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Musings and Ramblings

OR ...

by CEJ


*  BEST ORIGINAL SCORE - Thomas Newman
*  BEST ORIGINAL SONG - Adele Adkins / Paul Epworth (winner)
*  BEST SOUND EDITING - Per Hallberg / Karen Baker Landers (winner)
*  BEST SOUND MIXING - Stuart Wilson / Scott Millan / Greg P. Russell

     Oscar season’s come and gone, movie pundits as well as John & Jane Q. film buff had a good time “layin’ odds” on most likely winners; and of course there were more than a few personal opinions on “faves”, “fate” and good ‘ol fashioned “WTF !!! snubs”!  Oh yeah, and seeing Ben Affleck take a Best Picture trophy home for the superlative ARGO was a nice "bounce back" after originally getting shut out in that Best Director category.  For life long James Bond fans (some refer to themselves as being in “Bondage” - ha!) there was the double-barreled treat this year of a celebration / tribute to “50 YEARS OF BOND” as well as the pleasure of seeing the latest 007 outing, SKYFALL (already a BAFTA “Best Film” Award winner) up for five Academy Awards  - more than any other Bond film in history.

      Hmmm? First discordant note there!  Huh?  "What's your problem?" you say.  Well, stay with me.  I promise this wil make sense.

      Not only has SKYFALL proven to be a critical darling (it’s pulled down an impressive 92% “Fresh” rating on Rotten, but it’s been embraced by die hard 007 aficionados (yours truly included), and has to date taken in over $1.1 billion worldwide; making it not only the most financially successful Bond film of all time, but the #2 box office hit of the year behind the THE AVENGERS. 

     And therein lay the “second discordant note!”  ...

     "Craig, you're not making sense!"

      I know it seems that way.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m overjoyed to see a Bond film, and SKYFALL in particular - one of the best of the series, get the attention.  But (as Devo used to say) "Whip me, hurt me, call me trash!", all those Oscar noms just don’t feel right (and yes, I intentionally used "don't" instead of "doesn't" -  it's more converstional, y'know?).  In point of fact I was even bothered by all those nominations.  I'll explain …

      Those who know my creative history know I’m the world’s biggest Bond fan.  And not just a “yeah, I’ve seen all the films and dig ‘em” kinda guy.  Uh uh!  But it’s no exaggeration to say (and I'm gonna let that big time "geek it up" freak flag fly here) that in many ways various aspects of this kid's artistic existence have been literally “sign posted” by Ian Fleming’s venerable super spy over the years.  I read (no, was “weaned” on) all the novels growing up - the Fleming’s of course, but also on the newer-aged John Gardners (apart from Fleming himself, the best Bond novels out there), the Raymond Bensons, the "one shoters" by Kingsley Amis and Sebastian Faulks, and even the Christopher Wood film novelizations.  A Fleming Bond novel (LIVE AND LET DIE) was the very first “grown up person‘s" book I read at age 10.  My first trip to the movies without parents was to see a Bond.  One of the first albums purchased (remember vinyl?) was a soundtrack to a Bond film.  The first film ever purchased (remember “laser discs”? - google that one you under 30 crowd!) was also a Bond (DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER).  And the first for real cover-to-cover book I ever finished some years back was a rather lengthy James Bond trivia quiz tome - at the time turned down by various publishers (remember them?) because it was (get this) “too hard”.  I’m currently revising and updating it for release as GullCottage’s first e-book.  Anyway, all that to say … 

      Why in the name of Mi6 would a person with that much “Bond in his blood” be bothered by SKYFALL’s many Oscar noms?  By rights I should've be doing all  manner of cartwheels, backflips, handstand spins and other impossible gymnastic feats as if aided by nifty anti-gravitational devices from "Q" branch.  But for some odd reason it reminded me of the super smart, qualified and hard working woman who knows she’s deserving of a promotion and salary raise, but when she gets it, comes to discover it wasn’t based on that hard work or qualifications, but rather on the fact that the new boss “liked the way her boobs 'stacked up' in that wool sweater”.  Hang in there with me and you'll see where I'm coming from; especially as I believe the reasons I was not so jazzed about all those nominations is perhaps indicative of a larger industry trend. 

SKYFALL: 2012 release trailer (U.S.)

