Documentary Review: Becoming Bond (2017)

Release Date: March 11th, 2017 (SXSW)
Directed by: Josh Greenbaum
Written by: Josh Greenbaum
Music by: John Piscitello
Cast: George Lazenby, Josh Lawson, Kassandra Clementi, Jane Seymour, Jeff Garlin, Jake Johnson, Dana Carvey

Delirio Films, Hulu, 95 Minutes

Review:

Well, this was an incredibly fun documentary.

What I liked most about this was it was just George Lazenby telling his story, in his own words with comedic dramatization used to paint the picture. I didn’t expect to be so amused by this but I was.

I think the thing that made the dramatizations so good is that they sneaked some well-known actors into the mix. We got Jane Seymour and Jake Johnson but then we also got the comedic flourish of Jeff Garlin and Dana Carvey, who did a solid Johnny Carson impersonation.

For those that don’t know, George Lazenby played James Bond in one movie, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Oddly enough, that is my favorite Bond movie of all-time, so seeing this documentary about the one-off Bond and some of the behind the scenes stuff of that movie, was really cool to watch. Especially, since that film came out in a time when behind the scenes stuff didn’t really exist.

Also, a lot of the stuff about Lazenby is discussed in the documentary Everything Or Nothing but that film covers the entire James Bond franchise and Lazenby’s stint was a very small piece of the larger pie. So having a whole documentary dedicated to Lazenby and the controversy surrounding his time as Bond was pretty cool.

In the end, this made me appreciate Lazenby, the man. He definitely marched to the beat of his own drum and despite the issues that the franchise had because of him, it’s hard not to respect him. Plus, he is still the star of one of the greatest Bond films ever made.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about the James Bond franchise but most notably, Everything Or Nothing.

Film Review: Master Ninja II (1984)

Also known as: The Master (as a TV series), The Ninja Master (original VHS movie release)
Release Date: 1984 (the original run of the TV series)
Directed by: various
Written by: Tom Sawyer, Michael Sloan, Susan Woollen
Music by: Bill Conti
Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Timothy Van Patten, Sho Kosugi, George Lazenby, Crystal Bernard

Michael Sloan Productions, Viacom, CBS, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Sorry, I’m not allowed to serve you.” – nervous waitress

Well, Mystery Science Theater 3000 couldn’t just give us one Master Ninja, they had to give us two. They were actually going to do a third one in a later season but it got cut from the production schedule.

Like the previous “film” in this series, this is just two television episodes of the short-lived show The Master, edited together into feature length and sold as a movie.

As these things go, it is horribly paced and doesn’t work all that well. In fact, this has poorer execution than the first chapter in the series.

I think the first film worked better because it was the start of the series and it helped setup everything. It was a jumbled mess of a thing but it seemed more coherent than this one and it also had Demi Moore in it, just before she reached superstardom.

This one has Crystal Bernard and even adds George Lazenby, a former James Bond, to the mix but it’s pretty uninteresting and very mundane.

The high point of the film is the big action climax at the end but that’s still pretty damn mediocre. This show did pull off some solid stunts though, so there’s that. But when your big action sequence is punctuated by a van smashing through a dainty gate in slow motion, you might need to go back to the drawing board and up the octane.

The Master isn’t a great show but it plays better as single episodes, as opposed to trying to convince audiences with short attention spans that these are actual movies.

But hey, There’s some motocross in this one!

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: Master Ninja I and The Master TV series.

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

Release Date: October 5th, 2012
Directed by: Stevan Riley
Music by: various

Passion Pictures, Red Box Films, 98 Minutes

Review:

Who doesn’t want to see a documentary that covers the creation of the literary James Bond, the film James Bond and the long history of the Bond franchise, told by the people who were there all along the way?

Everything or Nothing is just that film.

I guess the thing I like most about this documentary is the stuff about Ian Fleming and his creation of the character, as well as the story behind the partnership of Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, who formed Eon Productions a.k.a. “Everything or nothing”.

The family members of Broccoli and Saltzman do a good job of fleshing out the tale and all the interviews feel very candid and real. I think that the partnership at Eon is something that most modern fans aren’t familiar with but it is a very important part of the overall Bond legacy.

We also get to see a lot of the details surrounding all the Bond ownership rights lawsuits over the years, as it is something that has often times put the film franchise on hold.

The documentary also covers some details about every film in the franchise from the original American Casino Royale, through Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Sean Connery again, Roger Moore, Sean Connery yet again, back to Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and up to Daniel Craig. Most of the actors get to spend some time talking about their experiences in these iconic films.

Overall, this is a pretty solid picture and fans of James Bond should definitely check it out.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

Release Date: December 18th, 1969 (London premiere)
Directed by: Peter R. Hunt
Written by: Richard Maibaum
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, Ilse Steppat, Gabriele Ferzetti, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn

Eon Productions, United Artists, 140 Minutes

Review:

“Merry Christmas, 007.” – Ernst Stavro Blofeld

Is it weird that my favorite James Bond film of all-time stars my least favorite James Bond actor? Granted, he only did this one picture so there isn’t much to judge George Lazenby on but this was the finest picture in the franchise. But the reasons for that are many and Lazenby’s version of Bond was just sort of there for the ride.

