem isn't just playing him as a generic madman. There's a reason for Silva's insanity and Bardem lets that shape the choices he makes playing the character. He's unpredictable, interesting, entertaining, and constantly goes right to the top without ever going over it.

The only thing I don't like about him is his escape plan. It's just not believable, because Silva's accounted for too many random variables that he could neither control nor predict. There's no way he could know the exact time that Q would plug in Silva's laptop, for example, which starts the perfectly timed chain reaction.

Not that any of it matters anyway. The whole point of the elaborate escape is to put Silva in the courtroom with M, which he could've orchestrated in countless other and much simpler ways. The escape is just a way for the movie to show off a big, but sadly unnecessary set piece.

Top Ten Villains

1. Auric Goldfinger (Goldfinger)
2. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Never Say Never Again)
3. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (From Russia With Love and Thunderball)
4. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (On Her Majesty's Secret Service)
5. Maximilian Largo (Never Say Never Again)
6. Francisco Scaramanga (The Man with the Golden Gun)
7. Dr. Kananga (Live and Let Die)
8. Le Chiffre (Casino Royale)
9. Raoul Silva (Skyfall)
10. Doctor No (Dr. No)

Top Ten Henchmen

1. Baron Samedi (Live and Let Die)
2. Fiona Volpe (Thunderball)
3. Grant (From Russia with Love)
4. Nick Nack (The Man with the Golden Gun)
5. Zao (Die Another Day)
6. Gobinda (Octopussy)
7. May Day (A View to a Kill)
8. Jaws (The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker)
9. Naomi (The Spy Who Loved Me)
10. Oddjob (Goldfinger)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Skyfall (2012) | Women



Returning to form for the movie series, Bond has sex with as many women in Skyfall as he did in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace combined. The first one almost doesn't count though, because she never speaks and doesn't even get a name. The credits just call her Bond's Lover.

But her namelessness is the point. She's not an important person to Bond. She is however important to illustrating his frame of mind when he's shot by Eve and goes missing in southwest Turkey. He goes at it like crazy with her up against a wall, but afterwards he's totally distracted; drinking a beer and staring into the distance as she cuddles him. It's the same with his drinking right after that. He throws himself into it to the point that he's drinking with literal scorpions, but is totally empty once the experience is over.



I like Eve Moneypenny a lot. Naomi Harris is a great actress and brings a lot of nuance to a role that needs it. A small part of me wishes that Moneypenny hadn't tried field work before becoming Mallory's permanent assistant, because the temptation is to think that she failed at it. That's not really it though. She tried it, had a horrible experience in the teaser, then tried it again and had a better time. But she ultimately decides that it's not for her and there's no shame in that.

Harris and Craig sell this. There's no judgment in him when he says that field work isn't for everyone. And there's no judgment in herself when she decides that she agrees. She's confident in her decision and has found her niche.

I love that the flirtation between them is already there and that it's mutual. They're friends. They might have become more than that, but her new job eliminates that possibility. It's a great relationship and I'm excited to see more of it.



Séverine kind of breaks my heart. The first time I saw the movie, it took me a while to warm up to her. There's something wrong about her confidence when she meets Bond, like she's obviously posing. Which of course she is. The more she talks, the more terrified you realize that she is. As Bond says, she's doing her best to hide it, but isn't succeeding. Bérénice Marlohe is amazing in the role and it kills me that Bond isn't able to save her.

He doesn't even give saving her a real try. He's in full-on blunt instrument mode by the time he gets on the boat with her. He knows he's very close to the person behind the MI6 bombing and doesn't bother trying to sneak onto the island. He just lets himself get captured as usual and never mind any collateral damage. It would be interesting to go back and watch earlier films when Bond's allies are killed and see if there's a way he could have saved them had he not been so focused on the villain.



I could've talked about M in any of the "Women" posts for the last five movies, but chose to discuss her in the "Allies" section instead. With Skyfall though, there's an effort to explore her not just in relation to Bond, but as a full character.

Bond's apparent death hits her hard and the first shots of the movie after the credits are of her in shock. Then she feels even worse after the deaths of eight people in the MI6 bombing. Her confidence and trust in herself are severely shaken. She's lost the control that she tried to hard to hold onto in the cold open.

It doesn't help that others are questioning her too, starting with Mallory, the chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee. He offers her a GCMG (Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George) if she retires quietly, but she's not biting. Her pride won't let her. "I'll leave when the job's done."

The rest of the movie is largely about her trying to regain her trust in herself, but the tragedy is that she really doesn't. Silva pokes at her big time, but she's confronted with even more failure concerning Bond. She's always recruited orphans because they make the best agents, but by going to Skyfall, she has to face the reality that orphans aren't just convenient demographics or advantages for training. Bond's losing his parents was a serious tragedy in his life that deeply haunts him. When she tells him with her last breath that "I did get one thing right," it's meant to encourage him, but it's also her way of acknowledging the many things that she didn't.

My Favorite Bond Women

1. Tracy Bond (On Her Majesty's Secret Service)
2. Vesper Lynd (Casino Royale)
3. Melina Havelock (For Your Eyes Only)
4. Camille Montes (Quantum of Solace)
5. Kara Milovy (The Living Daylights)
6. Wai Lin (Tomorrow Never Dies)
7. Paula Caplan (Thunderball)
8. Tatiana Romanova (From Russia With Love)
9. Natalya Simonova (GoldenEye)
10. Fiona Volpe (Thunderball)

Skyfall (2012) | Bond

Actors and Allies



Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) accuses M of being sentimental about Bond at one point. He's not wrong. We've seen this over and over again in all three of the Craig movies so far. And as becomes clearer in Skyfall, M has a habit of becoming deeply connected to certain agents. It happened with Silva and it's happened again with Bond.

And, also like Silva, she's willing to sacrifice Bond for the greater good. It reminds me of her comment to Brosnan's Bond in GoldenEye about having the balls to send him to his death. She totally does and she proves it in Skyfall's cold open. That shakes Bond. His apparent death shakes M, but her willingness to toss him aside for a mission really affects him.

The first time we see Bond after Eve shoots him, he's in the tropics. He's deeply indulging his hedonistic impulses, but none of it is satisfying him. He's distracted and aimless. He can't leave his job in the past. So as soon as he hears about the MI6 bombing, he's back on a plane and headed home. And the first place he shows up is M's house. It's reminiscent of Casino Royale. He's falling back into old, inappropriate habits, because he's not sure where he stands anymore. He accuses her of distrusting him on the train and though she defends it, he's right.

She knows it, too. That's why she puts him back on duty when he's not ready. Silva spins it as a reason for Bond to distrust M, but that's not it. She's trying to prove - to herself as much as to Bond - that she does trust him. That's what her last words are about. Whatever else they've been through together, she trusts Bond.

It's just that trust is fickle. It's not something that's earned and never questioned again. Our trust in each other depends on a lot of different factors, many of which have nothing to do with the trustworthiness of the person in question. Because M had failed to trust Bond, he now has reason to doubt her. Which is why she confesses to him her history with Silva. Trust is such a tricky, fragile thing and it's cool to see it handled that way in these movies. (Though, having said that, I'm totally ready to move on to a new theme.)

Speaking of new, I like Bond's relationships with his new colleagues. This is the first Craig movie to show him interacting with anyone else at MI6 besides M. And though he and Q argue when they first meet, they're smiling by the end of the scene. His relationship with Moneypenny is also cordial and light. I mean, of course he likes her, but he's remarkably patient with her and I don't get the sense that it's just because he wants to sleep with her. They seem like friends. Hard to imagine the Bond of Casino Royale treating her that way.

One final ally to mention is Kincade, the gamekeeper on the Skyfall estate. It's obvious to me that the screenwriters at least hoped that Sean Connery might come back to play him. He's not needed for the plot, so putting an elderly Scot character in the 50th anniversary movie is totally a stunt. The screenplay hasn't been released, so I don't know for sure, but the way Kincade is introduced - a creak of the floorboards, then we see his rifle, and finally his face - it looks like it's building to a reveal that Albert Finney doesn't pay off. It feels like there's supposed to be something bigger going on there. Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed. I agree with Sam Mendes' assessment that having Connery in the movie - while fun and cool - would have also been a little sad and a lot distracting.

Best Quip



"What makes you think this is my first time?"

Worst Quip



"Put it all on red. It's the circle of life." Honestly, I don't know what's going on here. It sounds like a Lion King joke, but the reference to roulette right before makes me wonder if that's the circle Bond's talking about. But how is that the circle of life? No idea. Don't like it.

