Movie Review – Spectre

We, as a collective audience, are very lucky that after the impressive success of Skyfall, Sam Mendes decided to live and let die, and direct a second Bond film. Unlike 007’s famous vodka martini, Spectre left me both shaken AND stirred!

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Kit Morris

It is difficult to say too much about Spectre without giving it all away, so like a good secret agent I shall be cryptic! Everything in this film feels like the end of Daniel Craig’s tenure as Ian Fleming’s suave MI6 hero, although this has yet to be officially confirmed or denied by Sony and EON Productions. His latest appearance as 007 in Spectre works brilliantly as a culmination of plot points from the three previous outings, weaving every film from Casino Royale onwards into a neat package.

After receiving a message from beyond the grave, our favourite secret agent tries to uncover an organisation that appears to be the puppet master behind many recent world events. At the same time, M (Lord Voldemort himself: Ralph Fiennes) is trying to swat away a power struggle with the head of the Joint Intelligence Service (Andrew Scott) who wants to close down the “00” section of the organisation as he considers field work outdated in the age of cyber warfare – a thought provoking storyline in the post-Snowden world we now live in.

In the opening act, Spectre feels very much like Skyfall’s sequel; threading together plot strands that were seeded in the second half of the 2012 blockbuster. While Spectre does not ignore its predecessor, it does move away from familiar territory to stand up as a strong entry in its own right. The breathtaking opening sequence is a perfect example of this; set during Mexico’s day of the dead festival, it features only two lines of dialogue, beautiful carnival costumes and rich location work. As a result, Spectre boasts perhaps one of the most mesmerising introductions to a Bond film in decades, with a high-octane helicopter fight that will leave you on the edge of you seat.

From Mexico, to England, to Rome, to Austria, to Morocco and then finally back to England again; Spectre darts all over the world. I would love to know what mode of transport Bond is using that allows him to zip from country to country so quickly, but at least the constant location changes are not too disorienting for those used to the rapid-fire pacing of 21st century Bond.

This is clearly Craig’s best work as Bond to date, and if it is indeed his curtain call, I hope he goes down in history as the most original incarnation since Sean Connery. Additionally, hats off to Ben Whishaw, a revelation in this film as the witty Q, and of course, I cannot end my review without mentioning the tour de force that is Christoph Waltz in his poignant performance as our newest Bond villain Franz Obenhauser.

It is difficult not to fall in love with this film: I appoint it a worthy 4½ stars out of five.

Spectre is available in Australian cinemas from November 12th

Images courtesy of Sony Pictures

Top 5 Bond Villains 

As we come to the end of our Bond series in the lead up to the release of Spectre, it seems only fitting to go out with a bang by shining a radioactive light on the most dangerously diabolical, and magnificently malevolent Bond villains.

**WARNING: spoilers ahead**

Corey’s Pick: Auric Goldfinger, Goldfinger (1964)

“He’s the man with the Midas Touch… a spider’s touch!” so crooned Shirley Bassey of the first truly memorable Bond nemesis; Auric Goldfinger, a  prosperous businessman with a penchant for golf and, of course, a psychotic obsession with gold. Played by the late German actor Gert Fröbe (though dubbed by the British Michael Collins due to Fröbe’s poor English), Goldfinger remains a truly iconic adversary for his sadistic, yet undeniably imaginative methods of murder- such as suffocating his rogue seductress Jill Masterson by covering her in gold paint. With almost equally unprecedented henchmen – Pussy Galore and Oddjob – and an extraordinarily diabolical scheme involving chemical and nuclear warfare, Goldfinger shall forever be one of Bond’s – and cinema’s – greatest villains.

“No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DoQwKe0lggw


Rhys’ Pick: Raoul Silva, Skyfall (2012)

Batman and the Joker, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader; the best villains have the capacity to mirror an aspect of the hero, and for James Bond (Daniel Craig) in Skyfall, Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) represents his complicated relationship with, and his potentially misplaced trust in M (Judi Dench).

Silva, a past MI6 operative himself, is a victim of M’s uncompromising, take-no-prisoners attitude; the very same attitude which sees Bond shot through the chest, and left for dead at the very start of the film. Whilst Bond was able to put M’s questionable decision behind him, Silva was left disfigured and determinately disgruntled with his former handler. Driven by this personal vendetta, Silva’s plan involves disgracing MI6, dispatching Bond and, finally, exacting his revenge by assassinating M.

