Movie Review – Cats

Tom Hooper’s queasy visuals and artistic oversight undo one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s more charming musicals.

⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

I greatly admire Cats as a musical. I grew up with it. And I respect anyone who’s willing to dance night after night in a skin-tight animal outfit. Now that I’ve seen the movie, I don’t quite know what to make of it. No dramatic presentation of a musical like Cats could ever be considered “normal”. These are cats that look like humans, or rather humans that look like cats, choreographed to leap and twirl and occasionally behave like cats. But this movie is a uniquely unusual experience, not always in a fashion that is pleasant.

The most glaring issue is the CGI, which the movie seems to have bathed in. The result is not so much disappointing as distracting. The trailer for the movie received some hefty popular backlash on YouTube for the creepy digital effects on all the characters’ faces. The movie does nothing to improve matters. In fact, it compounds them, not least because in addition to the creepy felines, the same effects are applied to several mice and a whole contingent of dancing cockroaches. Yes, cockroaches. It doesn’t help that several of them are devoured by Rebel Wilson.

All this might’ve been easier to stomach if the effects had been seamless. Sadly, the CGI is so consistently inconsistent it draws unwanted attention to itself. It’s a movie whose visuals look frail on the surface then threaten to crumble spectacularly upon closer inspection. I suspect, if you go in to Cats without already possessing an affinity for the material, you might be so put off by the artificial appearance and bizarre movements of the cats that you might consider walking out before the first song has had its chance to be sung.

The plot, such as it is, is based on a collection of poems by T.S. Eliot. A young white cat, Victoria (Francesca Hayward, a principal dancer for the Royal Ballet in her first feature-length film), has been thrown out amongst the trash in a London alley, only to be salvaged by a tribe of “Jellicle” cats all vying to be chosen by Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench) for a new life, while the sinister Macavity (Idris Elba) schemes to ascend himself. What’s a Jellicle cat? There are songs that explain it, but their choruses are so difficult to discern you’d be better off reading the original poems.

All this adds up to a movie I seem to have not enjoyed very much. I hold some of the older renditions of the musical too close to my heart. This Cats is too digital and visually unsettling to really stack up. Tom Hooper, who committed musical suicide with Les Misérables (2012) by casting an actor who couldn’t sing, does it again by incidentally drawing focus away from the things that matter. Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s score holds up gallantly, and there are pockets of delightful moments that reminded me of the material’s potential. If you can look through the strangeness, you’d have a good time. Unfortunately, the strangeness is stubbornly impenetrable.

Cats is available in Australian cinemas from December 26 2019

Image © Universal Pictures 2019

Movie Review – Tea with the Dames

In Tea with the Dames, Roger Michell gives us a snapshot into the lives of four impressive icons of the stage and screen.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan 

Roger Michell’s Tea with the Dames is pretty much what you’d expect. It is a cordial documentary spent in the company of four utterly charming and gracefully weathered dames of the British Empire, who have spent their lives on the stage and screen and now appear on screen once again to speak candidly over cups of tea.

The ladies are Joan Plowright, who married the invincible Laurence Olivier in 1961 and retired in 2014 when her declining eyesight made acting impossible; Eileen Atkins, who surrendered a career in dance to recite Shakespeare; Maggie Smith, remembered by many as Professor McGonagall from the Harry Potter movies; and Judi Dench, who reached cinema late in life and then gobbled it up.

According to an early blurb, all four women meet regularly to brush up on each other’s lives. This time, they’ve let the cameras and microphones in, an allowance they start regretting before the afternoon’s over.

It’s clear almost at once that they are immaculately private women. Their first conversation is awkward and quiet, with careful side-glances and uncomfortable silences. But as the day draws on and the talking moves from room to room, conversations begin to flow, sporadically prompted by Michell somewhere off-screen.

The women cover nothing of any real importance. Nothing that cannot be read off their Wikipedia pages or learned from old footage. They discuss their early days at The Old Vic, the magic and woes of marriage, growing old, the burden of superstardom. Sometimes they curse and other times they tease one another. You can tell they’ve had these conversations before, many times, and are tired of having to repeat themselves.

But they are tremendous sports, and brighten the camera as only such heroes can. It is precisely that they’ve known each other for decades that makes Tea with the Dames such a fascinating and enjoyable experience. Sometimes we’re not even interested in what they’re talking about, but the language they employ and the humour with which they deliver it endear us to their shared experiences.

