23 films, 2 years and a wedding
It was January 2011 and the days were cold, freezing cold. It had been over two years since Quantum of Solace failed to set James Bond fans’ hearts alight in the same way as Casino Royale . Not much was happening in the world of James Bond, nor was much happening in the life of this Newcastle-based writer.
My twenty-fifth birthday passed with the usual fanfare and trip to Mr. Lynch and I settled in to my mid-twenties with ease. Barely a week later, my world was turned upside down: Bond 23 was announced for 9 November 2012 – a mere 667 days into the future. That future had brightened considerably from the depths of my post-25th birthday slumbers.
Though the release date was marked in my brain, I thought little of it at the time. Little did I know how important that date would become. Meanwhile, over in wherever he lives, The Incredible Suit was formulating an unnamed master plan. There were exactly twenty-two months until Bond 23′s release and exactly 22 official James Bond films already available (if Moonraker counts as a whole film, which is dubious).
After some debate over the name of the project, including a constant rejection of Blogtopussy, Suit settled on the more descriptive (of what we were doing) BlogalongaBond. Though Maud Adams was said to be incandescent, the merry band of Suit followers were sated. We could describe our efforts without the unfortunate image of a dead clown hovering around our collective subconsciousness.
Soon after naming, Suit announced the rules:
If you’ve got a blog, podcast, vlog, “proper website” or whatever you want to call it, post something on your own site about whichever film is scheduled for that month. January 2011′s film is Dr. No, duh.Go tohttp://www.facebook.com/BlogalongaBond, click ‘Like’ and post a link to your article on the wall.A handsome administrator reposts that link for all Facebook Fans of BlogalongaBond to see.Everyone gets shitloads of traffic.I win some kind of award for internet innovation and David Fincher makes a great but slightly overrated film about me.
In what must have been the most psychic of coincidences, I had received shiny blu-rays of Dr No and From Russia With Love for my just-passed birthday. I was in luck! Two months already paid for and no doubt my thoughts on fifty year old films would push my review website so far into profit that I could buy the rest of the James Bond films as business expense and quit my day job.
Within days the reviews were flooding in and my own Dr. No reviewwas close behind:
The film that launched the greatest franchise of all time still stands amongst the best produced. Connery’s James Bond is a licensed killer, dangerous opponent and legendary ladies man undiluted by parody or imitation, the original is still the best.
January also brought further progress on my long-gestating novel and an ill-advised attempt to research a Ph.D question about Charles Dickens. Not much more happened with that and I’m not a doctor of words yet, though I still dream of it.
From Russia With Love
February began for many in the United Kingdom with the long-overdue removal of two sexist old men from prime-time football presenting. ‘Housewife favourite’ Andy Gray and ‘Uncomfortable douche’ Richard Keys were stripped from our screens and relegated to some radio show or another.
As the winds of change blew through the corridors of Sky television, I was busy fermenting my options of 007′s second outing – by which I mean I was writing my From Russia with Love review:
The second film in the series develops Bond across the board. Connery and Young push the character forward and deliver a more human spy, while the triple villain threat is well underplayed but life-threatening. Still missing some key elements, and not set in Russia, Bond Part Two is a film that cements 007 as a spy who entertains.
Change was blowing over the Yorkshire Moors too, as I asked my girlfriend to marry me after a half-term week away. She said yes and a wedding countdown began, running almost parallel to BlogalongBond but ending in August 2012 and a touch more important (in case she’s reading…but obviously James Bond films rule).
The novel wore on in March, grinding its way ever closer to a conclusion but seemingly no nearer to an end. It was, therefore, more than a treat to watch my favourite of the James Bond films and produce my Goldfinger review:
Beginning with the first pre-credit Bond mission, including the first gadget packed car and ending with yet another woman in a parachute; this is the Bond film that delivers everything. Nobody does it better and never more so than Goldfinger.
April was a slow month for me. Its was brightened by writing myThunderball review and a chance to go against the grain of my fellow BlogalongaBond-ers. Consensus was that Thunderball was no good; too slow, too underwater and a general climb-down fromGoldfinger. Fighting back, I argued that Thunderball was an extension of the first two James Bond films rather than something to be judged against the perfect storm that was Goldfinger:
Thunderball is a film mistreated by time and circumstance. It plays on many of the series’ iconic moments and looks incredible when wet.