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     After a near crippling injury, followed by a lengthy absence from Her Majesty‘s Secret Service, and the undertaking of a strenuous re-training regimen, Bond (Daniel Craig) in SKYFALL is told by fellow Mi6 operative “Eve” (Naomie Harris) he’s become “an old dog learning new tricks”.  Similarly, after a lengthy four year absence from the big screen, the near crippling financial woes of home studio MGM, and the undertaking of a massive rewriting regimen (SKYFALL’s original script by THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND and FROST / NIXON’s Peter Morgan; the new one co-written by GLADIATOR‘s John Logan), with SKYFALL, fans around the world were thrilled to see everyone’s favorite “old dog” had not only learned a new trick or two, but still ruled the tall weeds where (as they say) “the big dogs go“ - nowadays no mean feat. 

     For since DR. NO’s November 1962 debut, the filmic action/adventure genre has necessarily re-invented itself time and again: each decade’s political and socio-political climate redefining what constitutes “good guys” and “bad guys” as well as good and bad tastes; while constantly evolving cinema and home theater technology (coupled with the ever fluctuating PDA-addicted audience attention span) continually re-dictates the definition of “slow”, “exciting”, “suspenseful” or non.  In the last 20 years alone franchises such as MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, the BOURNE series, new DIE HARDs and TRANSFORMERS have upped the action hero ante.  And even old stalwart INDIANA JONES would re-enter the fray.  But to the more than pleasant surprise of many, SKYFALL made clear the Bond series had not only managed to survive, but also proved in spades the veracity of 1985’s nifty A VIEW TO A KILL tagline:    

      “In the world of high adventure, … the highest number is still  007”.

SKYFALL motion picture score: "Komodo Dragon" - Thomas Newman

     In SKYFALL, after a list is stolen containing the identities of deep cover intelligence agents embedded within terrorist organizations around the world, Bond is sent to uncover the thief or thieves behind the robbery; his investigation leading him on a globe spanning mystery through the streets of Turkey, London, Shanghai, and even to the marshland of his boyhood home of Scotland, where he crosses final swords with brilliant, enigmatic former Mi6 computer hacker “Silva” (Oscar winner Javier Bardem), whom it appears has an agenda against Her Majesty's Secret Service in general, and perhaps a greater personal one against Bond’s direct superior “M” (Judi Dench) in particular. 

     What constitutes a good or not-so-good Bond film varies from person to person, as well as from one film-going generation to the next.  Older fans tend to favor the earlier Sean Connery adventures, while a great many Gen-X’ers once swore by Pierce Brosnan as the epitome of the ultimate suave super-spy.  So much so in fact that (hard to believe now) a fierce internet movement actually arose protesting the hiring of Daniel Craig, in favor of bringing back Brosnan for CASINO ROYALE (2006).  With us (yes, our yardstick as subjective as any other), what constitutes the “Best of” Bond films in the series has always been, “How well do they capture the tone, spirit and vibe of the original Ian Fleming novels”.  Which is not to say they must adhere religiously to the plotlines and dialog - although three of those on most fan’s “Best of” lists certainly do: FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963), ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969) and the aforementioned CASINO ROYALE. 

     General consensus however also places the larger than life (borderline cartoony) THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977) - replete with steel-toothed Richard Kiel as “Jaws”, on many film aficionado’s “most loved Bond movies of all time” list based on sheer entertainment value alone.  And that opening Rick Sylvester “off the cliff“ ski jump stunt is STILL pretty damned awesome to this day!.  But even the most maligned entry in the series - MOONRAKER (1979) at the time would not only become the all time top grossing Bond film, but also one of the most successful international films period at the time of it’s initial release. 

007's "Papa" - Ian Lancaster Fleming   

      As enjoyable as they surely are however, for us the better 007 outings have always been those which, while adjusting to the social context of the era in which they were released, still manage to somehow “stay close to Goldeneye” (the name of Fleming’s Jamaica home where he’d travel three months out of every winter to bang out a new thriller).   As such 1973’s LIVE AND LET DIE (adapting the author’s 1954 U.S. & Jamaica-set “black villains and black government agents” scenario into the SHAFT / CLEOPATRA JONES “blaxploitation” cinema movement of the 70s), FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981 - Roger Moore’s best Bond film; stringing together three Fleming short stories from the same named collection published in 1960), 1987’s THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (the opening “defection sequence” an adaptation of Fleming’s similarly titled 1962 short story), and 1989’s LICENCE TO KILL (integrating elements of LIVE AND LET DIE the novel) end up on our chart as some of the all time best.  