There’s not much else to say about a documentary in which the characters do nothing but talk. I can only express how I felt while watching them, and I think I had a smile across my face for most of it. I certainly laughed a lot. And if you have an appreciation for beautiful, fiercely forthright ladies who know how to command the screen, you will too.

Tea with the Dames is available in Australian cinemas from June 7 

Image courtesy of Transmission Films

Movie Review – Tulip Fever

Tulip Fever burns slower than it takes for a tulip to grow and bloom.


Elle Cahill

It’s 17th Century Amsterdam and a wealthy Dutchman, Cornelis Sandvoort and his wife, Sophia, are having trouble conceiving. Despite the young wife’s fears that her much older husband will soon divorce her, he pays for up-and-coming artist Jan van Loos to paint their portrait. As he paints the couple, van Loos quickly falls in love with the young Sophia and they start a passionate affair.

There is a lot going on in Tulip Fever, and for the most part it’s hard to keep up with all the different storylines. For almost every character that is introduced in the film, we are given a sliver of their story without any real development, both from a story and character perspective. I counted a total of seven storylines, which is too big a number to fit into a 105-minute film, particularly when the film is also trying to set up the historical backdrop of the tulip mania that took over Amsterdam in the 17th Century, and plays a large part in the overall story.

Tulip Fever has a phenomenal cast including Judi Dench, Christoph Waltz, Alicia Vikander, Tom Hollander, Jack O’Connell, and many more, but director Justin Chadwick fails to utilise their full potential. Dench effortlessly steals every scene she’s in as the head nun of a local parish in charge of growing the tulips for auction, as does Waltz in his portrayal of husband Cornelis Sandvoort, who genuinely loves Sophia (Vikander) and wants to do right by her but is desperate for her to deliver an heir. Hollander also get’s an honourable mention as the sleazy doctor who brings moments of comic relief to an otherwise contrived plot. But this is far from being their best work and feels like a huge waste of talent.

The most interesting part of the film is its attempt at exploring the tulip mania. While it fails to truly show the significance of the mania, it helps establish the film’s setting, and also give a basic insight to the craze that overtook Amsterdam. Unfortunately, like the rest of the film, it gets muddled up with all the concurrent character arcs and fails to bring anything other than tulips to the story.

There is some beautiful cinematography by Eigil Bryld, particularly when Sophia’s on the beach at various points in the film, but most of the time these scenes feel overly indulgent.

Tulip Fever is a real slow-burner that has a lot going on across the various storylines without any proper development taking place. Its failure to pick a central character leaves you feeling confused at the end, as you’re not invested in any of them. I also can’t tell you who or what the antagonist is in this film because it’s never properly identified. This film should serve as a warning as to what happens when indulgence trumps quality.

Tulip Fever is available in Australian cinemas from November 23.

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films 2017.

 

Movie Review – Murder on the Orient Express

Hollywood once again recycles that which need not be recycled, in Kenneth Branagh’s take on Murder on the Orient Express.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

I see no other way to approach a review of a movie like this than to compare it to what’s come before. Its history is too deep. Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express has been adapted to radio; into a 1974 feature by Sidney Lumet starring Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot; a 2001 TV movie with Alfred Molina in the role; and of course as an episode of the distinguished ITV Poirot series. It has even been remade in Japan. Now comes another version, directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh, and I find myself simply incapable of finding the right words to recommend it.

This is an adaptation that works on the fundamental level, which means it has a sound plot, supreme technical prowess and performances that befit its ludicrously high-profile cast. It is a movie that can be seen and appreciated in about equal measure without being spectacular. Whether it holds up as a faithful Christie adaptation I will leave to her loyal fans and scholars to determine; as a gripping murder mystery, it is neither gripping nor very mysterious.

To discuss the plot would be to grind against the very grain of Christie. Her stories are designed to unfold chronologically, so that we pick up hints and clues and slowly piece together the unfathomable puzzle along with her great detectives. The less we know going in the better. Murder on the Orient Express remains her most famous probably because of its claustrophobic setting (the length of a snowbound train), its immense cast of characters and the degree to which misdirection is employed to keep us guessing.

