Bond Month 3- Best Villains

Another day, another blog post. That’s just how it is during Bond month which, I need not remind you, I made up and which is not a real thing. Today, we’re counting down the best Bond villains in the franchise. You know the drill: top 5, main series only (sorry Max Largo and Woody Allen [look it up]), and this time a special rule. I have only allowed myself to choose one portrayal of arch-nemesis and head of SPECTRE Ernst Stavro Blofeld to include on this list. The character of Blofeld appears in (by my count) no fewer than four Bond movies in the role of the main antagonist, and always portrayed by a different actor. Therefore, I have only allowed myself to choose the best one of these performances for inclusion on this list. More about that later. For now, let’s get to the list.

5- Dr. No

Portrayed by Joseph Wiseman

There are few things harder than portraying a Bond villain. For one thing, you know you’ll never survive longer than two hours. For another, you usually are given some hideous physical deformity in order to more accurately convince the audience that you’re evil. Now, the trope of physical deformity denoting spiritual/psychological evil is an incredibly harmful one and one that we honestly don’t have enough time to go into right now, but I will say that on the outside, Julius No appears normal (almost). His metal hands which in the book are described as little more than rudimentary claws are portrayed in the movie as fully functional anatomically correct appendages, even imbuing their wearer with a type of super-strength. This is a welcome break from the usual Bond trope of bleeding eyes or having three nipples or being able to pull out the top half of your jaw (don’t worry, we’re coming to that one). Dr. No also originated another trait which all of the best Bond villains have, namely that he’s no pushover. Dr. No may be basically a rich nerd, but he is able to hold his own against James Bond. There’s nothing worse in a Bond movie than a villain who gets built up through the whole first act, only to immediately be bested by Bond. It’s not interesting. Dr. No is not that villain.

4- Ernst Stavro Blofeld

Portrayed by Donald Pleasence in You Only Live Twice

I told you he’d be here. If you’re not familiar with the overarching Bond universe, here is a brief primer: Bond’s main adversary for the majority of the early Bond movies is a private organization called SPECTRE. This organization is headed by one Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Until You Only Live Twice, Blofeld had been seen from the back, from the torso (replete with Persian cat) down, and his voice had been heard, but his face was a mystery. When it came to finally putting a face to that menacing name, Broccoli & Saltzman did an excellent job. Donald Pleasence with an imposing scar across his eye manages to live up to the imposing character which had been built over the past few years and films. The fact that Pleasence never again portrayed the shadowy megalomaniac is cinema’s loss. Again, we highlight the fact that this villain was actually menacing and his threat was genuine. If you’re unfamiliar, this film sees Bond investigating the mysterious disappearances of multiple manned satellite orbiting vehicles of both American and Soviet creation. He manages to track these disappearances to the head of SPECTRE who has been contracted by the heads of an unknown Asian government (speculated to be China) to provoke a nuclear war between America and the USSR. He has decided to achieve this goal by stealing each nation’s space vehicles and blaming the other country. That kind of vision doesn’t come along every day.

3- Francisco Scaramanga

Portrayed by Christopher Lee in The Man with the Golden Gun

Let’s briefly address the elephant in the room. Or perhaps I should say, the third nipple in the room. One of Scaramanga’s distinguishing characteristics (and I feel I should remind you that this is supposed to be the deadliest man in the world, needing only one bullet from his Golden Gun to kill his target) is that he has three nipples. No, really. Not only does this continue that cycle of physical deformity for evil characters, it also results in a bunch of old British men saying ‘nipple’ a lot. Also, there’s a part where Bond (Sean Connery) fakes a third nipple in order to impersonate Scaramanga. With that out of the way, let’s talk about what went right. Christopher Lee, I think it’s fair to say, owned this role. He is able to be so imposing and menacing while at the same time remaining reserved and seeming the perfect gentleman. Perhaps it’s because Lee had actual experience in the British secret service, or perhaps he was just that talented of an actor. Either way, if you haven’t seen this film it’s worth the watch for Lee’s performance alone. Also, fun trivia fact: Christopher Lee was actually related to Bond creator Ian Fleming.