Gadgets



Since we have a Q again, we also finally have some gadgets, though they're relatively low tech. The fanciest is a Walther PPK/S with a palm-print reader so that only Bond can fire it. Besides that, there's just a radio transmitted tracking device.

Of course, the Aston Martin DB5 does show up again and it's tricked out with (at least) an ejector seat and machine guns like the one in Goldfinger.

Top Ten Gadgets

1. Lotus Esprit (The Spy Who Loved Me)
2. Aston Martin DB V (Goldfinger and Thunderball)
3. Jet pack (Thunderball)
4. Iceberg boat (A View to a Kill)
5. The Q Boat (The World Is Not Enough)
6. Aston Martin V8 Vantage (The Living Daylights)
7. Glastron CV23HT speed boat (Moonraker)
8. Acrostar Mini Jet (Octopussy)
9. Crocodile submarine (Octopussy)
10. X-Ray Specs (The World Is Not Enough)

Monday, September 28, 2015

Skyfall (2012) | Story



Plot Summary

Later in Bond's career, trust issues again arise with M when an agent from her past predicts a tragic end to Bond's future.

Influences

After the close connection between Casino Royale and Quantum of SolaceSkyfall was surprisingly unrelated to those films. There's some thematic carryover with continuing trust issues, but the Quantum organization makes no appearance, nor do any other plot threads from those two movies.

Skyfall was released on the 50th anniversary of Dr. No, though, and draws most of its inspiration from the overall series. Like Die Another Day (the 40th anniversary film), there are a lot of things in Skyfall that possibly reference earlier movies. Some - like the Aston Martin DB5 - are very clear, but others are less certain. When Q jokes about not giving Bond an exploding pen, is that just an allusion to outlandish gadgets in general, or is it a specific reference to GoldenEye? What about Bond's hopping on a Komodo dragon's back to escape a pit? Convenient step-stool or purposeful quotation of Live and Let Die?

Moment That's Most Like Fleming



Bond's being an orphan from Scotland is right out of Fleming (although Fleming didn't make Bond from Scotland until after Sean Connery had played him). Other than that though, Skyfall isn't a very Fleming-like movie. In fact, its goal is to move the Daniel Craig movies away from Fleming and back towards Eon Productions.

Moment That's Least Like Fleming



Sometimes I've used this section to talk about negative aspects of the movie. "Ugh! Fleming never would have done that!" An example from Skyfall would be Bond's digging out some bullet shrapnel that's so unique It Could Only Have Been Used By One Person. It's a tired trope and Daniel Craig's Bond deserves better.

But there's often nothing wrong with a movie's being un-Fleming. They're their own thing and that's good. I was super excited when the end of Skyfall promised a return to the traditional movie Bond in the next one. As much as I've enjoyed the Craig movies, I'm also eager for the nostalgia of returning to the "old ways."

That's another big theme in Skyfall and it's not especially Fleming-esque. The literary Bond never struggled with whether or not he needed to keep up with the times. He always knew that one day his time would be up and that he'd become irrelevant. If that happened before he died, he'd simply be put out to pasture like so many agents before him. In contrast, Skyfall not only has people questioning Bond's age and ability to do his job, but questioning MI6 itself and whether or not it's still relevant in the modern world.

I'm not totally on board the questioning of Bond, because there's too big a leap from the starter spy of Casino/Quantum to the aging agent of Skyfall. But I do like the commentary on the whole concept of a spy organization and M's defense of it. It's not the most interesting theme of the movie to me - that would be the wrap-up to the Bond/M relationship and their trust issues - but I'm glad it's in there.

Cold Open



This is a good one because not only is it action packed with some excellent stunts, but it also sets up the major relationship for the rest of the movie to resolve. Bond shows up at a murder scene, looking for a hard drive and with M in his ear via microphone. It's weird for her to be there and I don't like it. I'm used to Bond having autonomy on his missions. But that's the point. This isn't some kind of new status quo for missions; M is just super invested in this one. She's pushing Bond to move on and try to recover the hard drive, even resenting the time he takes to stabilize a critically wounded agent. Her impatience becomes even more of a problem very shortly.

Back in the street, Bond's picked up by a girl in a car (shades of Quantum of Solace, where Camille did the same thing after a similar scene in a hotel room). We'll call her Eve for now, though her name isn't mentioned until the end of the movie when we learn that her last name is Moneypenny. The car chase turns into a motorcycle chase with M's still screaming to both Bond and Eve about the importance of recovering the drive and the list that's on it. (I'm tempted to be uncharitable about the NOC list plot's already being used in the first Mission: Impossible movie, but it's more than just a MacGuffin in Skyfall, so I'm cutting the script some slack.)

The pursuit moves to a train with Eve still pursuing in her car. Naomi Harris is doing great work as Eve, showing that she's frightened and clearly out of her depth, but absolutely determined to succeed. M's constant demands for reports are getting really annoying at this point, but there's still a reason for this. As the fight continues, M quits talking to Bond, partly because he's fighting, but mostly because the film is increasingly putting us in Eve's point of view. She's the one whom M is pressuring to keep up, so that when we get to the climax of the cold open, the success or failure of the mission really seems to be up to Eve.

If we step back from it though, of course that's ridiculous. That's Bond on the train. He's going to beat that enemy agent and take back the list. The fact that he and the bad guy are about to disappear into a tunnel has nothing to do with it. The only thing the tunnel affects is Eve's involvement in the chase and M's control over the situation.

And that's the big problem. M orders Eve to "take the bloody shot." It's not really that she trusts Eve over Bond; it's that she only trusts herself and her own ability to manage the mission from London. When Eve hits Bond by mistake, M loses the list because she didn't trust Bond to get it back.

Top 10 Cold Opens

1. GoldenEye
2. Casino Royale
3. The Spy Who Loved Me
4. Moonraker
5. Thunderball
6. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
7. A View to a Kill
8. Goldfinger
9. The Man with the Golden Gun
10. The Living Daylights

Movie Series Continuity



Like I said above, a lot of time seems to have passed since Quantum of Solace. Bond is considered a veteran now and is perhaps aging out of his job. M says he's been playing the game "long enough" to know the rules. And then there's the tricked-out Aston Martin. Is that something that Bond received on a previous mission like Goldfinger? Or is it supposed to be the same vehicle he won in Casino Royale? If it's the one from Casino, he's moved the steering wheel to the right-hand seat. M doesn't seem surprised to see it, so it's another element that implies a great passage of time.

M was established in previous films to be married with kids, but mentions that her husband has passed away some time before Skyfall. We also learn of course that she was stationed in Hong Kong at some point before receiving her current assignment.

[UPDATE: I questioned in another post if this M is supposed to be the same woman as the one who gave Brosnan's Bond his orders. I think Skyfall makes it pretty clear that she's not. Silva tells Bond that he was stationed in Hong Kong from 1986 to 1997. And M confesses that she turned Silva over to the Chinese government as she was transitioning out of Hong Kong, so she had to have been there in '97 as well. That means that if Craig's M lived in Brosnan's world, she would have been stationed in Hong Kong at least during the events of Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) and probably of GoldenEye (1995) as well. There's no way Judi Dench is playing the exact same character in both the Brosnan and Craig eras.]

As a result of the bombing, MI6 decides that its headquarters are too public and moves to a less conspicuous location. First they go into bunkers that Churchill used in World War II, but by the end they seem to have moved again. The new M's office is above ground, at least.

Tanner is back, still played by Rory Kinnear. He mentions Q-Branch early in the movie, setting up the appearance of the new Q. Ben Whishaw's version has a different relationship with Bond than previous versions, but there's still a nod toward the old conflict when he tells Bond, "Good luck out there in the field. And please return the equipment in one piece."

Bond tells Eve at one point not to touch her ear when she's talking into her microphone. That's a pet peeve of his as revealed in Casino Royale.

And speaking of Eve Moneypenny, I couldn't help noticing that there's a hat rack in her office at the end. There's no hat toss, but she does call attention to it by hanging her coat there. Keeping my fingers crossed for SPECTRE.

Skull the Slayer: Polemic or Pulp? [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

1975 saw two things happen almost simultaneously. Marv Wolfman came to Marvel comics and he created Skull the Slayer. Who? Yes, Skull was not the runaway success that Tomb of Dracula was. But it was a project that Marv had thought about for four years before getting to write it. What he wanted to do was take an entire skyscraper full of people and put them in the dinosaur-haunted past. The series would focus on a different character each issue. That idea is at least as old as Murray Leinster's "The Runaway Skyscraper" (Argosy, February 22, 1919), but Wolfman's version was a little closer to Edgar Rice Burroughs. Leinster's early pulp tale has the skyscraper arrive in Manhattan before Columbus.

