This week sees the release of Skyfall, the 23rd outing for one of blockbuster cinema's most famous characters: James Bond.
But let's say you've never seen a James Bond movie. It's nothing to be embarrassed about — in fact, pretending you know something Bond might even be more offensive to the aficionado. We here at Hollywood.com feel your pain, but want to help. Here is our simple guide to the James Bond franchise that should help you understand a little about why people are so obsessed with the half century-old spy franchise, and perhaps, even get you interested enough to watch one too:
Okay, who is this James Bond I keep hearing about?
He's Agent 007, member of the British Secret Service.
But who is he?
Ah. The deep version. Well, as we learn in the last Bond outing Skyfall, Bond didn't have an easy childhood (telling you more would be a big spoilery no-no). But until 2012, it's never been a defining characteristic of the secret agent with a license to kill. He's always been just removed enough from reality to do whatever it takes to complete a mission.
Did you say "license to kill?"
That's right. Bond's Double-0 status gives him the authority to take his PPK pistol and pop one in a nefarious thug. Grim, but that's the job.
That doesn't sound entertaining as much as horrifying.
Luckily, a great Bond movie never gets so serious that the idea of taking out bad guys leaves you with a bad moral aftertaste. Author Ian Fleming, a former British secret serviceman himself, created Bond to be the ultimate debonaire. He jets off to exotic lands for his missions, sleeps with beautiful women, utilizes the spiffiest new gadgetry, and always saves the day. And FYI: he takes his martinis shaken, not stirred.
Okay, that sounds a little less horrifying.
Did I mention he routinely drives a pimped out Aston Martin DB5? He routinely drives a pimped out Aston Martin DB5.
Fancy. Who pays for all this stuff?
Technically, the British government. Bond isn't Batman — he may be the one throwing a criminal mastermind off the side of a building or defusing a bomb just in the nick of time, but he's never alone. Back at home base, Bond as a team of elites guiding him: M, the mastermind of the MI6 operation; Q, the gadget extraordinaire who can turn any mild-mannered object into a tool of destruction; and Moneypenny, the flirtatious office manager who always has the right intel at the right time.
I'm still grieving from the Revolutionary War and this whole "Bond" thing sounds awfully British.
Don't worry. For a Yankee who sees Bond as a franchise that's drowning in a spot of tea, Fleming wrote in Felix Leiter, a CIA agent who pops up to help Bond every now and then. The kind of help that can put 32 million francs in the spy's pocket when he's gambling against international terrorists (like in Casino Royale).
So why don't I remember ever seeing James Bond in theaters, DVD, or on a dusty VHS?
Because there isn't actually a movie called James Bond. It all started with Dr. No in 1962, the first adaptation of Fleming's series from franchise masterminds Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. It took a long time for someone to take a chance on James Bond as a character, people never really understanding the qualities that were important to making him thrive on screen. Then, like magic, it all came together thanks to the animal magnetism of Sean Connery, the first big screen 007.
Let's see... if you don't know Sean Connery as Bond, maybe you remember him as Indiana Jones' Dad in The Last Crusade, Jim Malone in The Untouchables, the bad guy in the TV adapted spy adventure The Avengers, or the S&M looking hero of Zardoz?
Rings a bell, but I just Googled "James Bond" and it comes up with a picture of that guy from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
That's because Connery only played James Bond from 1962 to 1967 (and a one-off return in 1971 for Diamonds Are Forever). Connery helped define the character of James Bond in the beginning of the franchise's existence. He got the humor, got the action, got the style. He could beat up a guy in a close-quarters fist fight (From Russia With Love) and make brow sweat look cool. On the other hand, he could also find himself strapped to a table, about to be cut by a laser, and never lose his cool. His Bond established the character as humanly superhuman. But the reason we're still talking about Bond 50 years after the first movie is because the franchise has continually recast 007. Between Connery's penultimate and final Bond movies, You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever, the first Bond replacement was found: George Lazenby.
Never heard of him.
Lazenby only starred in a single Bond movie: On Her Majesty's Secret Service in 1969. He didn't click with the vision the producers had in mind and was quickly replaced. Although if you dare to go and investigate, he's actually quite good. In a rare moment of drama, Lazenby's 007 witnesses the death of his new wife (yes, at some point he actually hung around a woman long enough to fall in love). Heavy.
And then came the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo guy, right?
Do you know how time works? No, next to fill Bond's shoes was Roger Moore, an older Bond with a whole lot of charm. With less emphasis on the physical aspects that helped Connery become an icon, Moore's string of films played up the comedy. The only way you can take 007 into space (Moonraker) or dress him up like a clown (Octopussy) is to have a wink-wink approach. That was Moore's contribution to the series.
And then came the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo guy.