To put it bluntly, this is the perfect James Bond movie. Now it isn’t a perfect film but it is as close as a 007 adventure has gotten. It has everything you want in a Bond film or at least, everything I want. It is less gadgety than other films in the franchise but I quite enjoyed that about this one. It was also the most serious film of its era. The stuff before it was getting a bit hokey and after it was Diamonds Are Forever, which is cheesy, albeit not in a bad way. Following that, we got the Roger Moore era, which was awesome but was also the most lighthearted and goofy string of films in the long franchise’s history. We actually wouldn’t get another serious feeling Bond film until twenty years later with the Timothy Dalton flick Licence to Kill, another one of my all-time favorites.

The thing that makes On Her Majesty’s Secret Service so unique is the fact that it does have some hokey moments but the serious tone of the picture balances things out. It is a best of both worlds scenario in regards to marrying the serious Bond and the lighthearted Bond.

Lazenby did a good job with the material but I think Sean Connery would have brought this script to a whole different level with added gravitas. I also feel that Lazenby was often times carried in scenes by the veteran Telly Savalas and Ilse Steppat. Also, Diana Rigg was the one that shined in her scenes together with Lazenby. Although, Lazenby could have probably been a fine Bond had he stuck around. Timothy Dalton didn’t nail the role in his first film but he became a really good Bond in his second.

Telly Savalas was the real star of the film though and for good reason. He took the character of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, a guy who we had already seen in a half dozen different incarnations up to this point, and made him an exceptional villain.

While I love the work that Donald Pleasence did in the previous film, You Only Live Twice, it was this Blofeld that became the real foil in Bond’s life. Savalas played the roll more seriously and wasn’t just a villainous caricature. Also, he is the first villain to severely hurt 007, adding a level of hatred towards the character that had never been there previously. Unfortunately, he and Lazenby never returned and we never got to see justice served in a satisfying manner following this film’s ending.

The Bond Girls have always been an important part of this franchise and this film features the most ladies, by far. Granted, James Bond still only sleeps with two of them but he had a huge group of women to explore in this chapter in the series. Also, he does end up in bed with the evil Irma Bunt but it’s a trap.

The Swiss location was another element of this film that made it great. While Bond seems to do less traveling in this picture and spends the majority of his time in the Swiss Alps, it actually keeps the picture really grounded. The geography is amazing and the tone of the film is enhanced by the cold surroundings. I feel that revisiting this area in Daniel Craig’s most recent Bond outing, Spectre, was an homage to this picture and tried to tap into the magic it bestowed on the franchise.

The icy stock car race is also one of the best action sequences in the entire Bond franchise. It was well shot, the action well handled and it made a Bond Girl come off as bad ass and not just some damsel in distress like most of them are. There is a reason why Bond wants to marry this particular girl and it is because she saves his ass and can hold her own alongside him.

The fight choreography was a bit different in this chapter. In fact, it was heavily edited with quick cuts and fast movement. It made these scenes feel more gritty and realistic. I liked the director’s approach to these moments but the series would revert back to a more traditional style of shooting these sequences, after this picture.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the finest film in the James Bond oeuvre. While many will probably disagree with me, I think it is because a lot of people just aren’t as interested in a film with a James Bond actor that isn’t as established as Sean Connery or Roger Moore. It is a weird film wedged between two Connery chapters and then the Moore era starts just after that. I think that a lot of fans just sort of forget about this movie. It certainly doesn’t get the play on cable television whenever networks do their big week long Bond marathons. At least when compared to the amount of play of those Connery and Moore films get.

This is an odd installment for the film series that kind of exists on its own and unfortunately, never got a proper followup. It was the one film that needed a proper followup, though. Get to that ending and you’ll see why. I’m still kind of pissed at Telly Savalas and Ilse Steppat.

Rating: 9.25/10

Ranking the Official James Bond Films

james_bondGrowing up, I was fascinated with James Bond. The same uncle who made me obsessed with Godzilla and Star Trek, also gave me my Bond obsession. Luckily for me, they still make Bond films and the current crop are pretty high quality. Here, I rank all the James Bond films… at least the official ones, anyway.

1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969 – George Lazenby)
2. From Russia With Love (1963 – Sean Connery)
3. Licence to Kill (1989 – Timothy Dalton)
4. Dr. No (1962 – Sean Connery)
5. Skyfall (2012 – Daniel Craig)
6. Live and Let Die (1973 – Roger Moore)
7. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977 – Roger Moore)
8. Goldeneye (1995 – Pierce Brosnan)
9. Thunderball (1965 – Sean Connery)
10. Goldfinger (1964 – Sean Connery)
11. The Man With the Golden Gun (1974 – Roger Moore)
12. You Only Live Twice (1967 – Sean Connery)
13. Casino Royale (2006 – Daniel Craig)
14. Spectre (2015 – Daniel Craig)
15. A View to a Kill (1985 – Roger Moore)
16. The Living Daylights (1987 – Timothy Dalton)
17. Quantum of Solace (2008 – Daniel Craig)
18. Diamonds Are Forever (1971 – Sean Connery)
19. Octopussy (1983 – Roger Moore)
20. Moonraker (1979 – Roger Moore)
21. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997 – Pierce Brosnan)
22. For Your Eyes Only (1981 – Roger Moore)
23. The World Is Not Enough (1999 – Pierce Brosnan)
24. Die Another Day (2002 – Pierce Brosnan)