A couple of things changed Wolfman's original idea. First was the popularity of von Daniken's The Chariot of the Gods (1969) and Charles Berlitz's The Bermuda Triangle (1974). The second was Gold Key's Tragg and the Sky Gods, beginning April 1972, which featured cavemen and dinosaurs with aliens. Thirdly, Stan Lee liked the idea, but insisted on dropping the anthology part for a central character. Wolfman accepted the challenge and created Jim Scully or "Skull," an ex-Viet Nam hero who has been branded a murderer. Encountering the left overs of a UFO, Scully finds an alien belt that gives him super strength.

When the comic finally appeared August 1975 it was named Skull the Slayer. (There had been some trepidation around the name because Marvel also had Robert E Howard's Kull. That title folded, removing any difficulties.) Set in the Bermuda Triangle, Skull the Slayer features dinosaurs and cavemen and all things Edgar Rice Burroughs. It also has a cast of four, with Skull being the lead. The other three are Dr. Raymond Corey (a black professor of physics and Skull's ideological antagonist), Ann Reynolds (spokeswoman for the female side), and Jeff Turner (the son of Senator "Stoneface" Turner). Between these four viewpoints, Marv found his anthology of characters, making the comic not only a pulp for fourteen year olds, but also a venue for political discussion, a polemic for issues of the mid-1970s.

That's up to Issue 4 (March 1976) when suddenly Marv's no longer writing this strip, but acting as editor. Steve Engelhart takes over and changes everything. First he kills off the supporting cast in a scene that cuts counter to everything that has gone before. Jim Scully, who has dived in feet first in every other fight, suddenly abandons his friends to death. From hero to zero in one page! Also, Engelhart turns the storyline from ancient Egypt to the days of King Arthur, bringing in Marvel's former character the Black Knight.

And if you don't like it... don't worry, because by the next issue (May 1976) Bill Mantlo is driving the bus and he brings back the three friends (Hey, this is science fiction. We can do anything!) and after an aerial battle in which Jeff, Ann, and Dr. Corey fight against Skull's side in the robot battle, they all make up and the team is back together. Mantlo confesses that when he was approached to take over the comic, he insisted on going back to Marv's original ideas. This meant as quickly as possible bringing back the dinosaurs and blowing up Slitherogue and his time tower, erasing them from the storyline.

For the last two issues (September and November 1976), the revolving door took Marv from the editing post and replaced him with Archie Goodwin. Mantlo's writing improves things with the team back together and finding an Incan city of gold run by another person from outside. The back-biting polemic is gone, with Skull and Dr. Corey co-existing under a truce. Mantlo heats things up by having Senator Turner send Scully's arch enemy from Nam, a Southern boy named Lancer, into the Bermuda Triangle after them. Despite the improvements, the flip-flopping took its toll. Issue #8 was the last. Skull and his friends remained in the power of a new villain, The Children of the Night, introduced via pterodactyl riders.

In the art department, the lead on Skull the Slayer had been Steve Gan; sometimes inking his own work, sometimes with Pablo Marcos. The look was good, feeling a little like Joe Kubert and a little like Alfred Alcala. With Issue #4 Sal Buscema took over, having his work inked by Mike Esposito, Steve Gan or Sonny Trinidad. The inconsistency on the inking made some issues better than others and hurt the over-all feel the book.

But Marvel, having many comics to play with, did not have to leave Skull and his friends in limbo. The big finale appeared in Marvel Two-in-One #35 (January 1978) and #36 (February 1978). Ben Grimm and even Mr. Fantastic, Reed Richards, show up to finish this saga off. Written and edited by Marv Wolfman and drawn by Ernie Chan, the two parter follows Ben and the Skull crew as they encounter dinosaurs while looking for the old crash site so they can fix Grimm's plane. They eventually get out of the Bermuda Triangle but bring Baldy, the priest of the Children of the Night, and his pet pterodons with them. After one last fight, the crew is finally home and Jim Scully decides to turn himself in and face trial for his brother's death. (You can almost feel Marv Wolfman sigh in relief. The saga is over and he can get on with other things.) Despite being mostly retread, Wolfman does have fun by referring to currently popular people and events such as the changing of the name of Cape Kennedy and the election of Jimmy Carter to point out that the characters have been lost in a time warp for two years.

And so the saga of Jim "Skull" Scully ends on a landing strip in Miami. Marvel could have resurrected him, given him a new comic set in the regular Marvel world but this never happened. And it isn't surprising. Skull the Slayer still had his magic alien belt that gave him super strength but so what? Marvel had plenty of strong men on their backlist: Luke Cage (Power Man) and the orange gorilla himself, Ben Grimm, for example. One more muscle man with no dinosaurs to fight just didn't scream out as a bestseller. A slayer with nothing left to slay. He quietly went into comics oblivion, facing a self defence trial, with his girl Ann Reynolds declaring she'd wait for him and his two friends Dr. Corey and Jeff Turner ready to stand up and testify in court to his character. The polemic was long gone. No arguments were left.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Quantum of Solace (2008) | Music



I truly don't get how "Die Another Day" is the worst Bond song of all time when "Another Way to Die" exists. Jack White and Alicia Keys are both talented people, but they created an unholy, clumsy mess. On paper, it's the first duet that's been used for a Bond theme, but calling it a duet is too generous. Their voices don't blend well and there are parts where the harmonies are so painful that I need six Vespers to get through them.

The credits aren't that great either. Or maybe the song just puts me in a bad mood. Bond stalks through the desert with his gun, he fires off some slow motion rounds, and then women slowly raise through the sand and dance around. At some point there's a globe-shaped grid that probably represents Quantum's world-wide influence, but I haven't figured out what the spinning zoetrope symbolizes or refers to.

For the second movie in a row, David Arnold is stingy with the Bond Theme, but this time it doesn't make as much sense. Wasn't the purpose of holding it until the end of Casino Royale that Bond had finally earned it then? So why doesn't he get it in Quantum? There's a crazy guitar version that I like when Bond arrives in Port au Prince, but we don't get to hear the real thing until the closing credits.

Top Ten Theme Songs

1. A View to a Kill
2. "Surrender" (end credits of Tomorrow Never Dies)
3. "You Know My Name" (Casino Royale)
4. The Living Daylights
5. "Nobody Does It Better" (The Spy Who Loved Me)
6. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
7. Diamonds Are Forever
8. You Only Live Twice
9. From Russia With Love (instrumental version)
10. The World Is Not Enough

Top Ten Title Sequences

1. Casino Royale
2. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
3. Dr No
4. Thunderball
5. Goldfinger
6. GoldenEye
7. From Russia with Love
8. The Spy Who Loved Me
9. Die Another Day
10. Tomorrow Never Dies

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Quantum of Solace (2008) | Villains



The villains are Quantum of Solace's weakest point. Mr White is tickled that no one knows the Quantum organization exists, but what he doesn't seem to realize is that their initial anonymity is their only line of defense. Once MI6 knows about them, it's ridiculously easy to track down who their members are. They don't launder any money and they meet in public using a system that's effortlessly infiltrated. And when Bond does infiltrate it, they all helpfully get up and leave so that he can spot them and take their pictures.

Except White, that is. But I don't think that actually makes him seem intelligent as much as it simply highlights the stupidity of his colleagues. I'm curious to see White in SPECTRE. I like him, but he's not that impressive a bad guy and it'll be interesting to put him in context with an even more dangerous organization.



I often hear that Dominic Greene is a boring villain, but I disagree. He's a weasel, but he's also unpredictable and Mathieu Amalric gives him a lot of personality. Sometimes I feel like fans are automatically disinterested if the bad guy isn't trying to destroy the world. Greene is powerful, connected, and willing to do heinous things in pursuit of his goals. He's plenty threatening.



Elvis isn't the greatest henchman ever, but he's different and kind of fun with his dumb Lloyd Christmas haircut. And I like how out of place he looks schmoozing with Greene's supporters. I read somewhere that Anatole Taubman and Amalric developed a backstory that Greene and Elvis are related and that's how Elvis is connected to Quantum. Makes total sense.



I love to hate General Medrano. It's not just because of the evil things he's done. Lots of bad guys do really evil things. It's because of Joaquín Cosío's chillingly arrogant performance. He's charming enough when he wants to be, but then he holds his head a certain way and his eyes grow cold and he just looks so... "displeased" feels like the right word. Even when he's clearly got less power and isn't getting his way - as happens with Greene - he gives the impression that he's in complete control and that you should really reconsider what you're doing. It's the same kind of pride that simultaneously repulses and fascinates me about Michael Lonsdale's portrayal of Hugo Drax.