But all these are assets of the original story, not of this film. Branagh is perhaps a finer actor than he is a director, and he puts on a brave face as Poirot, but his film lacks in ingenuity and freshness. I can’t think of a single reason to see his version and not the Lumet classic, which had Finney scuttling down the corridors of the train like a frenzied crab. Branagh’s Poirot is unusually calm and chipper, which might have been a fun new take on the part if he had buckled down and took it to the edge. Poirot, like Sherlock Holmes, is a character of extremes. A detective of unusual intelligence who is easier to admire than befriend. To play him as anything less than a feverish snob is to miss the point.

Around him is assembled a cast of veritable class, which includes but is not limited to Michelle Pfeiffer as an uppity American socialite; Willem Dafoe as an Austrian professor; Daisy Ridley as Miss Mary Debenham; Leslie Odom Jr as the handy doctor; Penélope Cruz as a faithful servant of the Lord; Judi Dench as the Princess Dragomiroff; Johnny Depp as the despicable businessman Ratchett; and Josh Gad and Derek Jacobi as his staff. Any more and I suspect the train would’ve toppled off the ridge.

Pity, then, that such great talent should go unchecked by a story as rich as this. Everyone plays their parts as if they know the end before the beginning. There is no thrill, no embracing the unexpected. It’s all just cogs turning in rhythm to the screenplay, which can be fatal for a mystery like this.

So I leave you rather nonplussed, unable to praise Orient Express enough to make you go see it, unable to exploit its weaknesses enough to turn you away. I don’t prefer it to some of the earlier iterations, but I suspect if you’ve never heard of Poirot and his impossible moustache, or perhaps even Christie, this movie might do the trick. But just barely.

Murder on the Orient Express is available in Australian cinemas from November 9.

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox 2017

Movie Review – Victoria and Abdul

Stephen Frears once again dramatizes the past in Victoria & Abdul.


Zachary Cruz-Tan

Like so many movies of this age, Victoria & Abdul speaks about human prejudice and the wanton savagery pre-programmed into our social preferences, but, in fact, I think it is more about the fear of growing old and lonely, outliving all our loved ones and gradually disintegrating into a shell of our former selves. It is this fear of dying that led Victoria to do outlandish things in her later years, like falling asleep during state dinners and keeping a lowly Indian servant as her closest companion.

This is another biographical movie directed by Stephen Frears and headlines yet another effortless performance by Judi Dench, who, as M in the Bond movies, always exercised a firm hand and a sharp tongue. Here, as a withering monarch, she is like M’s great-great-grandmother draped in what looks like doilies. She is caring and inquisitive, but may God bless your soul if you try to cross her.

On the celebration of her Golden Jubilee, she is presented with a ceremonial coin by two Indians, snatched from their home in Agra and shipped off to the land of their colonisers. One of them, the tall and handsome one, is Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal). Almost at once, he catches the queen’s eye and she is stricken by a fearful fascination with this bearded foreign man.

Abdul is charming and intelligent, and beguiles Victoria with tales of his home, a land Victoria’s empire has conquered that she has never visited or even learnt about. She is told of the story of the Taj Mahal. She is taught Hindi and Urdu. She is introduced to Indian spices and fruit. And when she sends for Abdul’s wife, she is startled to find her hidden beneath impenetrable black silk. It’s like stepping over the threshold into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.

Victoria’s interest in what her subordinates consider to be an inferior being creates tension in the palace, and soon her subjects and eldest son, Bertie (a somewhat puzzling Eddie Izzard), are threatening to resign. We could debate the merits of their consternation for years, but the central inherent racism of the English aristocracy works, within the confines of the film, to bolster our support for Abdul, who may not be the most upstanding young man but is certainly the right elixir for a waning old lady in desperate need of a strong shoulder to lean on. Dench and Fazal share some real chemistry, and while the bickering between Victoria’s subjects adds spice to the proceedings, it’s the scenes between the monarch and companion that really pop with drama.

Frears has made some delightful and intelligent films based on the lives of real people and seems to have a deft touch when it comes to dealing with the English crown. In 2006 he made The Queen, one of the greatest movies about the fragile relationship between royalty and its people. Victoria & Abdul is not one of his best. It slips sometimes into sentimentality and lacks the professional stroke present in his earlier work, but it is held aloft by the charm and honesty of its two leads, who both see the error of Britain’s ways, but are too caught up in the formidable character of the other to really do anything about it.