2- Raoul Silva

Portrayed by Javier Bardem in Skyfall

Talk about menacing. From the moment Bardem enters our screen (in a beautifully shot minute long monologue delivered to camera), he is magnetic. He keeps you listening. And that’s the idea, this is a man who is so confident is his ability, he doesn’t need to bother with cheap tricks. Also he pulls his jaw out of his face at one point. If Casino Royale pulled Bond into the modern era, Skyfall made it seem like it had never been anywhere else and a large part of that is due to the menacing, mercurial, murderous ex-MI6 agent Raoul Silva. The one thing that really captivated me about this character upon first viewing was how he is at his core driven by nothing but hate. He so hates the organization which he views as having betrayed him that he is willing (and able, mind you) to blow up the MI6 buildings in the heart of London just to get one person’s attention. If you were to look into his eyes, past the façade of gentlemanliness, you would see nothing but hate. And that’s scary. If any one character can be credited with doing the most to revitalize the modern series of James Bond, I think it would have to be Raoul Silva as portrayed by Javier Bardem. Just watch this movie folks. You won’t be disappointed.

Honorable Mentions

Rosa Klebb, From Russia with Love

Mr. Big/Kananga, Live and Let Die

Le Chiffre, Casino Royale

1- Auric Goldfinger

Portrayed by Gert Fröbe in Goldfinger

Look, I tried to find a villain other than Goldfinger to put at the top of this list, I really did. The simple truth is, he’s the best. I think that while menacing will get you far, the best Bond villains, the really memorable ones, are the ones who possess an unimpeachable sense of style. And boy, does Goldfinger ever have style. He is so committed to his aesthetic that he doesn’t make a laser out of anything other than gold. Some might call that Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, but I call that commitment to a theme. Goldfinger manages to toe a very narrow line between camp 60’s over the top villainy and genuine evil, and he looks great while he does it. Where Dr. No is reserved and cautious, Goldfinger is brash and loud. He can afford to be. He has, frankly, a genius plan. I don’t really know what else to say, other than this: when it comes to Bond villains, this truly is the gold standard. I’m not sorry.

That’s it for this week! If you have been reading along, thank you so much. I know I often write filtered through a thick lens of sarcasm, but to be genuine, this blog is giving me an opportunity to write seriously and I’m really enjoying it. So thank you for reading, it really does mean a lot to me.

In other news, it’s 1 am and I have work tomorrow. This month is going to kill me, probably.

Tomorrow is going to be Best Opening Title Sequence. Unless I think of something else between then and now.

Bond Month 2- Best Themes

Welcome back. It’s still Bond month. A somewhat shorter one today, it’s the Top 5 Bond Theme Songs. As ever, this is totally subjective and based only on my own opinion, your mileage may vary.

Before we get into the list proper, I’d like to explain a couple of guidelines I used on this post. First, I only considered themes which include lyrics. Sorry On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, From Russia With Love, Dr. No, et al. The instrumental themes may get their own list post later in the month, depending on how desperate I become for material. Second, I tried to base my evaluation of these themes solely on the songs (music and lyric), and not the accompanying visual effects. Those will almost definitely get their own post later on. Clearly we’ve got some great stuff on the horizon. Third and finally, I am only considering songs from the main Eon Productions Bond series, so no 1967 Casino Royale and no Never Say Never Again. Alright, with all the preamble out of the way, let’s get to the list.

5- The Living Daylights

Written by Paul Waaktaar and performed by A-ha

It’s no secret that this is my personal favorite Bond film, and that may contribute slightly to this theme’s inclusion on this list, but hey, it’s my blog. Fun fact, this theme was performed by Norwegian pop group A-ha, making it the only Bond theme not performed by a British or American artist or group. This theme puts one in mind of the 80s, disco-pop, and things of that nature. As it turns out, this movie is set in the 80s so that is rather fitting.

That’s really all I have to say about this one. It’s era-appropriate and I like it. Let’s move on.