Top Ten Villains

1. Auric Goldfinger (Goldfinger)
2. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Never Say Never Again)
3. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (From Russia With Love and Thunderball)
4. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (On Her Majesty's Secret Service)
5. Maximilian Largo (Never Say Never Again)
6. Francisco Scaramanga (The Man with the Golden Gun)
7. Dr. Kananga (Live and Let Die)
8. Le Chiffre (Casino Royale)
9. Doctor No (Dr. No)
10. General Gogol (For Your Eyes Only)

Top Ten Henchmen

1. Baron Samedi (Live and Let Die)
2. Fiona Volpe (Thunderball)
3. Grant (From Russia with Love)
4. Nick Nack (The Man with the Golden Gun)
5. Zao (Die Another Day)
6. Gobinda (Octopussy)
7. May Day (A View to a Kill)
8. Jaws (The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker)
9. Naomi (The Spy Who Loved Me)
10. Oddjob (Goldfinger)

Quantum of Solace (2008) | Women



"Look how well your charm works, James. They'll do anything for you, won't they?"

I like Agent Fields quite a bit even though she's the traditional archetype of the woman whom Bond charms into helping him against her better judgment. The Brosnan films called back to it too, but never this well. Agent Fields has an inner life that makes sense and we get to see her conflict over helping Bond. She claims to be angry at herself, but not so much that she's not enjoying what's going on.

I'm not saying she's the strongest character in the world, but I do like her so much more than Caroline from GoldenEye and especially Dr. Warmflash.

Speaking of ridiculous names, by the way: Fields has one. It's never mentioned in the movie (and when Bond asks her first name, she replies that it's "just Fields"), but the credits list her as Strawberry Fields. I get a lot of pleasure out of knowing that she has an absurd Bond Girl name, but she's not going to let it define her.



Camille Montes is going to be one of my Top Five favorite women in a Bond movie. First, she's played by Olga Kurylenko who won me over in the underrated Hitman (2007) and whom I always enjoy, even when the films she's in aren't that good. But more than that, Camille is a unique Bond Girl. She and Bond share a kiss at the end, but it's not even a romantic one. There's zero sexual tension between them, because they're both too busy focusing on other things.

She's the hero of her own story. It just so happens to intersect with Bond's and he accidentally interrupts and ruins hers for a bit. His helping her out isn't because she can't do it on her own; it's restitution. It's like when you unintentionally knock someone over, the proper thing to do is to stop and help her up again. It's not that she can't get up on her own; it's just acknowledging and trying to make up for your mistake.

I love Melina Havelock's revenge story in For Your Eyes Only, too, but I like this one better. With Melina, Bond's a mentor as well as a lover, so there's a certain amount of her deferring to him. He doesn't stop her from taking revenge, but he does warn her about the consequences of it. Craig's Bond never does that with Camille. He offers her some advice on how to kill when it's personal, but that's it. She's totally doing her own thing and he's totally on board with it.

And of course he is. Their stories are separate, but they're also the same. Both are after revenge. I don't believe Bond lets his desire for revenge compromise his sense of duty, but there's no doubt that he would love to murder all the people who had a hand in Vesper's death. He's just more conflicted about it than Camille is.

But I think her clarity helps him out. I think he gets some resolution vicariously through her and that it helps him through the healing process.



It's people like Canadian agent Corrine Veneau that make me especially glad I haven't titled this section "Bond Girls." Corrine isn't a Bond Girl in any sense of the term. She and he barely interact and when they do, it's not the least bit romantic. But since she's a woman, I get to talk about her in this post and I'm glad, because she's great.

First of all, she's played by Stana Katic from Castle, which is awesome. But also, Katic just does a great job with her. She barely gets to talk, but as soon as she figures out what Bond is revealing about her boyfriend, it's obvious that she's deeply embarrassed and ashamed, but also relieved that she's found out before something tragic happened. Her almost inaudible "thank you" to Bond as she slinks out of the hotel room is heart-breaking. Makes me extremely glad that Katic went on to do bigger things.

My Favorite Bond Women

1. Tracy Bond (On Her Majesty's Secret Service)
2. Vesper Lynd (Casino Royale)
3. Melina Havelock (For Your Eyes Only)
4. Camille Montes (Quantum of Solace)
5. Kara Milovy (The Living Daylights)
6. Wai Lin (Tomorrow Never Dies)
7. Paula Caplan (Thunderball)
8. Tatiana Romanova (From Russia With Love)
9. Natalya Simonova (GoldenEye)
10. Fiona Volpe (Thunderball)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Quantum of Solace (2008) | Bond

Actors and Allies



Like in Casino Royale, trust is still a huge issue between M and Bond, but it's not about Bond's ego anymore. Part of it's just about knocking off the rough edges from his personality. As Vesper said in Casino Royale - and we learn more about in Skyfall - M tends to recruit orphans. But the lack of attachment M's looking for in candidates has to be moderated if they're going to be good agents. Bond's big problem is that he doesn't trust anyone. He learned to trust Vesper, but now he believes that was a mistake. He's still drinking the drink that he named after her - lots of them - so he's clearly not as over her as he claims, but he simultaneously loves and hates her. And that's wreaking havoc on his black-and-white worldview.

M sees this - and that Bond isn't being honest with himself about it - so that puts up another barrier to her trusting him. He keeps killing people who are potential leads, which is irritating for the investigation, but also suggests a deeper issue to her. It may not be just that he's an immature spy. She's worried that he's more interested in revenge than his duty to uncover Mr White's organization. He can always mature, but if he learns to put his personal feelings above his job, it'll make him useless to her as an agent.

His anger is fueling his distrust of everyone, so it comes full circle and M stays on him about both issues. "When you can't tell your friends from your enemies, it's time to go," she says. And Bond's relationship with Mathis is a great example of that.

Bond gets in a lot of trouble over Mathis' death, not just with the Bolivian police, but also the CIA and apparently with MI6. I've often wondered why anyone entertained the idea that Bond might have killed Mathis, but seeing the story through M's eyes, I get it. Bond totally considered Mathis an enemy at one point and Bond totally still has trust issues. And Bond totally has a habit of killing his enemies before he asks them any questions. I can see how M might wonder if Bond temporarily teamed up with Mathis to get to Quantum and then killed him. It's shortly after that when she outright says that she doesn't trust Bond.

But of course Bond had learned to trust Mathis, which is a beautiful thing. I've always liked Mathis in the novel Casino Royale and Giancarlo Giannini plays him wonderfully. Fleming writes him as a fun, friendly character, but Giannini adds a ton of heart. Quantum makes great use of him and turns him into the only person after Vesper that Bond learns to trust. (Bond trusts M, too, to an extent, but that's a different relationship. Bond knows that M will always put Britain's interests over his. In contrast, Mathis - and Vesper, he'll argue - were intensely loyal to Bond as a person.)

Mathis has no reason to help Bond look into Quantum's activities in Bolivia, but he does it because he's a good man who believes in forgiveness. Bond, on the other hand, isn't, but Bond's goodness isn't a prerequisite for Mathis' mercy. Bond never even really apologizes or seems to regret his distrust of Mathis, but that's okay. In the simple act of turning to Mathis for help, Bond has admitted that he was wrong. And that's all Mathis needs to find hope that Bond can be redeemed.

Mathis helps Bond investigate Dominic Greene, but his real mission is to put Bond on a better path as a human being. He encourages Bond to forgive Vesper and to learn the right lesson from knowing her. In spite of everything, he's truly concerned about Bond, even with his dying words: "Vesper. Forgive her. Forgive yourself." He's completely selfless. If for no other reason, Quantum has a special place in my heart for doing right by him. I love that character so much.

For his part, Bond leaves Mathis' body in a dumpster and takes his money. Camille is there and she's horrified. "Is that how you treat your friends?"

"He wouldn't care," Bond replies. And he's right. Mathis is the freaking Giving Tree. But Bond should care. And when he doesn't, it reveals that he doesn't deserve a friend like Mathis. That's the whole point though. That's why Mathis is the only person Bond can trust for most of the film.

Bond even has reason to distrust Felix, his unequivocal ally in Casino Royale. The CIA is in bed with Greene and that makes Felix look guilty by association. Happily, Felix is able to turn that around. His hands may be tied - and the implication is that the CIA isn't any happier about it than Felix (his boss notwithstanding) - but they recognize in Bond a way to make things right. They can't move against Greene, but Bond can. Ironically, his withdrawn independence gives him freedom to be the force for justice that the establishment can't be.