Victoria and Abdul is available in Australian cinemas from September 14 

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2017

Still Kicking – Aging Actors

With so many incredible talents now hitting their twilight years, it’s no wonder there’s more films offering roles to mature aged actors… but is that the only reason for the rise in films centred around older characters?

Josip Knezevic

Last Vegas, Dirty Grandpa, Grudge Match

These films are a clear reminder that Robert De Niro will happily do any script put in front of him, regardless of how terrible. At this point, it’s safe to say he probably doesn’t even have an agent anymore, because how could someone allow him to make so many questionable choices?

Nevertheless, De Niro isn’t the only veteran actor still churning out films these days. Actors such as Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin, Michael Caine and the ever-magical Maggie Smith don’t seem to be slowing down any time soon thanks to a rise in films centred around, well… old characters. But why is that? Is it purely to appeal to an older demographic? Or do these actors feel the need to keep continually adding to their already extensive filmographies? The answer is more complicated than you’d think.

Inevitably, it comes down to the film in question. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel boasts an ensemble cast featuring the likes of Judi Dench, Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson, who are all over the age of 60 and are esteemed actors in their own right. The film follows a group of pensioners moving to a retirement hotel in India… and that’s it. No really, that’s it. Clearly this isn’t going to attract your average millennial, but baby boomers can relate to not only the actors, but also the situations they experience.

A more recent addition is the Zach Braff directed remake Going in Style, starring Freeman, Arkin and Caine. The film is centred around this trio of retirees who plan to rob a bank after their pensions are cancelled. Unlike Marigold Hotel, this film has a much wider scope. By playing on the well-known heist format and the action comedy genre, it’s able to appeal to a broader audience. It’s obviously not going to win any Academy Awards, but it’s a crowd-pleasing film that’s a good excuse for these actors to keep working.

Speaking of which, there’s also an increased number of award-winning films, or at least very well-crafted ones, offering up meaty roles for older actors. Nebraska and Blade Runner 2049 immediately spring to mind, featuring Bruce Dern and Harrison Ford respectively. While Blade Runner 2049 is set for release near the end of the year, Dern’s performance in Nebraska earned him an Oscar nomination. Though it’s unlikely Ford will be offered the same honour, this big budget blockbuster still has the potential to reach the heights of the classic prequel.

At the end of the day, the movie making business is only concerned with entertainment and profitability. In many cases, only the latter is considered. It seems veteran actors are less fixated on the box office takings of their films because there’s no need for them to be concerned anymore. When you’ve had an impressive career spanning decades, nothing can erase your legacy, no matter how many horrendous pieces of shit you make (looking at you De Niro…). For these more experienced actors, making films is about working in an industry they’ve loved their entire life and not slowing down while they still have energy in their legs. Sometimes these films work out. Sometimes they don’t.

Image courtesy of Going In Style, Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

Fool us once Burton, shame on you…fool us nine consecutive times…shame on everyone!

⭐ ⭐
Tom Munday

Hooked On Film recently compiled a list of the best Tim Burton-directed movies without Johnny Depp and/or Helena Bonham Carter. It was a small list, for sure. Indeed, his better movies avoid Depp and Carter’s white-faced antics in favour of depth and resonance.

Sadly, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children sorely misses the spark set by Burton’s earlier works. Based on Ransom Riggs’ book of the same name, the movie kicks off with 16-year-old nobody Jake (Asa Butterfield) living a sad existence in Florida. With his parents lacking care, Jake gravitates to his grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp). After tragedy strikes, Jake goes to his grandfather’s childhood homestead in Wales. However, an army of monsters and overlords, led by neon-eyed baddie Mr Barron (Samuel L Jackson), are hot on his trail.

Burton, at the beginning of his career, created acclaimed fantasy-family works with darkness, depth and delights. Over the past decade, several useless remakes have tarred his reputation. In true Burton tradition, Jake falls down a rabbit hole into a fluffy, whimsical parallel universe. This time around, our protagonist finds a school filled with superpowered beings, led by Miss Peregrine (Eva Green).

In a Burton picture, the real world is disdainful. His human characters are always unlikeable and two dimensional. These scenes do little but express Burton’s impatience – yearning to get to the wacky otherworldly counterparts. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is no different. In fact, it’s a patchwork of tried and true Burton clichés.  At the very least, the production design, score and cinematography carry Burton’s latest feature throughout every cringe-worthy, sappy second.