4- Thunderball

Written by Don Black and performed by Tom Jones

Despite the fact that the lyrics are largely meaningless, Tom Jones manages to make this song not just bearable, but downright enjoyable. Originally the theme for this movie was an entirely different song called “Mr. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” and recorded by the great Shirley Bassey. But producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were worried that if a Bond theme didn’t have the title of the movie in it, audiences would, I don’t know, get confused or something so they scrapped that one and recorded this one. It ended up ok, because Tom Jones is basically the male equivalent of Shirley Bassey.

3- Live and Let Die

Written by Paul McCartney and performed by Paul McCartney and Wings

Here we have the first true rock and roll Bond theme, and it is excellent. One notable aspect of this song is the way in which it’s kind of two songs in one. First there’s the slow, poetic beginning. Then all of a sudden the tempo picks up, the drums and guitars come in, and you’re at a full-fledged rock concert. Then it turns reggae for a minute, before transitioning just as suddenly back to rock and roll, and from there back to a slow jam. Rinse and repeat. One other thing to know about Live and Let Die: I think it’s admirable how well it works at the end of the film, in addition to at the beginning. One thing I hate about certain Bond themes is that they work very well at the beginning of a movie for the extended title sequence, but at the end credits they either feel overdramatic or too simple. Not Live and Let Die: because it has so much genre-mixing, when you need a fast paced rock song for the end credits, there it is. In conclusion, I think Paul McCartney should live forever.

2- Skyfall

Written and performed by Adele

By far the most modern theme on this list, Skyfall manages to be at once a functional piece of exposition and a power ballad. The best Bond movie in nearly 50 years deserves the best Bond theme in nearly 50 years, and boy does it get it. Earlier in this list, I compared Tom Jones to Shirley Bassey. In truth, the more accurate comparison would be Adele and Shirley Bassey. This song also has something which is present in most successful Bond themes: it’s contagiously listenable. What I mean by that is this: this is a song which, like Live and Let Die, is able to be played on the radio as well as in the theater. And for a Bond film, that is huge. This song manages to walk the tightrope between exposition and pop song, and makes it look easy.

1- Goldfinger

Written by John Barry, Anthony Newely, and Leslie Bricusse and performed by Shirley Bassey

Did I mention that I love Shirley Bassey? So, yeah. Obviously. This song not only defined a film, it defined every film that would come after it. This, like Skyfall, also acts as functional exposition, but it’s so much more than that. Where Skyfall is prose, Goldfinger is poetry. And an aspect of that which I think is often overlooked is Bassey’s voice. She is able to convey simultaneously an urgency and a seduction which is, or will come to be, definitive of Bond. Also, her diction is so clear, you hardly have to try to understand what she’s saying. And even if you didn’t speak English, I think just hearing the sounds alone would get the message across. In conclusion, you should watch Goldfinger if you haven’t seen it before. Or even if you have, watch it again. It’s that good.

Tomorrow, look forward to the Top 5 Bond Villains list. Submit your predictions on the forums now! (There are no forums).

Follow me on twitter if you want, it’s mostly just this kind of thing: @patr2016.

Bond Month 1

Welcome to Bond Month! (Important sidenote, I have decided that March is Bond Month). The idea is that I’m going to post every day [I realize now that this is an absurdly overoptimistic goal, but hey] about something Bond related. I thought that today (and because I only have about half an hour to write and post this until it’s actually tomorrow and then I’ll have missed the first day of this thing) I would do something kinda simple: a list! I have ideas for at least two more lists and then I figure the rest can be a mix of movie reviews and actor reviews (I have a lot of opinions). Today’s list is: top 5 bond actors!

You may be asking, “but Pat you’ve never shown any special interest in the extended James Bond lore ever. Isn’t this a little odd?”. And the answer is twofold: one, how dare you claim to know me. I’ve never met you. Everyone in the world is a simulation except me. Two, yes you are right, simulation. Your algorithm which was designed to mimic the human brain has correctly identified an oddity. Congratulations. I feel like I get very into things for a while, and right now the thing that I’m super into is James Bond. I don’t know why, I’m just going with it as a conduit to hopefully form a more regular writing habit. The truth is, I haven’t been happy with anything I’ve written in god knows how long. I have an idea which seems good at the time and then before I’ve even reached the halfway point I delete the word document. Control-delete. Empty trash. Rinse and repeat. Maybe this will change that. Probably not. Well, I suppose that’s enough of a look behind the curtain, I can already feel the façade returning. I hope you’re ready for a fun filled blog post about James Bond.