M recognizes this too. Once it's revealed how connected Quantum really is, M is told by the Foreign Secretary to call off the investigation. "Mr. Greene's interests and ours now align." After that, M goes to Bolivia, finds Bond, and suspends him. Again. Seriously, this is the third movie in a row. But while I believe that she has multiple reasons for relieving Bond of official duty, I also have no doubt that one of them is to free him to do what she can't order him to do. She puts a detail on him to get him out of the country, but as soon as he escapes - which is right away - she tells Tanner that Bond's "my agent and I trust him." She says that she knows he's onto something and she wants him followed, but not interfered with.

Her comment about trusting Bond is curious, because she explicitly stated earlier that she didn't. In fact, she's riding him hard about rage and trustworthiness earlier in that scene. The only thing I can see that's changed is that when he escapes his escort, he doesn't take off into the night, but comes back to talk to M some more about Agent Fields. He's concerned about Fields' reputation, but he's also concerned about his relationship with M. "You and I need to see this through," he says, reminding her that they're a team and reassuring her that this isn't about his grief. It's quick and subtle, but it seems to be enough for her.

He puts duty before revenge a couple of more times, too. First, he saves Greene's life in the exploding hotel just on the slim chance that he has a chance to question the villain later. Even more importantly, he also lets Vesper's boyfriend live; the man who'd betrayed Vesper and caused her to betray Bond.

And he forgives Vesper, too. After her boyfriend is taken away, Bond tells M, "Congratulations. You were right." And when she asks him about what, he clarifies, "About Vesper." It's a reference to a conversation they had at the end of Casino Royale where she asked if he ever wondered why Quantum hadn't killed Bond. "Because," she suggested, "she made a deal to save your life." Bond hadn't accepted it then, nor had he accepted it at the beginning of Quantum when Mr. White outright confirms it. According to White, if Vesper hadn't killed herself, Quantum would have used her to control Bond, too. That's how they operate.

But thanks to Mathis and M and even Felix and definitely Camille (whom we'll talk about tomorrow), Bond has made peace and learned that he's not alone. Mathis was right, and he'd be pleased.

M, on the other hand, was wrong about Bond. She was right about Bond's not facing his grief, but wrong about how that affected his job. Bond was certainly angry, but his mission to uncover Quantum was never about revenge. It was always about duty and serving her. At the end of the movie, he's technically still on suspension, so M tells him that she needs him back. His response is lovely. "I never left."

Best Quip



"We are teachers on sabbatical... and we have just won the lottery."

Worst Quip



"Thank you. She's seasick."

Gadgets



No gadgets in this one unless you count the fancy computer interfaces at MI6.

Top Ten Gadgets

1. Lotus Esprit (The Spy Who Loved Me)
2. Aston Martin DB V (Goldfinger and Thunderball)
3. Jet pack (Thunderball)
4. Iceberg boat (A View to a Kill)
5. The Q Boat (The World Is Not Enough)
6. Aston Martin V8 Vantage (The Living Daylights)
7. Glastron CV23HT speed boat (Moonraker)
8. Acrostar Mini Jet (Octopussy)
9. Crocodile submarine (Octopussy)
10. X-Ray Specs (The World Is Not Enough)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Quantum of Solace (2008) | Story



Plot Summary

Bond tracks down the people behind Vesper's death, but is he doing it for duty or revenge?

Influences

The history of the Quantum of Solace script is long and troubled. Neal Purvis and Robert Wade started it and Paul Haggis did a re-write that he reportedly finished just hours before a major writers strike put the kibosh on any updates. Rules stated though that the director and actors were allowed to work on scenes together, so Marc Forster and Daniel Craig finished it up. I don't even want to try to unravel who was responsible for which parts, but the result is a movie that has fans divided about its quality. Some see it as a complete mess, while some see it as a fine continuation of the plot and emotional journey started in Casino Royale. I'm in the second group. I have issues with it, but they're minor.

It's the first Bond movie that's more than just a nominal sequel. It doesn't stand on its own and that seems to be a big reason a lot of people don't like it. But I love the way it builds on Casino Royale and even leads into Skyfall. This isn't what we're used to from the Bond series, but it's fantastic.

How Is the Book Different?

Quantum of Solace gets its name from a Fleming short story, but doesn't borrow any plot elements from there. The two versions do however have a major theme in common: finding a tiny amount of comfort in the midst of great suffering. It's a great title and I'm glad that the film series not only found a use for it, but was able to apply it directly to Bond this time. In Fleming, it's a whole other character who needs some relief.

Moment That's Most Like Fleming



In Fleming, Casino Royale is followed by Live and Let Die, which is very much a revenge mission for Bond since Mr. Big is funding the organization that tortured Bond and was responsible for Vesper's death. So, the whole idea of Quantum's continuing the emotional story from Casino Royale is perfect.

Other than that though, I also notice some similarity in director Marc Forster's focus on details. Skyfall rightfully gets a lot of praise for how beautifully shot it is, but Quantum is the same way. Roberto Schaefer was also Forster's cinematographer on Finding Neverland and he gets some great shots that highlight what's going on around the action. Fleming did that as well in his writing.

The problem is that these extra shots often feel extraneous and indulgent. For instance, Forster intercuts Bond's chasing M's traitorous bodyguard with shots from a horse race going on at the same time. And later, there's a ton of focus on the preparation for and presentation of the opera where Quantum is holding its meeting. I imagine that both of those are purposely juxtaposed with what Bond's doing in order to comment on his actions, but the connections aren't clear and I never want to quit paying attention to the action to try to figure out the meanings of the other stuff. I appreciate the effort, but it doesn't end up being worth it.

Moment That's Least Like Fleming



The set pieces are all very strong in Quantum, but the connections between them are weak. Fleming's story structure was always tight. Even when his pacing was leisurely, his plots flowed well and I always understand what's going on. Quantum is very loose and glosses past key story beats, especially in terms of MI6's investigation.

The information is always there, but the movie is so interested in Bond's emotional journey that it doesn't care if we believe in his detective work. Bond discovers Quantum's Haitian connection because some Quantum money was deposited into the account of a man staying at a hotel there, so he must be a lead. Bond finds Dominic Greene through a magical search engine that looks for everyone on earth with that name and picks the right one to send Bond a picture of. At the opera where Quantum's meeting, Bond is watching Greene, but happens to notice an audience member receive a special bag from under the gift table, so of course that must connect him to Quantum as well. None of it is exactly nonsensical, but it's obvious that not a lot of thought went into any of it either.

Cold Open



One of the weakest things about Quantum is the teaser. It's just a car chase. And though it's exciting, it's not innovative or different from most other car chases. The big reveal at the end is that Bond has Mr White in his trunk, letting us know that Quantum picks up right after Casino Royale, but that's small potatoes considering what Bond fans are used to.

There's not even the traditional gun barrel sequence, because that's been moved to the end of the movie before the closing credits for no reason.

Top 10 Cold Opens

1. GoldenEye
2. Casino Royale
3. The Spy Who Loved Me
4. Moonraker
5. Thunderball
6. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
7. A View to a Kill
8. Goldfinger
9. The Man with the Golden Gun
10. The Living Daylights

Movie Series Continuity



There's not much continuity with the broader Bond series, but of course there's tons with Casino Royale. M refers to Bond's arrangement to let the CIA have custody of Le Chiffre in exchange for Felix's poker chips. She says that the CIA "won't be happy," apparently referring to MI6's custody of Mr White.

Bond has the right response though. He reminds M that he promised Felix that he could have Le Chiffre. That Le Chiffre is dead isn't any fault of MI6's. In fact, now that I think about it, why didn't Felix arrange to capture Le Chiffre directly after the poker game? Would have save Bond's testicles a lot of trouble. It's the CIA's own fault that White got to Le Chiffre first and assassinated him. MI6 doesn't owe them White in compensation. Bond got White through his own, separate investigation and suffered a lot for it. I love Felix, but screw the CIA on this one. I don't know why M is even concerned.

In the same scene, Bond acts like he wants to move on from Vesper and he denies that she was important to him, but we know right away that's a lie when he steals a picture of her missing boyfriend from the file. Much more on this tomorrow.