As well as refreshing my memory of Jonathan Creek’s greatest cases, April gave me a chance to update a Hemingway classic and zing the then-for-sale floundering social media has-been MySpace all in one go:
For sale: Myspace. Rarely used.
You Only Live Twice
May began with a bang. The bang of me being sick for twelve hours straight after finding myself poisoned by (the) SPECTRE (of bad food).
I spent 1st May in bed, ignoring my two friends Nicola and Paul who were staying at mine for my engagement party that night. I was in a bad way and determined that I wasn’t going to make it. My friends and fiancée begged to differ and beseeched me to try and attend. After being coaxed into the shower and carried to Mr Lynch, I made it through four hours of sitting in almost silence by eating a full packet ofFarley’s rusks.
May turned in to quite the month in our household. I was job hunting with the aim of gaining employment in something I wanted to do. The 5th brought along a referendum on the way the United Kingdom elects its government. Turnout was low and nothing changed. The 6th brought politics to life as we had one of our windows smashed during the night and then a cavalcade of brilliant police officers turn up at our door.
I didn’t let crime stop me though, I managed to pass 65,000 words of my novel, now called The Whole of Youth.
Entertaining but thin and glacially paced entry in the series. Brought to life with career best sets from Ken Adams and score from John Barry.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
So came around the fan-dividingOn Her Majesty’s Secret Servicereview. As modern and trendy as it is to regard the film as an over-looked and ill-treated classic, that’s exactly what I thought of it:
Not the best Bond film made, but the greatest movie featuring 007.OHMSS is an epic and intelligent tragedy wrapped in slick franchise tropes.
I also started helping out local writing supporters New Writing Northwith their young writers’ group at Newcastle City Library on odd weekends. The sessions were a great help to my creativity as well as a way to try and impart whatever small knowledge I have of the craft. The writers were soon showing me that there was plenty of room left in my imagination that I wasn’t yet using.
Diamonds Are Forever
The summer months brought great change, the first being a new job and my first in the role I wanted long-term. On 18th July, I was hired as a Web Content Editor and began my career in earnest. Just a few days before starting, I finished The Whole of Youth. There was still plenty of editing to do, but the long part seemed to be over.
There was change coming for the James Bond films too, as Sean Connery gave his final (official) performance in Diamonds are Forever:
Despite returning Connery to Bond, Bond never really returns to Connery.Diamonds are Forever falls flat on most levels, making for a decent but forgettable experience.
Live And Let Die
Late summer saw the London riots dominate the news, before spreading to other parts of the country. Newcastle was mercifully unaffected, the locals presumably thinking that if they smashed up everything, there wouldn’t be anything to do the next day.
In Bond news, there was the changing of the guard as Roger Moore and his eyebrows began their lengthy association with the James Bond films in Live and Let Die:
Live and Let Die is something of a curiosity: a grounded storyline, packed with action and executed by a charming and serious 007…played by Roger Moore.
The Man With The Golden Gun
A pretty quiet month – apart from my fiancée’s birthday, for which I bought her thirty presents and began a trend that boyfriends around the North East will forever thank me for. Straight in to The Man with the Golden Gun review then:
The Man with the Golden Gun puts a quick halt on any credulity in the Roger Moore years. Truly anarchic plotting and tone add up to a joyless mission.
The Spy Who Loved Me
After spending some hundreds of ours hunched in my office, the third draft of The Whole of Youthwas ready for public eyes. Copies were sent to willing volunteers and I sat back to await my praise. Little did I know the drama that was about to unfold…
…the greatest boyband of all time (of all time) decided to call it a day.
I steadied myself and fought through the pain to produce my The Spy Who Loved Me review:
Everything that Bond can do, Moore does to near perfection in The Spy Who Loved Me. It matches the best of excess with a tight script and humanised hero.
I rounded out the month with an unusual, but very happy meeting at with the registrar’s office. Having decided on a date and location for our wedding, my fiancée and I had to give our notice of marriage. This meant being interviewed individually and asked questions about each other. I managed to get her birthday wrong, despite having bought thirty-presents and organised a huge party the month before. Fortunately, forgetting a birthday is a clear sign that you’re a genuine couple so we were cleared to continue.
Next, we waited while our notice was posted in the area for objections. Nothing came of this and we were sent our certificate and officially cleared to be married. A roller-coaster of a month if ever there was one.