“Look upon your work, mother”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMOYiV7hUR0


Zachary’s Pick: Le Chiffre, Casino Royale (2005)

Among a great many surprises, Casino Royale treats us to one of James Bond’s most human villains; a man who makes some poor financial choices, and compensates by putting up a stoic front to try and redeem himself.

Le Chiffre is suave, deadly, deceitful, and a master of high-stakes poker, but weakness is ever-ready to gnaw away at his resolve. He’s not above sacrificing his girlfriend’s arm to African warlords, yet when deadlines close in, and debts have to be paid, he is impatient. Afraid, even. And Mads Mikkelsen hides a steely peril behind his cold, bleeding eyes. You know at once that this isn’t a man to be trifled with.

Le Chiffre’s not a larger-than-life organisation like SPECTRE, neither is he a megalomaniacal tech fiend like Max Zorin. He is very flawed. Very real. Very human. Not to mention he pummels Bond’s dangly bits with unabashed glee.

Le Chiffre wins – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6IQb_ewSih4


Tom’s Pick: Dr. No, Dr. No (1962)

1962’s Dr. No successfully kicked off the ever-lasting 007 franchise with a hearty concoction of Sean Connery, gorgeous settings, and that white bikini. However, unlike most Bond villains, its titular antagonist is a dangerous, well-defined character. Dr. Julius No (Joseph Wiseman), part of super-villain super-group SPECTRE, fits the mad scientist trope. His thirst for radioactive materials, costing him his hands, drives his thirst for mass destruction and power. No’s plan, disrupting multiple rocket launches in superpowers including the USA and Soviet Union, resonates effectively. Sporting bionic metal paws and an elaborate island lair, the character, physically and psychologically, resembles the archetypal Bond foe. Bond, lured to No’s abode in Jamaica, is threatened by multiple attacks on No’s behalf. Capturing Bond and Honey Rider, No’s confronting persona and mercilessness make for a worthwhile obstacle throughout the climax. As the lair self-destructs, however, No is foiled by his physical deformities. Unable to grasp onto anything, he falls to his destructive demise into boiling coolant.

SPECTRE revealed – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsT1bLR2sfM


Rhys’ 2nd Pick: Ernst Stavro Blofeld, From Russia With Love (1963), Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967), On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), Diamonds Are Forever (1971), For Your Eyes Only (1981).

James Bond has faced dozens of foes over the years, but none have been quite as fearsome and iconic as Ernst Stavro Blofeld, head honcho of international terrorist group SPECTRE. The villain against which all others are measured, Blofeld has recurred more times than any other antagonist, and in many ways has transcended the series to influence cinema as a whole.

Concerned with only one thing – total world domination – Blofeld has orchestrated potential nuclear war between Russia and the United States, threatened to sterilise the world’s food supply and, perhaps most tragically, assisted in killing Tracy Bond (Diana Rigg) mere minutes after her wedding to James.

Although numerous actors have played him, perhaps his most iconic appearance was in You Only Live Twice when Donald Pleasance was cast in the role. With a pale and scarred visage, and gently stroking a white cat on his lap, Blofeld is also a villain who has been parodied a thousands times over, from Mike Myers’ hilarious Dr Evil in the Austin Powers series to the outlandish volcanic lair used by Hank Scorpio in my personal favourite Simpsons episode of all time.

“Allow me to introduce myself”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MUQbmDMySpw


Images courtesy of United International Pictures, Chapel Distribution & Sony Pictures

Top 5 Bond Theme Songs

Swirling graphics. Crisp silhouettes. A screen drenched in blood… every 007 romp opens the same way: an intricate opening credit sequence backed by a killer song that boasts a powerful voice. From all-time legends (Paul McCartney), to eighties icons (Duran Duran) through to today’s megastars (Sam Smith), only the best of the best are fit to carry Bond’s theme songs, and below you will find our top 5 picks for the greatest of the great.


Zachary’s Pick: Tina Turner – Goldeneye (1995)

A Bond song has to sound like a Bond song. What’s the name of his game? Seduction. Espionage. Violence. Cheek. There have been a fair few theme songs over the years to wittingly capture the essence of 007, notably classics sung by Garbage, Adele, and perennially, Shirley Bassey (you can wipe all the love ballads of the ‘70s and ‘80s from your memory). While Bassey’s Goldfinger will forever remain the cornerstone of the Bond musical canon, none encapsulates all that the franchise is more succinctly and proudly than Tina Turner’s Goldeneye.