The last bit of continuity worth mentioning is that Tanner's back, but played by Rory Kinnear now. Michael Kitchen played him in the Brosnan era, even after the character was replaced as Chief of Staff by Charles Robinson. I wonder if Judi Dench's M in the Craig films is even supposed to be the same character who gave Bond his orders in the Brosnan films.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Lois Lane: Jungle Girl [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

The early days of superheroes were pretty simple. You created a weird character and you threw villains at him. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman; they just had to punch their way out. But by the late 1950s this had changed. What had been one title had become many. Action Comics for example had become Action Comics, Superman, Superman's Best Friend Jimmy Olson, Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane, Superboy, Supergirl, and so on. What this did was allow the writers to pen different kinds of stories. Action Comics and Superman still had the basic rough and tumble formula, but some of these other titles delved into more private aspects of the superhero's life.

Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane is a perfect example. Marketed towards the female reader, most of the plots hinge on Lois's emotional connection to Superman. Not quite a romance comic, it did explore her feelings of love (and jealousy) towards the Man of Steel. And finding a new way to do that issue after issue was quite a challenge with 137 issues from 1959 to 1974. Some sample ideas from just the first twenty-four issues include Lois becoming a witch, adopting a super-baby, getting really fat, going to prison, singing a hit song with Pat Boone, becoming a baby herself, wearing a lead box on her head to hide her face from Superman, falling for Batman, getting kryptonite vision by accident, marrying Astounding Man, getting X-Ray vision, and any number of plots involving Lana Lang's getting the upper hand on Lois for Superman's affections. And that's just the first 24 of 137.

Issue #11 (August 1959) is a my favorite of them all. "The Leopard Girl of the Jungle" was written by Bill Finger and drawn by Kurt Schaffenburger. In this story, Lana Lang wants to see Lois. Lois, being ever jealous of Superman's first girlfriend, thinks the worst. But what Lana really wants is for Lois to read her new novel. It's a jungle thriller that's been rejected because it's too far-fetched. Lois reads the book, but has an interview in Africa, so she hops a plane. Which, of course, crashes and Lois loses her memory. She thinks she is a leopard girl and takes up with pack of leopards. (We'll come back to that one.) Superman finds her and restores her memory but Lois refuses to leave the jungle. She is determined to prove that a jungle girl can do all the things that Lana wrote about. Lois goes on a dangerous jungle crusade and accomplishes all of Lana's jungle adventures (with Superman always ready to surreptitiously save her, like pulling the crocodiles down in the river so they can't attack the swimming jungle queen and her furry companions). She returns with her proof and Lana's book becomes a bestseller. Superman is impressed by Lois's kindness to Lana (which Lois only admits to herself is why she did all those crazy jungle stunts.)

Now Bill Finger could have done some research and learned that leopards don't live in packs. And he could have acquired more in-depth, African geographical and political knowledge. Except that would have ruined the whole thing. Because Finger didn't want to write a real jungle adventure. He wanted to write something that harkened back to the jungle queens of old, like Sheena, Rulah, Camilla, and Cave Girl. And this is exactly what he does. Lois wears leopard skins. She escapes stampeding elephants and raging grass fires. She swims in crocodile-infested waters. The only thing she doesn't do is use a knife. This might have been a Comics Code issue or simply because Superman is continuously acting as her security blanket.

The end result is an homage strategically placed in the jungle girl history. Most of the jungle comics and movies were done by the early '50s. The only significant one was in 1959 with Audrey Hepburn playing Rima the Jungle Girl in Green Mansions. That premiered around the same time this issue of Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane appeared. Coincidence? Probably not. DC had no jungle comics in 1959. (In 1972 Joe Kubert would take over Tarzan and would even adapt Green Mansions as a seven-part mini-series called Rima the Jungle Girl in 1974. But back in 1959? Nada.) Bill Finger's tale is a swan song to an era of liana-swinging gals in leopard bikinis. The 1960s would be the decade that gave us Ron Ely on TV, Jack Benny and Gilligan parodies, George of the Jungle, and Ray Stevens singing "Guitarzan." We had become too sophisticated for Nyoka serials or Irish McCalla as Sheena.

Good bye, jungle girls. And thank you, Metropolis, for one last swing.

If you'd like to read the entire comic you can at Benny Drinnon's Ominous Octopus Omnibus blog. I'd also like to thank Benny Drinnon for directing my attention to this story.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Casino Royale (2006) | Music



To fit the tone of Casino Royale, the filmmakers wanted a strong, masculine voice to sing the theme song. They hired Soundgarden's Chris Cornell to co-write it with David Arnold and sing it. I was never a fan of Soundgarden or Cornell, but man, that song is perfect. For the music, Arnold kept the feel of the Bond Theme without actually referencing it. Cornell's lyrics are basically a letter from Bond to Le Chiffre (or any victim, really) and he belts them out with as much conviction and confidence as Bond himself. As a rule, I prefer Bond songs to include the name of the movie, but not this time. It describes the feel of the movie too completely to want the words "Casino Royale" forced in just to satisfy tradition.

Daniel Kleinman also outdid himself on the credits sequence. Anyone could have predicted the card motif, but the two-dimensional, papercut look is surprising and unique. Kleinman mixes games and violence by turning spades and hearts into bullets, diamonds into blades, and using clovers to suggest gunsmoke. He also creates roulette wheels out of crosshairs.

On another occasion, crosshairs move over a Queen card to reveal the face of Eva Green. She's the only woman in the credits. This is too serious a business to mess around with naked assassins or female-shaped oil spills. The only silhouettes are of men fighting and killing each other, reminding me of the covers to the '80s Berkley editions of the Fleming novels.

The credits end with two bullet holes being shot into the 7 of Hearts, turning the number into a 007. That transitions into a computer screen that reads, "James Bond - 007. Status confirmed," letting the credits sequence also serve as a narrative transition from the teaser to the movie proper.

Because "You Know My Name" is so brash and badass, Arnold is able to use it as an action theme throughout the movie. He's never been shy about including the Bond Theme in the films, but except for a few, suggestive notes here and there, he withholds the Theme this time, because Bond hasn't earned it yet. He finally lets Bond (and us) have it at the very end, making it super powerful and important. And making viewers super impatient for the next film.

Top Ten Theme Songs

1. A View to a Kill
2. "Surrender" (end credits of Tomorrow Never Dies)
3. "You Know My Name" (Casino Royale)
4. The Living Daylights
5. "Nobody Does It Better" (The Spy Who Loved Me)
6. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
7. Diamonds Are Forever
8. You Only Live Twice
9. From Russia With Love (instrumental version)
10. The World Is Not Enough

Top Ten Title Sequences

1. Casino Royale
2. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
3. Dr No
4. Thunderball
5. Goldfinger
6. GoldenEye
7. From Russia with Love
8. The Spy Who Loved Me
9. Die Another Day
10. Tomorrow Never Dies

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Casino Royale (2006) | Villains



Everything else about Casino Royale is more complex than previous Bond films, so that goes for the villains, too. The two, earlier adaptations of the story uncomplicate Le Chiffre by de-emphasizing the reason he's playing cards, but not this one. The Climax! episode and the '60s spoof both acknowledge that Le Chiffre needs to win some money, but that's just backstory and Le Chiffre is the clear and ultimate villain. The Eon version not only highlights the threat to Le Chiffre's life; it also builds the threatening organization into something big and scary that Bond's going to have to deal with later.

That means that on paper, Le Chiffre is really only a henchman in the Eon movie. But he functions in the story like the main villain. He has people whom he answers to, but he's the one driving the plot and making Bond react. That's true in both the 2006 movie and the novel.

Le Chiffre was previously played by Peter Lorre and Orson Welles, so Mads Mikkelsen had an impressive legacy to live up to, but he nails it. He's not as grotesque as the literary version; he's just super creepy and menacing. It's easy to believe that he gives Bond a hard time.



Because Le Chiffre is part of a larger organization, there are a lot of bad guys in Casino Royale. Most of them are henchmen who either work for Le Chiffre (or work for people who work for Le Chiffre) or work for the people whom Le Chiffre works for. There are so many that I didn't want to write about each of them separately, but significant ones are Alex Dimitrios (who's running Le Chiffre's operation to blow up a plane prototype), Obanno (a terrorist whose money Le Chiffre invests in the plane project), Mollaka (the parkour dude who's supposed to blow up the plane until Bond kills him), Carlos (the person assigned to replace Mollaka), Gettler (the one-eyed assassin who finds Vesper in Venice), and Kratt (Le Chiffre's bodyguard).