I hadn’t been looking forward to my Moonraker review and with good reason – it’s often cited as the worst of the James Bond films. Moonrakerturned out to be just as naff as I remembered and few dissenting voices were heard throughout the Bondiverse:
Moonraker is everything that Bond does badly spread out over two infantile hours. From gawking pigeons to pointless laser battles, there’s precious little to entertain.
Towards the end of the month I again signalled my intent to write for a living, attending a New Writing North event called ‘How to get published’ (or something similar). I learned some crazy networking skills and made three new friends in Rebecca, Steve and Vicky. As the four youngest attendees we formed a bond of necessity and have continued to meet up and talk shop once a month or so ever since.
For Your Eyes Only
For Your Eyes Only was probably the Bond film that I’d seen the least and, as I approached watching it, all I had was a sense of dullness in my bones. It wasn’t the worst I’d seen, but it didn’t do much to warrant a re-watch any time soon:
All the elements are in place that should make For Your Eyes Only a classic Bond, it just never links them together smoothly enough to entertain more than sporadically.
On new year’s eve I deleted my Facebook account with the intention of going through all 0f 2012 without it. Only time would tell how unlikely that was going to be.
The new year started with another glut of James Bond films for my collection: Octopussy and A View to a Kill. I watched Octopussy on my 26th birthday…because Octopussy. Maud Adams was said to be more than pleased with me.
Octopussy is an intriguing and Harry Palmer-esque Cold War thriller, glossed over with tacky gadgets and a Union Jack hot air balloon. A good watch, if only to root out the quality.
A View To A Kill
Feeling much better anyway, I was buoyed in February by the arrival of one of my favourite James Bond films. Despite its near-universal criticism from BlogalongaBond-ers, I was relieved to find it just as entertaining as always:
A View to a Kill is everything the perfect Bond film should be. After seven attempts, Roger Moore finally gets a script he can enjoy and shows why he is a great James Bond.
I don’t know why other people seem to have so much disdain for the film, it’s pure entertainment from start to finish. It’s not gravely slow, set in space or underwater and features two of the best lines ever uttered:
Zorin? The respected industrialist? Impossible!
Get Zorin for me!
So ended the tenure of my third Bond, A View to a Kill was also the last of the James Bond films made before I was born. Was this connected to the change of actors and tonal shift? No. Will something similar happen the year that I die? No.
As well as the end of Bond, February was the end of the first car I ever owned on paper. Driving down the A1 in the snow, the clutch began to slip and I was forced off the road. Despite a valiant effort, the car gave up on the way to Stannington, leaving my fiancée and me stranded. We could see some lights in the distance but we had no idea how far away the village was. With the bad weather, the RAC was busy and couldn’t get to us for around on hour. We called on some friends, who wonderfully drove half an hour north to pick us up and take us to the village. As soon as they turned up we were overjoyed, jumping into the warmth of their car. One minute down the road they dropped us off at a pub that was the source of the lights we could see. Fortunately our faces were so red from the cold that any embarrassment went unnoticed.
A broken clutch and a raft of other problems meant time was up for the Ford Focus. A touch of car shopping later (including one horrendous morning at a garage where the manager was the rudest human being alive) and my pride and joy was on my driveway: a Ford Focus (this time in sea-gray).
Just before Christmas, I’d sent my novel to The Literary Consultancyafter being offered a free manuscript appraisal by New Writing North as a thank you for the mentoring I was still doing at the city library. My feedback left me in a mess. My writing style was praised and I was compared to many of the others that I consider influences but the story itself was in for a rough time. My editor felt that much of my novel was extraneous and that, if I wanted to proceed, I should chop a large part of it out and rework it from what it was meant to be, a love story with time travel, to a straight love story. Even then, the advice was to leave the book as a good effort and began another one.
I struggled with the advice and turned to my writing friends for advice. They supported my original plot and generally agreed that without the time travel elements, it wasn’t the story I wanted to tell. I decided to leave the novel alone for a few months, which has since become forever.
There was no time to begin the suggested “next novel”. I was buried deep under two other projects, a book about web accessibility and Road to Brazil - a website all about the football world cup. There was no time to take on another novel, and even today there still isn’t. I thoroughly miss writing and can’t wait to sign-off my current projects in the next few months and get back to what I love doing most of all.