     For the “best of the Bonds” were and are not only great (hell, cutting-edge) action films.  But are also (as many seem to forget … or not realize at all while caught up in the hoopla) cleverly plotted, genuinely engaging and all around well written thrillers.  To those who still engage in the archaic custom of perusing book stores and libraries, take note that the Fleming novels (as well as the more contemporary John Gardner and Raymond Benson 007 continuation adventures) are found in the “Mystery” section.  And while contemporary cinematic actioners eventually become passé, a good mystery will, regardless of the trappings of it’s era, forever remain timeless.  According to Bond producers - the sibling team of Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli (the duo taking over the reigns of the series after the death of the legendary Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli in 1996), the secret to maintaining the timeless quality and integrity of the franchise is to resist the temptation to “re-invent it too much”. 

SKYFALL's first press conference (11/3/11)


     The Bond series has continually re-invented itself every few years, but not to the point of steering it away from it’s own genre (and Bond films are a genre unto themselves) into pale “top 40s” imitations of the latest action movie craze.  As for their own internal 50 year re-invention, the earlier Connerys are much more talky (and political).  But then you notice, when the 60s era spy craze (remember OUR MAN FLINT, MATT HELM and TV’s WILD WILD WEST and I SPY?) devolved into send ups and spoofs of the genre, the actual Bond films YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967) and DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971) would to a degree similarly place their tongues firmly in cheek.  The late 1960s was a time when the public began tiring of Cold War paranoia and nightly beamings of the ugliness of the Vietnam war into their living rooms.  And while fans may not hold those two more “surreal” Bond outings in high regard today (and it’s now hard to watch YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE and NOT see Austin Powers)  had the series NOT taken a turn into lighter territory, their uber seriousness surely would have signaled their death knell. 

     1989's bone-crushingly brutal LICENCE TO KILL

     Later, during the SHAFT / SUPERFLY 1970s, Roger Moore’s LIVE AND LET DIE (‘73) would fit comfortably with the Black Power zeitgeist of the era.  When martial arts films became the rage, Moore’s Southeast Asia-set THE MAN WITH THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (’74) proved “right on time”.  And his MOONRAKER (’79 - released the same year as ALIEN, THE BLACK HOLE and STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE - all four films nominated for Visual Effects Oscars) capitalized on the then burgeoning sci-fi craze to a great deal of worldwide box office “ca-ching! ca-ching!"  During the 1980s and 90s - when terrorism, the collapse of the Soviet Empire, and corruption throughout governments (with everything from the Iran Contra affair to reports of intelligence agents working for and with international criminal organizations becoming regular nightly news), a more violent and cynical urban reality washed through popular entertainment to the point of affecting even comic books.  Hence the more violent THE PUNISHER, revamped GHOST RIDER, Alan Moore’s WATCHMEN and THE KILLING JOKE,  Frank Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT, McFarlane’s SPAWN, and the growing popularity of X-MEN’s Wolverine. 

     During this same time Bond (now portrayed by Timothy Dalton, who based his performance on the character in Fleming‘s novels ... right down to way he combed his hair!) would come “down to earth” in a pair of edge-y extremely Fleming-esque outings, THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987 - dealing with the team up of renegade American and Soviet militarymen out to score in the international drug trafficking trade), and the bone-crushing LICENCE TO KILL (1989 - with a renegade 007 on a personal vendetta quest against a Pablo Esobar-like cocaine kingpin). 

Pierce Brosnan and Michelle Yeoh: TOMORROW NEVER DIES (1997)      

     The four Pierce Brosnan films (from GOLDENEYE - ‘95 to DIE ANOTHER DAY - ‘02) would mostly strike a balance between the harder edged Bond (as DAYLIGHTS and LICENCE were not as financially popular at the box office) and the lighter adventures of the Roger Moore years.  While riding the wave of that success however, behind the scenes Wilson and the Broccolis during this time found themselves constantly defending their franchise from enemies (so to speak) both “foreign and domestic.”  "Foreign" in a series of decades long court battles over the rights to THUNDERBALL (remade in 1983 as the rival Bond film NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN) and CASINO ROYALE (produced earlier as a 1954 one hour CBS tv drama then as a '67 spy spoof starring David Niven, Peter Sellers, Woody Allen and Orson Welles).  On the “enemies domestic” front their own studio MGM / UA and actors such as their own Brosnan applied pressure to get the producers to inject a more radical tone into the series via the hiring of currently hot directors such as John Woo and Quentin Tarantino - both film makers publicly stating their long standing interest in becoming part of the 007 canon. 