The movie begins promisingly. Jake and Abe’s relationship convey Burton’s finer touches. Sadly, as Jake becomes more involved, useless exposition and world building bog down Jane Goldman’s screenplay. Almost every scene is ‘tell’ instead of ‘show’. Instead of building stakes or character development, the majority of the dialogue explains the rules of this time travelling, magical world. Going further into the void, the narrative becomes a blur of silly names and overcomplicated plot points. The final third is particularly lazy; devolving into a clunky, CGI-laden fight sequence between our magical factions. Indeed, the further down the rabbit hole it goes, the more of a mish mash it becomes. Even Butterfield, Green, Jackson, Rupert Everett, Ella Purnell and Judi Dench can’t make this behemoth interesting.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a joyless, flavourless jumble of Burton’s oeuvre. The once brilliant and imaginative filmmaker is now a shell of his former self. Like M. Night Shyamalan, this once-great talent takes promising material and delivers uneven stories, poor performances, tacky visuals and laughable moments. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is available in Australian cinemas from September 29

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Alicia Vikander – The Woman from S.W.E.D.E.N

Tom Munday

Breakout stars come in two kinds: those who hit the big time with their first film (Lupita Nyong’o), and those who bubble under the surface for years (Brie Larson). Alicia Vikander was the ‘it’ girl of 2015, starring in almost every second film to critical acclaim. The 26-year-old actress’ career trajectory has taken turns most performers could only dream of; working under esteemed directors and alongside A-list acting royalty over just a couple of years.

Like fellow 20-something stars including Jennifer Lawrence, this Swedish actress takes chances, throws herself into many confronting situations, and has never been afraid of the spotlight. She is already Hollywood’s most accomplished actress under 30, with a grace and presence different to any blonde bombshell, action-badass archetype, or Keira Knightley/period-piece type.

In the early 2010s, two films, A Royal Affair and Anna Karenina, showcased Vikander’s raw tenacity and talents in a limited space of time. The actress, learning Danish over two months and immersing herself in the main cast and crew to perfect her dialect for the first of these two films, wished to become a part of the production more so than standing out as the ‘talent’.

Placed on the BAFTA shortlist after A Royal Affair, the actress outlined an all-star cast in Joe Wright’s re-imagining of the Leo Tostoy classic. Playing naïve lovebird Kitty, the actress overshadowed Keira Knightley in her first English-language project. Vikander’s momentum continued to pick up steam, starring in key roles in docudrama The Fifth Estate and war-drama Testament of Youth. Opposite everyone from Benedict Cumberbatch to Bill Condon, her on-screen presence has become difficult to ignore.

Her performances in three 2015 films, in particular, showcase her phenomenal range, charm, and respect for the craft. Her most-talked-about role is as human-esque cyborg Ava in Ex Machina. British writer/director Alex Garland’s sci-fi flick provided Vikander with one of the year’s most challenging and thought-provoking roles. Thanks to phenomenal visual effects, along with co-stars Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac, she portrays a soft, delicate balance between human and machine.

In contrast, her role in spy flick The Man from U.N.C.L.E. took a swift turn from her preceding roles in dramas and think-pieces. Stealing scenery from Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, her character is a potent mix of boisterous and determined. Throughout the film, her endearing charisma elevates the familiar material. Her dramatic and comedic sides harmonise with the film’s light-hearted tone.

Most recently, her Oscar-nominated performance in The Danish Girl proved she could overcome being the best thing in a polarising film. Eclipsing Oscar-winning leading man Eddie Redmayne, Vikander portrays her real-life character with subtlety and punch. Her character, forced to watch her husband transition from male to female over several decades, is a tough, relentless role for any actress. Peppering the overwhelming dramatic moments with touches of humour and sarcasm, she comes into her own throughout the film’s confronting journey.

Vikander’s run of projects of varying genres, scopes, and pedigrees is only growing stronger. Upcoming Australian drama The Light Between Oceans sees her star opposite real-life partner, and fellow A-lister, Michael Fassbender. Tulip Fever will push her into a different stratosphere, playing opposite veteran acting titans Judi Dench and Christoph Waltz. She will then star opposite Matt Damon in the 5th Bourne flick.

Images courtesy of Universal 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