At the end of the month, my fiancée and I took a plunge deeper into co-dependence. We opened a joint account. The process was painful, but only thanks to Barclays’ inept service. Knowing that we were locking ourselves closer together was a boost that more than made up for the possible failure of my novel.
The Living Daylights
March brought on another highlight, favourite 007 of the James Bond films – Timothy Dalton. I began to realise that while many people saw different eras of the James Bond films as “theirs”, I had found highlights from every generation. Perhaps that’s because “my” Bond, Pierce Brosnan, was always a composite of his predecessors more than his own incarnation. My favourite Bonds are Goldfinger and A View to Kill, I thought the best piece of cinema was On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and The Living Daylights brought the best acting:
The Living Daylights is a perfect James Bond film. Timothy Dalton re-invigorates 007 and brings back the license to kill with fewer clichés than this review.
March saw a brief resurgence in my own creativity, with my first short story in months. The idea was to take cubism from the art world and have a stab at it in a literary from. Taking inspiration from Gertrude Stein’s efforts to do the same, I named my story The Unresolved Death of Melanctha Melanctha. The story is a piece of physical literature, it comes as a template and you need to make it into a cube to fully enjoy it.
Once assembled, you can read any of the cube’s sides to uncover the story. The story focuses on the contents of a small room and each side tells the story from the six sides of the shape. I tried to gather interest in publishing the piece for a while, but couldn’t really find anywhere suitable for it.
Licence To Kill
We started off April with a week away in Spain, relaxing by the pool with barely anyone else around. It wasn’t an adventurous holiday, but it was perfect for us. We took a full week away from the demands of work and writing, coming back fully charged and on the countdown to our wedding.
On our return I sat down to watch the often-unloved Licence to Kill, which, despite not being traditionally Bond is a fantastic action/revenge film with more wonderfully acting from Dalton and featuring some of Desmond Llewelyn’s best scenes.
Licence to Kill is a gritty, violent and enthralling action film about revenge. Timothy Dalton pushes Bond further than any other actor before or since.
May ushered in the fifth 007 of the official James Bond films and what would technically be known as my era. The Brosnan James Bond films were the first that I saw at the cinema, though I’m not sure if this began with GoldenEye as I would have been nine at the time. I do remember going to an amazing exhibit at the Royal Armouries that had loads of Bond stuff, including a frozen Boris and a huge hand from the statute graveyard scene.
GoldenEye definitely had a big influence on my cinema-going life, I remember being amazed and enthralled by everything in it. I would already have been a Bond fan from television repeats on channel 3 (something which Sky have ruined for a while with their James Bond channel), but GoldenEye was the first Bond I saw set in the present.
GoldenEye captures a fresh James Bond, one ready for the 1990’s. Pierce Brosnan combines the best of two 007’s to make a perfect start.
Tomorrow Never Dies
The Queen’s Jubilee, my stag night, buying a wedding ring…June was a busy month. Finally getting hold of a ring I could enjoy wearing was a huge weight off my mind. I’m not a big jewellery person and I find that rings tend to get in the way of my typing, so I had spent a long time looking for the right finger-adornment. Turns out all I needed to do was stroll into an antiques centre and ask if they had ‘owt in. The dealer stuck his hand into a bag of recent acquisitions and pulled out a dirty silver ring. With a good clean and polish, it looked great and even sat on my ‘wedding’ finger perfectly.
The stag night was another story altogether. But, we all know, what happens on tour stays on tour.
Returning from stagging around gave me a great opportunity to revisit the much-maligned Tomorrow Never Dies:
Tomorrow Never Dies is a film that makes James Bond seem irrelevant. Terrible storyline and the weakest villain of the series.
Quite a comedown from my experiences with GoldenEye, but something I enjoyed at the time. In fact, I absolutely loved the remote-control car bit. These days, I’d skip it.
The World Is Not Enough
With the big day growing near, BlogalongaBond was in danger of becoming only the second most important part of my life. The wedding planning was entering the final stages and I set up a blog to countdown the last 100 days of our single lives. Every day I posted something to show my love and support for my fiancée (and by support I mean reasons not to leave me before the wedding).
Of course, BlogalongaBond continued apace with The World is Not Enough:
The World is Not Enough is a solid but underwhelming entry in the 007 franchise. A good mystery plot but not enough action to repay repeat viewings.
Die Another Day
August was a pretty huge month. We were married on 5th August in the Old Assembly Rooms, Newcastle and couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day. Our families and friends all attended and I cried through every bit of speaking I was required to do while my fiancée smiled and laughed more than I had ever seen before.