What? No! Then came Timothy Dalton who picked up the series in the '80s. A serious British thespian who wanted to transform Bond into a gritty killer worthy of the Cold War conflict, Dalton turned The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill into two notable, yet underappreciated franchise installments. He was ahead of his time, leaving the Roger Moore humor at the door and opting for bloodshed and drama.
And then... came the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo guy?
Nope. Pierce Brosnan was the next in line after Dalton, finding a balance between the modern interpretation and the cartoonish fun more common in Moore's Bond films. With Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, and Die Another Day, Bond went toe-to-toe with big budget action movies, and in turn, amped up the set pieces with wild stunts and gadgets (in Die Another Day, Bond surfs a tsunami then outdrives a space laser with an invisible car).
And then came then The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo guy.
It had to come true eventually. The "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo guy" is Daniel Craig, and after a lengthy casting process — with names like Clive Owen and Henry Cavill up for the part — relative unknown Craig nabbed the part. He's been doing the gritty, realistic, and blonde-topped version of Bond since 2006's Casino Royale.
If Bond has been a spy for 50 years, who has he been fighting this whole time? Lex Luthor? Sauron? The Volturi?
Bond's villainous rogue's gallery has been mostly comprised of random evildoers. There's the bullion-obssesed Auric Goldfinger and his hat-throwing sidekick Oddjob (Goldfinger), the deadly assassin Scaramanga (The Man with the Golden Gun), Christopher Walken's psycho businessman Max Zorin (A View to Kill), Robert Davi's too-real-for-comfort drug cartel leader Franz Sanchez (Licence to Kill), scorned MI6 agent Alec Trevelyan (GoldenEye), and oil maven Elektra King (whose boyfriend Renard has a bullet slowly burrowing into his brain) — just to name a few.
What, so no continuity?
You know what continuity is?
Someone mentioned the word once in an article about Marvel superhero movies.
Well don't worry too much — the magic of new villains creates a standalone (and enjoyable adventure) every time. That said, Bond has had continuity in the past. Blofeld, the bald-headed, cat-stroking villain who has inspired both Dr. Evil and Claw from Inspector Gadget, was a reoccurring adversary for 007 for years. Instead of engaging Bond in fisticuffs (where the spy's license to kill would likely end in his demise), Blofeld wisely orchestrated much of the terror, pulling strings for members of his organization, SPECTRE, who carried out the deadly plots of From Russia with Love, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and Diamonds Are Forever. Many thought the modern Bond movies may find a SPECTRE-like groove with the inclusion of QUANTUM in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.
You have a fondness for all things Bond. But why should I actually take the plunge? I need something worth munching popcorn to.
Here's what you can expect from a Bond movie: everything and nothing. This is a franchise that's followed its lead character as he escaped KGB while riding a cello case down a snowy mountain, killed a guy with a zamboni, chased down an airplane on horseback, twirled a dance partner into an incoming bullet, self-defibrillated himself to stop a deadly poison, two-wheeled a mac truck to avoid a missile, and shot a guy with a harpoon mid-makeout session. The series is nothing but eclectic. It helps to know where the series is coming from if (or should I say, when) you decide to dive in yourself, but the beautiful thing about Bond is that with each passing movie, it never repeats.
Everything makes sense now. Except for those crazy opening music sequences.
I can't explain the artistic wonderment of a naked women dancing to A-ha. That's just something you have to feel out yourself.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: Sony Pictures]
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David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
A successful movie doesn't require a broad audience, it just requires enough of an audience. In the last few years, savvy producers have tapped into hyper-specific markets and have seen their films explode: Kirk Cameron commands the Christian community in a string of serious dramas; pot smokers have found a haven in Netflix Instant; right-wing crusaders helped turn 2016: Obama's America into one of 2012's biggest documentaries. Now, a roster of big name stars are combining forces to provide insight and dramatic entertainment to another demographic: 9/11 conspiracists.
Announced on their official website, Fleur De Lis Film Studios will produce September Morn, a dramatic look into the arguments of "Truthers," those that believe the attacks of September 11 were an inside job fueled by the American government. The movie will attempt to find financial backers at this year's American Film Market, but a name cast should make for an easy sell.
Woody Harrelson, Martin Sheen, and Ed Asner are all attached to star in the project, which Fleur De Lis' site describes as being "in the vein of Twelve Angry Men." The film will be directed by BJ Davis, whose previous credits include 1989 Brandon Lee sci-fi movie Laser Mission, the TV special Charlie Sheen's Stunts Spectacular, and the instructional video How to Become a Hollywood Stuntman (Davis coordinated stunts on such films as Volunteers, Hot Shots!, and Star Trek VI).
It's unclear how September Morn will represent the ideas behind the Truther movement — descriptions insinuate a docudrama fiction film that may also utilize expert opinions in the style of documentary — but judging from the promotional poster, the film aims to boldly present the theories from one side. Harrelson, Sheen, and Asner are open about their own position on the conspiracy, aligning themselves with the Actors & Artists for 9/11 Truth organization, along with other famous faces like Rosie O'Donnell, Willie Nelson, Daniel Sunjata, and Charlie Sheen (who seems to be the connective tissue between Davis, Martin Sheen, and many of the organization's members). Their weight in Hollywood should bring September Morn to fruition. If there are enough non-celebrity believers out there, they could also turn the film into the next controversial indie hit.