From the second it begins, Goldeneye hints at something clandestine, almost taboo; dark secrets not yet revealed. Then Turner sweeps in, singing as if she too is concealing deadly secrets, and is happy about it. The song has a masterful ebb and flow of power and restraint, much like Bond himself. Apart from Goldfinger, no other song in the Bond universe tells you everything you need to know about this character and the dangerous world he inhabits.

Tina Turner sings Goldeneye – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hGQ97tCTOs


Tom’s Pick: Adele – Skyfall (2012)

Like Skyfall itself, the titular song eclipses everything that has come before it. Building upon the already immense success of British pop singer/songwriter Adele, this theme song elevated her career into Golden Globe and Oscar glory.

Hitting its stride immediately, the song’s orchestral riffs and straight-edged tone establish the film’s dark, gritty aura. Like the accompanying credits sequence, Adele’s sombre, hushed style firmly emphasises the film’s refreshing rebirth angle.

The singer’s graceful harmonies pay tribute to the Shirley Bassey era whilst ushering in the new-and-improved Bond universe. From the piano-key lead-in to the ear-shattering crescendo, Skyfall delivers an array of memorable, heart-pounding touches. Eclipsing recent entries including You Know My Name and Another Way to Die, the track is one of very few themes to successfully accompany, and elevate, the film and franchise.

Adele’s Skyfall music videohttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7HKoqNJtMTQ


Rhys’ Pick: Paul McCartney & Wings – Live and Let Die (1973)

Despite racking up the most appearances as the iconic super spy, Roger Moore’s era is lumbered with a divisive reputation; however, you can’t deny that the titular track on 1973’s Live and Let Die didn’t get things off to a rip-roaring start.

Written by Paul and Linda McCartney, and performed by Paul’s band WingsLive and Let Die was a departure from the series norm of grandiose horns and operatic themes. It’s a much stranger beast as McCartney kicks things off with a gentle piano intro before diving into racy guitar snarls, hammering drums and some spacey, fever dream weirdness in the middle.

It’s a fitting companion to the film also; Live and Let Die concerns itself with drug trafficking in New Orleans, Blaxploitation and voodoo rather than maniacal supervillains in Alpine bases or volcanic lairs, and marks the first time that 007 cosies up with an African-American character (Rosie Carver played by Gloria Hendry). Simply put, it’s a vastly different song for a vastly different Bond.

Live and Let Die opening titles sequence – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sn8alMYSu44


Corey’s Pick: A-ha –The Living Daylights (1987)

The two Timothy Dalton-starring Bond films – The Living Daylights and License to Kill – seem to divide 007 aficionados; some welcoming a darker, more realistic side to their favourite spy, others criticising Dalton’s sombre, humourless hero. Their theme songs, on the other hand, were decidedly upbeat; particularly the former. Performed by Norwegian synthpop rock band A-ha (yes, the guys who did Take On Me) The Living Daylights is among the catchiest of the many Bond theme songs, despite not ranking among the most well-recognised. After the commercial success of Duran Duran’s A View to a Kill, the producers sought after another popular band, first asking Pet Shop Boys (who declined) before opting for A-ha. A clash with the film’s composer John Barry led to the existence of two versions of the song; Barry’s string arrangement that wound up in the credits, and A-ha’s synth-heavy reworking for their own album – though both are deliciously 80’s and perfectly capture the essence of Bond’s style with cryptic lyrics. An underrated gem.

The Living Daylights opening titles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eo9uXd48HME


Kit’s Pick: Shirley Bassey – Goldfinger (1964)

Performed by the mightily lunged Shirley Bassey, the opening theme to 1964’s Goldfinger is not only not only synonymous with James Bond; it’s also one of the most recognisable theme songs in film history. The searing vocals, catchy lyrics and bold brass section marry together to create something truly special.

The song set a high bar and generated a long-standing influence that can be seen in later themes that copied its formula. Bassey would return to record two more efforts for the franchise for 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever and 1979’s Moonraker, making her the only artist to record multiple Bond themes. The song, along with an iconic opening title sequence (featuring sexy female silhouettes painted gold) capture the film’s tone perfectly.