And then there's Mr. White, who seems to be running the whole show on behalf of his organization. I'd call him the true villain of the movie, except for two things. First, he's clearly got other people whom he answers to. If we were to compare Casino Royale to Thunderball, White would be Largo and Le Chiffre would be Count Lippe. One of the cool things about Casino Royale is that we never get to meet its Blofeld. We don't even so much as hear a name. Or hear the name of the organization, for that matter. White is a high-level henchman, but he's still technically a henchman.

The other thing that keeps him from being the real villain of Casino Royale is that he's never directly opposed to anything Bond is doing. For most of the movie, Bond isn't even aware that White exists, much less know enough about his plans to try to stop them. That changes at the end, of course, but that's epilogue to the main story and really just sets up the next film where his role in relation to Bond becomes more clear.

I'm going to leave White off my Top Ten for now, but I won't be surprised if he pops up on one of lists after Quantum of Solace.

Top Ten Villains

1. Auric Goldfinger (Goldfinger)
2. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Never Say Never Again)
3. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (From Russia With Love and Thunderball)
4. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (On Her Majesty's Secret Service)
5. Maximilian Largo (Never Say Never Again)
6. Francisco Scaramanga (The Man with the Golden Gun)
7. Dr. Kananga (Live and Let Die)
8. Le Chiffre (Casino Royale)
9. Doctor No (Dr. No)
10. General Gogol (For Your Eyes Only)

Top Ten Henchmen

1. Baron Samedi (Live and Let Die)
2. Fiona Volpe (Thunderball)
3. Grant (From Russia with Love)
4. Nick Nack (The Man with the Golden Gun)
5. Zao (Die Another Day)
6. Gobinda (Octopussy)
7. May Day (A View to a Kill)
8. Jaws (The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker)
9. Naomi (The Spy Who Loved Me)
10. Oddjob (Goldfinger)

Casino Royale (2006) | Women



Dimitrios' wife, Solange, shares some superficial characteristics with her namesake from "007 in New York," but she's serving an entirely different purpose. This is the kind of relationship that Bond is used to: dating married women who can't afford to get attached to him. That's one of the great things about her. She's not just there for Bond to seduce and get information from. She's also there to show us something serious and important about who Bond is.

The other great thing about her is the performance by Caterina Murino, who totally sells how lonely and sad Solange is. She wants to be a good person, but she's weak and that's what gets her into trouble.



Before I get too deep into thoughts on Vesper Lynd, let's pause for a moment and acknowledge the weird way she's introduced to the movie. She joins Bond on the train to Montenegro and announces, "I'm the money." "Every penny of it," Bond replies. I don't know what we're supposed to pull from that joke. Moneypenny isn't in the movie, so I imagine that it's just a way of acknowledging her absence, but it's strange to do that in connection with Vesper, who has nothing in common with M's assistant. Moneypenny is a consistent, but minor friend to Bond. Vesper is exactly the opposite.

She's only with him for a short time, but - especially in the novels - Vesper is the defining female presence in Bond's life. I don't think he truly loves her in the novel, but she certainly changes him and remains a powerful influence on him for years. At least until Tracy shows up. That means that there was a ton of pressure on the movie to get Vesper right. Happily, not only did it do honor to the literary version, it improved her.

Fleming's Vesper is a complicated, mysterious person for a reason. Fleming famously wrote Casino Royale while sweating over his impending marriage and his fears about that are channeled right into Vesper. She's an enigma that Bond can't figure out and he's almost ruined by trying. Eva Green's Vesper is also complicated and has secrets, but she's not as inscrutable as the literary version. That's partly because we can see her face and read her body language - and because those elements are controlled by an extremely talented actress - but it's also in the script. Her character is going on every bit as much of a journey as Bond is.

When they meet, they totally fall into the Belligerent Sexual Tension trope, but it resolves more naturally than your typical couple in a romantic comedy. They never actually hate each other, but they have opposite goals. Bond's there to risk MI6 funds on an uncertain mission, while Vesper's job is to protect those funds by minimizing the risk. The conflict created by that situation deflates though once Vesper is caught in a violent situation and has to participate in killing someone. She's devastated by the trauma of it and - shockingly - Bond is sensitive and gentle with her as she breaks down.

He doesn't appear to have been traumatized by either of the murders he committed in the cold open, and certainly not by any that he's committed in the movie since then. But some part of him is able to empathize with Vesper's reaction and comfort her through it. That beautiful moment in the shower connects them, so that later, when they undergo even more serious suffering together, they become inseparable. That's so much more powerful than it is in the book where her love for Bond seems to be mostly driven by guilt over her role in his torture.

Her treason and death are different in the book and film, too, but I like both versions. The reasons each Vesper does what she does are connected to the unique relationships they have with their Bonds, but what they're trying to achieve is the same. In both book and film, Vesper tries to move past her betrayal, but it catches up to her and she dies trying to protect Bond.

That really confuses him. He's learned to trust her, then learned that his trust was misplaced, but ultimately has to wrestle with the knowledge that she was still on his side to the very end. That's a crazily uncertain place for him to be in as the movie ends, but resolving that uncertainty is what makes Quantum of Solace so powerful. Spoilers for my feelings about that movie.

My Favorite Bond Women

1. Tracy Bond (On Her Majesty's Secret Service)
2. Vesper Lynd (Casino Royale)
3. Melina Havelock (For Your Eyes Only)
4. Kara Milovy (The Living Daylights)
5. Wai Lin (Tomorrow Never Dies)
6. Paula Caplan (Thunderball)
7. Tatiana Romanova (From Russia With Love)
8. Natalya Simonova (GoldenEye)
9. Fiona Volpe (Thunderball)
10. Domino Derval (Thunderball)

Friday, September 18, 2015

Casino Royale (2006) | Bond

Actors and Allies



For the first time in ever, Bond has a character arc in a movie. He begins with a huge chip on his shoulder for undisclosed reasons, though Vesper later observes that it's a personality type that often pops up in Double-O recruits. Bond's all rough edges at first. He's not just a misogynist, but a misanthrope, too. M has some major work to do with him if she's going to whip him into shape.

She calls him a "blunt instrument" (borrowing the term Miranda Frost used in Die Another Day), but that's not what bothers her. On the contrary, also like in Die Another Day, M relies on his being that way. After he refuses to follow her orders and lie low, he confronts her. "You knew I wouldn't let this drop," he says. Her response is, "I knew you were you."

Her real problem with Bond is something that she tells him early in the movie: "Take your ego out of the equation." Bond's ego defines his character in Casino Royale. Her telling him to lie low after his mistake in Madagascar is another interesting connection to Die Another Day. She doesn't outright rescind his license to kill this time, but his ego has again put her in a spot where she needs him out of the way. The irony is that in Die Another Day, she took him out because she thought his ego had been torn down to the point that he may have betrayed secrets. It's just the opposite in Casino Royale. His ego is very strong and it's making him sloppy.

Vesper has a similar crisis of faith in him, because she believes that his ego is blinding him to the possibility of losing to Le Chiffre. He's not playing as smart as he needs to. In order to win, Bond has to confront his own fallibility and let the experience make him stronger.

A huge symptom of his inflated ego is his lack of trust in people. In the same conversation where M scolds Bond about his ego, she also tells him, "I need to know that I can trust you and that you know who to trust." Her trust in him is all about his ability to control his ego, but the comment about his knowing whom to trust is also important. It's not that she wants him to become super trusting. Later in the movie, she asks him, "You don't trust anyone, do you?" And when he says that he doesn't, she says, "Then you've learned your lesson."

But at the same time, Bond's egotistical reliance only on himself makes him a weaker agent. M criticizes him for his emotional detachment, and it's his instinctive distrust that makes him so ready to believe in Mathis' betrayal. Along the way though, Bond does learn to open up, like when he meets Felix Leiter, his "brother from Langley." It's a big change from the book that Bond hasn't yet met Felix before the card game. In the movie, Felix doesn't introduce himself until Bond is at his lowest: beaten by Le Chiffre and getting no additional support from MI6. Bond has decided that his only choice is to murder Le Chiffre - calling back to his tactics at the beginning of the movie. But Felix offers Bond a way to complete the mission as planned and Bond grabs onto that life preserver with both hands. Felix is kind of perfect that way. He doesn't require a lot of trust from Bond; all Bond has to do is accept Felix's chips. But it's a baby step towards Bond's learning that he's stronger when he's part of a team.

The tragedy of course is that when Bond finally does open himself up to trusting Vesper, she betrays him, too. It's a deep wound and he finishes the movie no more trusting than he did at the beginning, but his experimenting with trust has deflated his ego significantly. He's still not all the way there, but he's on his way toward becoming the agent M wants him to be.