For a taste of the "Truther" views, watch this video of Asner speaking at a Actors & Artists for 9/11 Truth function from May of this year:
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: Fleur De Lis Film Studios]
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After the debut of the first footage from Wreck-It Ralph at San Diego Comic-Con, the possibility of a great video game movie are finally upon us.If you're like me and were born any time after the invention of Pong, you probably have a bit of gaming experience in your history. We've all played a few rounds of Ms. Pac-Man at the local pizza place, spent hours side-scrolling our way to victory as Mario, dance dance revolutionized the world, and perhaps even dabbled in the latest and greatest of modern gaming technology (heck, even my grandma has Wii bowled). Amazingly, with their wide spread appeal and solid foundation in pop culture, video games haven't had a successful transition into other mediums. Sorry diehard fans of Reboot, Angelina Jolie's Tomb Raider or the Halo novels — when it comes to gaming-themed TV and movies, there are few options worth watching.
That might change with Disney's latest animated film, that hopes to simultaneously capitalize on our nostalgia for classic video games while also telling a story that encapsulates everything we love about the experience of sitting down and plugging in. Director Rich Moore (The Simpsons) and cast members John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, and Jack McBrayer were on hand at SDCC's Hall H to show off the first glimpse of Wreck-It Ralph, a comedy that takes the Roger Rabbit approach to cameos and adapts it to video games. The film follows Ralph, the bad guy of a adventure game akin to Donkey Kong (where Ralph is the baddie continually clobbered by the good guy, Fix-It Felix, played by McBrayer).
Wreck-It Raph is all about finding one's purpose in the world — even if you're a video game bad guy. The classic arc is set against a vibrant world of familiar, CG animated landscapes, inspired by the gaming industry's most famous entries. Here's a rundown of what we saw at the panel, ten minutes of footage:
The first scene showcased sets up the main problem for our lowly bad guy, Wreck-it Ralph. Working in the game Fix-It Felix Jr. (a distant cousin to Donkey Kong), Ralph finds his destructive work constantly undone by Felix and his magic hammer. Every night, he's forced to go home to his landfill while Felix spends the night in the newly constructed apartment with the people's he's saved. He's got it made. Ralph tells his tale in a video game bad guy support group (a scene hinted at in the trailers), and by the end of the session, he's nowhere closer to coming to terms with his identity crisis. He wants to be a good guy, but he was born a bad guy. Not even Mortal Kombat's Kano can help him!
The next clip follows Ralph as he leaves the support group (located in that middle box where the ghosts live in Pac-Man) and heads to Game Central Station, the big hub for all the characters. There's a great spontaneity to the voice work and script — no surprise considering Ralph is voiced by Apatow-regular Reilly. When Ralph arrives to the station, he's scanned by a TSA-esque hologram and the dialogue as an impressive flow. If it weren't animated and had Will Ferrell as the guard, it would basically be Step Brothers! For the G-rated crowd, of course. But it does have a twisted sense of humor too: when Ralph walks the concourse, he bumps into a homeless QBert (before you sigh, when was the last time you played?!). It's hilarious, but touching, as Ralph offers up a Cherry from the Pac-Man world to feed the down-on-his luck platform jumper.
The rest of the clips chart a course for the film's bigger adventure: a road trip through various game landscapes. First up, Ralph heads to the first person shooter, Hero's Duty. The scene shown during the presentation jumped past Ralph's time in the game, when Fix-It Felix Jr. (voiced by Jack McBrayer) enters the world in search of his villain. He runs into Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch) who nearly fries him with laser blasts. Interesting world detail: if a video game character heads to another world and is killed, they can't regenerate...
The final scene is between Ralph and Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), the black sheep of the candy-themed racing game Sugar Rush. Vanellope has lost a medal that Ralph has won in Hero's Duty and he wants it back...or smashing might be in her future. But let's get real, this is Sarah Silverman steering the carts. The argument quickly devolves into a riff on duty and doodie. If it sounds simple and silly, but in the hands of skilled comedians, it's wicked funny.
Wreck-It Ralph's emotional arc feels especially well-handled and shouldn't be overshadowed by the video game hook. That said, the video game hook is pretty damn hilarious. The movie nails it, everything from cameos (Sonic!) to gaming in-jokes to little things like character movements. Recreating the exact motion of the floating Pac-Man ghost is a great gag in itself. That's the kind of detail on display in in this movie.
Wreck-It Ralph hits theaters this November. Start reading through every video game-related Wikipedia article now so you get all the jokes!
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
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[Photo Credit: Walt Disney Pictures]