Goldfinger title sequence: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fy_PJODH3p0


Images courtesy of United International Pictures, Chapel Distribution & Sony Pictures

Top 5 Bond Gadgets

Go-go-gadget: where would our suave spy be without his modest collection of exploding devices, souped-up cars and various deadly weapons disguised as innocuous objects? Like Tony Stark with his Iron Man suit, or Bruce Wayne and his Batmobile, Bond often relies heavily on innovative – or at least, imaginative – technology to see him through each near-death situation he faces. From the early sixties’ instalments, through to the contraption-shunning Daniel Craig era, we have scoured the Bond canon to bring you our top picks for the most ingenious 007 gadgets.

Rhys’ Pick: Watch Laser, Goldeneye (1995)

Have you ever been stuck in a bomb-rigged train carriage, with all the doors and windows locked, and wondered how you’re going to get out? Well, James Bond has, and luckily, he had his cool laser watch on hand (well, wrist) to help him out. With just the press of a button, this otherwise unassuming timepiece emits a high-powered laser that can cut through metal in an instant – and you thought it was just for telling the time (pah!)

Featured in Pierce Brosnan’s 007 debut Goldeneye, this gadget doesn’t just help James and current squeeze Natalia (Izabella Scorupco) out of the aforementioned tight spot, it also looks really swish – with the Omega logo emblazoned on the face, it’s an example of movie product placement at its finest! After that scene, you know you want one. I mean, c’mon – who doesn’t want to look stylish whilst simultaneously saving the world?

90’s Omega Watch Commercial – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhpvIO9Sj2s


Zachary’s Pick: Lotus Esprit, The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

The gadgets assigned to the various incarnations of James Bond have always tinkered with the parameters of fantasy, reality and science-fiction. In The Spy Who Loved Me, the world of Bond electronics finally plunged headfirst into the realm of science-fiction, producing the Lotus Esprit; a car that could also transform into an operational submarine. The transformation was so sublime the entire vehicle served as one massive gadget, whisking Bond ( and Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach) away from danger in the most absurd fashion.

The car was such an oddity, such a marvel in the Bond canon, that BBC show Top Gear recreated it, and literally dunked it into a lake with critic Richard Hammond at the wheel. Of course, the replica didn’t survive nearly as gracefully as its original, but the science was there. The Lotus Esprit, while not small enough to fit in Bond’s grip, certainly propelled the world of 007 into the future.

Can You Swim? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yeBqf6bYZak


Corey’s Pick: The Dagger Shoe, From Russia With Love (1963)

Not actually an MI6 invention used by 007, but instead a lethal weapon concealed by agents of SPECTRE in From Russia with Love; the dagger shoe – a boot with a retractable, poison-tipped blade hidden within its cap – is among the franchise’s most ingenious gadgets, manufactured to cause death within seven seconds of stabbing. This fatal footwear is sported by Morenzy – head of SPECTRE’s training grounds, and Rosa Klebb – the No. 3 ranking operative of the ominous organisation; the latter attempting to spike Bond whilst disguised as a maid. Though the films do not specify the toxin utilised, Ian Fleming’s original Dr. No novel notes that it is tertodotoxin, known to cause paralysis of the diaphragm, preventing breathing. These loafers proved so iconic that they were paid tribute in the “greatest hits” Bond outing Die Another Day, and have become something of a clichéd weapon in cinema, appearing in The Dark Knight, Wild Wild West, The Punisher, Salt, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, Kingsmen: The Secret Service and many more.

Death of Kronsteen – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7cEnaXU8Ec


Tom’s Pick: Radio Transmitter, Skyfall (2012)

Released in 2012, Skyfall reinvigorated the once-ailing Bond franchise thanks to Sam Mendes’ efficient direction, and Roger Deakins’ exquisite cinematography. The film capped off Bond’s 50th year in style – honouring 007’s past, present, and future. Among many titbits and gags, the film acknowledged the lack of gadgets in the Daniel Craig-led instalments. Q (Ben Whishaw) gives him one particular device – a radio transmitter. Though clunky, the device was needed in the right place at the right time. Bond, cornering cyber-terrorist Silva (Javier Bardem), uses the device to send back-up and imprison him. However, Silva, manipulating Bond and M (Judi Dench) into revealing MI6’s new location, uses the device to entrap 007 in London’s subway network. The device, effective on both occasions, illustrates Bond and Silva’s two-sides-of-the-same-coin dynamic. Though unaware of each other’s moves, both characters use similar strategies to outwit their opponents. The old-school device proved exploding pens and invisible cars aren’t necessary in today’s surveillance-driven world.