Best Quip



"I'm Mr. Arlington Beech, professional gambler, and you're Miss Stephanie Broadchest..."

Runner Up: "How was your lamb?" "Skewered. One sympathizes."

Worst Quip



"I'm sorry. That last hand nearly killed me."

Gadgets



Casino Royale almost eliminates gadgets altogether. There were actually more gadgets in the novel, like the gun-cane used by one of Le Chiffre's henchmen. The movie replaces the gun-cane with poison, though, and doesn't offer much in the way of new gadgets to replace it. Bond's car has a fancy glove compartment with shelves holding medical equipment and a gun, but the only other sort of gadget is the tracker that M has implanted under Bond's skin.

Top Ten Gadgets

1. Lotus Esprit (The Spy Who Loved Me)
2. Aston Martin DB V (Goldfinger and Thunderball)
3. Jet pack (Thunderball)
4. Iceberg boat (A View to a Kill)
5. The Q Boat (The World Is Not Enough)
6. Aston Martin V8 Vantage (The Living Daylights)
7. Glastron CV23HT speed boat (Moonraker)
8. Acrostar Mini Jet (Octopussy)
9. Crocodile submarine (Octopussy)
10. X-Ray Specs (The World Is Not Enough)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Casino Royale (2006) | Story



Plot Summary

James Bond earns his Double-O number, but risks losing his soul.

Influences

I always want to give Jason Bourne the credit for Casino Royale, but that's not fair. The Bond series has a history of letting itself get super bloated and crazy before paring back to Fleming-like realism. It happened after You Only Live Twice, it happened after Moonraker, and it happened after A View to a Kill. In all likelihood, the movie after Die Another Day was always going to be a smaller, more serious movie.

But even though Die Another Day grossed more than twice as much worldwide as The Bourne Identity (released the summer of 2002; Die Another Day came out that Christmas), Bourne was clearly the better movie and got people thinking about what a real spy movie should look like.

Eon Productions had had the rights to Casino Royale since 1999, but I guess the timing had never been right to make it as a Brosnan movie. Brosnan was 49 when Die Another Day came out and no one wanted him to overstay his welcome like Roger Moore had, so when it was decided to replace Brosnan with a younger actor, it must have seemed like the right time to adapt the first Fleming novel and reboot the whole thing. And however indirect Bourne's influence may have been, Casino Royale certainly competes with it in terms of tone and sheer action.

The novel is obviously a huge influence, but there's also some speculation about the name of Alex Dimitrios' wife in the film. It's never mentioned onscreen, but the credits list her as Solange. Fleming used that name in "From a View to a Kill" as well as "007 in New York." In "From a View to a Kill," Bond is simply fantasizing about hooking up in Paris and imagines meeting a Frenchwoman named Solange, but the woman in "007 in New York" is actually a friend of his who's in a relationship with a bad guy. She may not have directly inspired the Casino Royale character, but I can see why the filmmakers borrowed her name.

How Is the Book Different?

The film follows the book's plot pretty closely, but adds a lot of stuff at the beginning to make Bond more invested in Le Chiffre's defeat. In the novel, he's called in on the mission just because he's the Secret Service's best card player. That works just fine, but it's even stronger to have the card game be the climax of an investigation that Bond's been working on for a while. That means changing some things about how Le Chiffre lost his employers' money, but it also gives the movie the chance to put in big action set pieces that weren't in the novel.

Even in the part of the story that's directly from the book, there are some significant changes. Instead of Bond's assistant, Vesper has a more important role as the MI6 accountant who decides how much money is going to get thrown at this endeavor. Then there's the switch of the card game from the novel's baccarat to the more popular, but way less classy Texas hold 'em.

The biggest change though is the questioning of Mathis' loyalties. It's left ambiguous (and resolved in Quantum of Solace), but once Bond suspects Mathis, he never doubts the man's guilt. In the book, Mathis is a wonderful character and indisputably a good guy. It's important to Bond's character arc in the movie that he doubt Mathis' allegiance, but it still hurts every time I see it.

Moment That's Most Like Fleming



More than any other movie in the series to this point, Casino Royale drops the jokes. There's humor in it, but it's real-person humor, not quips. Since Dr. No, the Bond films had always taken a light-hearted approach to espionage, though Dalton and Brosnan each added layers to that. Dalton undermined his jokes with a self-deprecating delivery, while Brosnan was explicitly stated to be using humor to cope with his job. Daniel Craig is doing neither of those things. He relaxes around attractive women, but the rest of the time he's deadly serious.

That seriousness fits well with the themes of Fleming's novel, which are adapted nicely to the movie. The film doesn't deal with them in exactly the same way, but there's still a character arc for Bond where he questions his life as a cruel, emotionless spy and then comes to terms with it.

Moment That's Least Like Fleming



I'd argue that the movie deals with Bond's character arc better than the novel does. The book has Bond flirt with the idea of abandoning the Secret Service and his relationship with Vesper is really just something for him to hold onto when the rest of his world seems to be falling apart. In the film, Vesper isn't a distraction, but a vital part of what's pulling him away from MI6. It's her - not Le Chiffre's torture - that makes Bond question his life. "You do what I do too long," he tells her, "and there won't be any soul left to salvage. I'm leaving with what little I have left." And what little he has, he's offering to her.

The real, least-Fleming moment comes much earlier in the film, but it's related. Bond begins the movie with a childishly willful attitude towards M. That changes by the end of the movie as a result of his character growth, but it's a disposition that the literary Bond never would have dreamed of expressing, even when he thought M was wrong.

Cold Open



Casino Royale lets us know right away that it's breaking formula. There's no gun barrel before the teaser, first of all, and then the teaser is in black-and-white.

We're told that we're in Prague and Bond is waiting in the office of the MI6 section chief for that area. Apparently, the chief has been selling secrets to the enemy and M has sent Bond to put a stop to it.

The chief laughs about this at first. He clearly doesn't respect Bond and muses that if M was really bent on killing him, she would have sent a Double-O. He even states that he'd know it if M had promoted Bond to that level. "Your file shows no kills, and it takes..."

"Two," Bond interrupts. Smash cut to a brutal fight in a bathroom between Bond and the section chief's contact.

The implication is clear. Bond hasn't yet been promoted to Double-O, because he's just now earning it with this mission. From here, the teaser jumps between the two scenes; contrasting the ferocious murder of the enemy contact with the cold-blooded assassination of the traitorous chief. That's another thing the movie has in common with the novel, where Bond reminisces about the two murders that got him his number. They're unrelated missions in the book, but one was an emotionless sniper shot while the other was close and messy.

The chief obviously knows Bond from before this meeting. He tells Bond, "We barely got to know each other," suggesting that Bond has been stationed in Prague for a short time. Probably, I imagine, on assignment from M to investigate the chief.

Bond murders his boss and then we get one last cut back to the bathroom. It looks like Bond's won his fight, but there's a little life left yet in the enemy agent, who draws a gun on Bond. As he does, the camera moves us inside the gun barrel looking out as Bond pivots and shoots and the blood comes pouring down the screen. This may be a different sort of Bond film, but it's still a Bond film.

Top 10 Cold Opens

1. GoldenEye 
2. Casino Royale
3. The Spy Who Loved Me
4. Moonraker
5. Thunderball
6. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
7. A View to a Kill
8. Goldfinger
9. The Man with the Golden Gun
10. The Living Daylights

Movie Series Continuity



Since it's ostensibly a reboot, there's not much movie continuity in Casino Royale. Really, the only clear connection is M, played again by Judi Dench and tying this movie to the Brosnan ones. For that reason, it's hard to accept Casino Royale as a hard reboot.

Bond also wins a 1964 Aston Martin DB5 from Dimitrios, which feels like continuity, but can't be. It's clearly a reference to 1964's Goldfinger where the car first appeared, but there's no way that Casino Royale takes place before Goldfinger or that this is the story of how Bond got that vehicle. For one thing, the Casino Royale DB5 has a left-hand driver seat, but that's a relatively small issue compared to trying to make the Brosnan movies lead into Craig's which then loop back around as a prequel to Connery's. It just doesn't work.

The only theory that makes any amount of sense (just barely) is that "James Bond" is indeed as much a code name as 007, but that in addition to the name, MI6 is also implanting memories. Not only of Bond's wife, but also - as we'll see in Skyfall - of his childhood. There's no good reason for MI6 to be doing this (they'd have to have a similar program for Moneypennies, by the way, and the CIA would as well for Felixes), but if we foolishly insist on a continuity for the whole series, this has got to be it.

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