  "Broccoli & Salt": producers Albert R. "Cubby" Brocolli &
  Harry Saltzman with Roger Moore on LIVE & LET DIE ('73)

     Refusing to cow-tow to then current action movie trends, Wilson and Broccoli (both Americans) instead insisted on following a core principal laid down by the late “Cubby” in the creation of their films.  From the very beginning, with the hiring of Terence Young on 1962’s DR. NO, the Bond directors commissioned had all been stylish and successful international film makers with a proven track record for also engaging American audiences.  And as such the U.K.’s Young would direct three Bonds - DR. NO, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and THUNDERBALL, as would his fellow countryman Lewis Gilbert.  Best known for the original ALFIE (1966) as well as SINK THE BISMARK and EDUCATING RITA, Gilbert would helm the trio of the most epic scaled 007 adventures - YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME and MOONRAKER.  And New Zealand’s Martin Campbell (CRIMINAL LAW, EDGE OF DARKNESS the mini-series) would take the clapboard on GOLDENEYE and 2006’s CASINO ROYALE - both films introducing new Bond actors to the franchise, Brosnan and Craig respectively. 

As former Mi6 operative turned villain, Bardem's Silva
is part Shakespeare's "Goneril", part "Auric Goldfinger" and part "Hannibal Lecter"

     Michael Apted, known for his depiction of strong women in films such as COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER, GORKY PARK and GORILLAS IN THE MIST, would helm THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH - introducing the first bonafied female Bond leading villain to the series.  And award winning Berkshire born director / dramatist of stage and screen Sam Mendes (AMERICAN BEAUTY, ROAD TO PERDITION) would take the reigns on SKYFALL - one of the most “characterization heavy” Bond outings in years.

Current producers: siblings Michael G. Wilson & Barbara Brocolli    
     While originally criticized by some for their refusal to hire Woo, et al, Wilson and Broccoli’s stubborn creative integrity proved correct as every subsequent 007 film since GOLDENEYE in ’95 has broken the box office record of it’s immediate predecessor; and all of them (perhaps with the exception of 2008’s QUANTUM OF SOLACE) scoring generally positive worldwide critical accolades as well.  All this while admittedly enjoyable Woo action fests such as BROKEN ARROW, FACE-OFF and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2 have already become dated and been relegated to the dump bin of “mostly forgotten if favorite" late night TBS action flicks.  

As the hard-driving, quick-shooting "Eve", Naomie Harris puts a fresh spin on a beloved character

     As Oscar Wilde once opined how patriotism had become “the last refuge of the scoundrel” so in recent years had the cinematic “reboot” often become the “the last refuge of the artistically and creatively challenged”.  On occasion however such a franchise redux DOES allow a series to “get back to it’s grittier origins”.  After years of campy Adam West / Burt Ward BATMAN tv memories (and even Tim Burton’s more stylized fantasy take), Christopher Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT trilogy would remind the world of the semi-disturbing (if pulp based) psychological underpinnings of Bob Kane’s borderline villainous Batman / Bruce Wayne of the noir era.  An alternate reality timeline would afford  J.J. Abrams’ revamped STAR TREK (2009) the luxury of narrative surprises, among them the destruction of Vulcan and deaths of Spock’s mother and Kirk’s father.  And 2006’s CASINO ROYALE, based on Ian Fleming’s 1953 introductory Bond novel (the rights of which, along with THUNDERBALL, had recently reverted to the ownership of Wilson & Broccoli) would allow Bond to “begin anew” by ironically taking a few steps back to the letter of his literary origins.

Dir. Sam Mendes (left) with Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris and Daniel Craig

                                                                       pg. 1,2,


LIVE AND LET DIE: original 1973 U.S. radio spot

THUNDERBALL: original 1965 U.S. radio spot

YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE: original 1967 U.S. radio spot

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