It’s Called Radio – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5R3o8S4km8c


Kit’s Pick: Palm-Print Reader Gun, Skyfall (2012)

As Tom has mentioned, Skyfall was mostly void of high-tech gadgetry; however, Daniel Craig‘s 007 was armed with a Walther semi-automatic pistol with a difference in this most recent entry. Wishaw’s Q equips our favourite spy with this new weapon, which is encrypted with an in-built palm reader, guaranteeing that only Bond can fire the gun. In a tense scene, a thuggish bodyguard grapples Bond in a Komodo dragon pit, and attempts to shoot him with his own weapon to no avail. Walther firearms have been a long-standing fixture in the franchise, featuring in the original literary series, and debuting in the film series’ first entry.

Komodo Dragon Fight Scenehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmeXgpBQNnk


Images courtesy of United International Pictures, Chapel Distribution & Sony Pictures

Movie Review – The Man From U.N.C.L.E

KGB agents! Femme fatales! Exotic locations! Yes, it’s back to the sixties for some Cold War-era spy nostalgia in Guy Ritchie’s ode to the suave styles and erotic thrills that defined the secret agent genre.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

Despite the brilliance of the most recent, reinvented James Bond films, it must be said that amidst the darker, grittier tone and heavier emotional complexities, 007 has lost that sense of espionage fun he once embodied. But while Bond has fallen and risen and resuscitated himself over the past twenty years, another spy caper with roots in the sixties has struggled to escape the cold clutches of development hell and see the light of day. Based on the TV series of the same name, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. has been through more than a dozen script changes, several directors (including Quentin Tarantino, Matthew Vaughn and Steven Soderbergh) and had just about every Hollywood leading man attached to it at some point – from Ryan Gosling to Bradley Cooper to Tom Cruise, and many more. At long last it lives, thanks to cockney gangster king Guy Ritchie (Snatch, RocknRolla), and pleasantly defies expectations of any film lost on the movie-making blacklist for so long.

Taking us back to that simpler period of early-60’s Cold War, two agents – the American Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and the Russian Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) face off as they hunt down Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), the daughter of a missing German scientist for the CIA and KGB respectively. After nearly killing each other, Solo and Kuryakin are instructed to work together as agents for U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) on a mission to infiltrate, and stop a covert criminal organisation led by femme fatale Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki) before her plan to destabilize the international power balance by means of nuclear weapons is executed.

There is something so very refreshing to this delightfully breezy and retro through-and-through escapade; no dark, sombre themes, no social commentary, no overload of flashy visual effects – the scope is smartly kept intimate, offering a light-hearted and pure experience that brings to mind the Sean Connery-era Bond films (no surprise, since 007 author Ian Fleming was involved in the original U.N.C.L.E.’s conception).

Strands of Guy Ritchie’s early works pop up throughout, particularly during the often hilarious action scenes (Solo’s outrageous rescue of Kuryakin while helping himself to a gourmet Italian sandwich is a show-stopper), though overall this is closer in tone to his Sherlock Holmes films, matching mystery sleuthing with a dynamic pair’s witty banter and chemistry. Hammer’s Kuryakin is the straight man to Cavill’s wise-cracking Solo, an original odd couple upon which the film structures and stabilises itself to great effect – anytime the duo is onscreen amuses; particularly when they infiltrate an enemy base together, each using their own preferred methods and scoffing at the other’s. But equally entertaining is love interest Gaby Teller, brought to life by 2015’s breakout starlet Alicia Vikander; subtly sexy and incredibly amusing as she and Kuryakin go undercover as fiancés. Props to Hugh Grant too as the head of U.N.C.L.E., definitely showing his age but proving his charm hasn’t faded.

Any complaints can be directed towards the story itself, playing second-fiddle to the slick style and enticing character charms. It is serviceable, with a number of double and triple-crosses and twists keeping our spies bounding from one sizzling set piece to the next, but is rather pedestrian, and winds up leaving the film a little forgettable. Nonetheless, this is the antidote to the bleak, overstuffed blockbuster fair of late – U.N.C.L.E. is accessibly paced, hugely likeable and witty, and above all enormously entertaining; the resurgence of the spy flick is more than welcome.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E is available in Australian cinemas from Thursday 13 August

Images courtesy of Warner Bros / Roadshow Films