Five- Pierce Brosnan

Look, I honestly was hesitant to even place Brosnan on this list, but then I watched The World is Not Enough. It’s pretty good. Not incredible, I mean come on one of the main characters is really named “Christmas Jones”. But it was entertaining, and included a Stockholm-syndrome double twist that fun and kept me guessing. So sue me, I enjoyed it. That’s really all I have to say about Brosnan, except this: one time in high school science class I had to watch a terrible movie about a volcano which starred Pierce Brosnan as a geologist I think. Anyway, the notable part of this movie was when the grandmother character decided to get out of a PERFECTLY SERVICEABLE boat and walk through some acid and literally burned her legs off. It was really funny but it wasn’t meant to be.

Four- Roger Moore

This one’s simple. Roger Moore Bond movies are either incredible or the actual worst things ever. Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun are both excellent, although I suspect a large part of the latter’s success has to do with the fact that the late Christopher Lee stars as the eponymous Man with the Golden Gun. His character also has three nipples. I know that sounds like I’ve made that up as a joke, but I have not. Then you’ve got the other end of the spectrum: Moonraker, despite having probably the best Bond poster in history, is an objectively terrible movie. So is A View to a Kill, and so is For Your Eyes Only. Octopussy is fun, but it has the notable drawback of being the only Bond title that I think it would be illegal for me to say in public. Sorry Roger, you certainly tried to be the best, and you almost were.

Three- Daniel Craig

Admittedly, these last three were all really close. Like, if I had some sort of objective rating system (which I don’t), they would be within a point of each other. But, order must be maintained. So Daniel, the current Bond, gets #3. Of the four movies Craig has starred in (go fuck yourself grammar nerds), two are pretty mediocre, and two are quite possibly the greatest Bond movies ever made. In case you were wondering, Casino Royale and Skyfall are the excellent ones. Quantum of Solace holds the dubious honor of being the worst Bond title of all time (what does it even mean? I don’t know). Spectre was just… fine. I think if It had come somewhere else in the series (give it to Dalton maybe, or Moore), this one would have performed better. It just happened to directly follow the best Bond movie in twenty years. Bad luck.

Two- Sean Connery

Cue gasps from the audience. Let me explain. Did Sean Connery define the role of Bond, imbuing it with the trademark wit and sex drive that carry through to this very day? Yes. But also, was there any alternative? I mean, as the first (and in his mind, only) actor to portray Bond, didn’t Connery necessarily create the role? And sure, Goldfinger is the best Bond movie that was ever made (exhaustive list coming later this month), but Thunderball was kinda meh. You Only Live Twice was WAY too long. Diamonds are Forever was… good, I guess. In conclusion, Connery was great but not as great as…

One- Timothy Dalton

Oh Timothy Dalton. Is there anything he can’t do? Yes, be bad at acting. It’s no secret that I love Timothy Dalton, but I think that his scant two outings as Bond would hold up under a more unbiased examination. Let’s go through these movies. First up, The Living Daylights. This movie sees Bond at the heart of a complex web of double and triple crosses between the Soviets, the British, and the Americans. It’s full of mystery, drama, and intrigue, and it keeps you on your toes trying to remember who’s playing for whom. At the heart of the conflict are some diamonds, but that doesn’t actually matter all that much. What matters is that Dalton proves that he can play Bond as calm cool and collected as Connery, but where’s the fun in that? He takes Bond to emotional places that would simply have been unreachable by other actors playing the part. This is top notch Bond. Then we have License to Kill, the Bond movie where Dalton shows us that Bond can be dark, but he also shows us the human toll that that attitude takes on a man. He at once deifies and humanizes the Bond character, and makes us realize that this could never be real, one man could never be this death-defying. At some point, death has to catch up and when it does, it won’t be pretty.

Honorable mention- George Lazenby

You tried.

Join me tomorrow (probably), when we’ll be reviewing “The Living Daylights”. Or maybe doing something else. I’m not quite sure how to structure this yet.