(On Cable TV, December 2013) As an officially-sanctioned history of the first fifty years of the James Bond film franchise, Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007 is satisfying: Through a mixture of talking heads, narration, archival footage and clips from the movies themselves, the film cobbles together a highlight reel of the franchise’s distinct eras, behind-the-scenes upheavals, cultural impact and passing whims. Its single best asset is in featuring all Bonds (except for Sean Connery, for reasons that quickly become obvious) reflecting upon their tenure as Bond and the reasons behind their exit from the franchise. George Lazenby rebelling from The Establishment? Pierce Brosnan cackling over kite-surfing a tsunami? Entertaining stuff. But this overview of the franchise’s history only skims the surface, and no amount of good words from Bill Clinton himself can fully explore the infighting between the Broccoli family and legal challengers to the Bond franchise, or the various issues faced by the filmmakers in shooting Bond movies. It’s also curiously quick to dispense with entire eras of the Bond franchise, some movies barely earning a mention. (It’s also inevitably flawed in having been released alongside Skyfall, a Bond film that will stand on its own as worthy of further discussion in later retrospectives.) The film isn’t above a bit of mythmaking (I’m not sure that the Fleming novels were as innovative as the narration makes them out to be), and for its entire often-surprising candor, it remains an authorized documentary that doesn’t dare criticize the official version of events. While an entertaining and superbly-edited film, Everything or Nothing is most likely to make viewers do two things, neither of which are entirely bad: First up, make everyone see the Bond films over again. Second: have them look for a more detailed and more objective history of the franchise, if only to more fully explore elements barely mentioned within the confines of a 90-minutes documentary.
(Video on Demand, February 2013) The James Bond franchise needed to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary in style, and Skyfall is just what critics ordered, especially after the disappointment that was Quantum of Solace on the heels of the invigorating Casino Royale reboot. A surprising, intimate celebration/deconstruction of the Bond mythos, Skyfall feels like the most richly thematic Bond yet, indulging into the British machismo of the character while making him fail at nearly every turn. It’s a film that makes a daring series of choices, by nearly killing off the character, graphically exposing his shortcomings, putting him in the service of the matriarchy, flipping the Bond structure as to put the obligatory winks at the beginning of the picture, and delving deeper into Bond’s back-story than ever before. It also features one of the oddest and most effective villains in recent Bond history, as Javier Bardem flamboyantly (yes, that’s the code word) plays an enemy with a straightforward yearning for vengeance. Director Sam Mendes wasn’t the most obvious choice to direct the film, but his handling of the film is immensely self-assured, delivering neat jolts of action alongside the most character-driven moments. It helps that Daniel Craig here solidifies his take as the most credible Bond since Connery, that Judi Dench can sustain a script heavy on her character, and that Naomie Harris fits perfectly in her role. The film’s cinematography is top-notch, and Skyfall is peppered with great moments from a climax-worthy opening action sequence to a one-shot neon-backlit fight to a masterful villain walk-in. Thematically, the film is rich, with real-world allusions crowding symbolism and dramatic ironies. There are too many issues with Skyfall to qualify it as an unimpeachable masterpiece: There’s a lull at the beginning of the third act, the villain’s plan is one of those convenient “everything has to be just so” house of cards, and the seriousness of the picture is the kind of reinterpretation you can only do once a generation. But Skyfall does complete the franchise re-invention process started by Casino Royale: by the time the credits roll, all the pieces (Q, M, Monneypenny, Bond back in service “with pleasure”) have been put in place for another series of installments, preferably ones that goes back to a less serious take on the character now that it has reset expectations.