Everyone seemed to have a great time and all of our very different friends got on like they all knew each other. The dancefloor was a hotbed of cross-over friendships and a brilliant stage for the bride v groom dance-off (results of which are much disputed…by me). After twelve hours, we said our goodbyes to the final guests and went home for the first time as Mr & Mrs McGrath.
A week later we were jetting off to the other side of the world, Beijing to be accurate. Rather than a relaxing honeymoon we had opted for a tour of China, with a massive group of strangers. Starting in Beijing, we saw the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Tienanmen Square and the Temple of Heaven. Amongst many other things on the way to Shanghai, we also spent time with the Terracotta Warriors – the cultural highlight of the trip.
Opting for a group tour for our honeymoon was a risky decision, but we were in luck with the group we met. Everyone was excited to see China, take part in the experience and make friends. The highlight of the entire trip, culture aside, was the sixteen hour sleeper train ride we took about halfway through the tour. We all knew each other by that point and stocked up on 40p spirits for an epic journey across China. Before the trip it was the one thing I wasn’t keen on, but it turned into the most fun you could have.
Of course, when we returned there was the small matter of my Die Another Day review:
Die Another Day is the absolute worst of the James Bond franchise. Poor directing, a stupid plot and not even the charm of Moonraker.
The less said about that, the better.
September was something of a comedown in life terms (a small car accident and local flooding) but a huge upsurge in the James Bond films – it’s Casino Royale:
Casino Royale is a kick in the face for the forty-year old James Bond franchise. Craig’s 007 is a blunt instrument, tough and flawed but learning all the time.
Daniel Craig’s tenure had finally begun and the end of my two-year journey was quite clearly in sight. Casino Royale was the idea antidote to the miserable Die Another Day - Bond was rebooted and re-suited, and Casino Royale was equal to the very best of the James Bond films.
Quantum of Solace
And so began the penultimate month of BlogalongaBond. Much had changed since the beginning, not least the changing of the UK release date to October 26th. The major change would have floored a less-organised and inspired group, but Suit held firm and announced that we could just review two James Bond films in October or save Skyfall until November, or whatever dudes, I don’t care any more, it’s been two years and my eyes have turned into gunbarrels and is Felix black this time or has he got no legs?
There were tired minds everywhere with just a small push needed to tip any of us over the edge. Sadly, for most BlogalongaBond-ers, writing a Quantum of Solace review was that tip:
Quantum of Solace is a natural, but flawed progression from Casino Royale. The film swings too far away from the entertaining James Bond we love, and pay to see.
Thrown into dizzying madness, I decided I had to review the two unofficial James Bond films too. On the upside, my mental state left me in the perfect position to consider the daft monument to artistic licence that is the 1967 version of Casino Royale:
Casino Royale is a bitter but fascinating train wreck of a comedy of a spoof of a parody. It’s madcap-omoter broken, there’s no saving the swinging sixties from this.
There was time to restore my sanity before Skyfall, with a surprisingly decent Never Say Never Again:
Never Say Never Again has a reputation as a curio, the unofficial Bond, but it’s better than that. 007 gets a real adventure, better jokes and touch of humanity.
What a month it was! Tired and resigned to a fate that included the James Bond films on eternal repeat, I only had Skyfall to go. Beaten down as I was, I could not watch the new release on opening night and settled for a cheap Tuesday at Odeon the week after. Fate wasn’t quite finished with me though, as the James Bond blu-ray collection was released in October, rendering my half blu-ray, half DVD set obsolete and taking the number one spot on my Christmas list.
At last, it was over. My Skyfall review brought the last film in a two-year marathon that few had managed to see out in its entirety. What a joy then, that it ended on a high:
Skyfall is a high point in a series that’s had fifty years of ups and downs. Beautifully filmed, thrillingly directed and stunningly acted, it’s perfect Bond.
Skyfall was everything I had hoped for, even tainted with 23 months of build-up and a tense week of avoiding all reviews for fear of spoilers. I still need to see it again to enjoy the film fully, my first viewing was more of a test of my nerd status by spotting references to the previous films.
BlogalongaBond was a wonderful journey. It took me through the years of my life, all the different ages that I had enjoyed the James Bond films at, just as I was looking forward to the latest chapter in my life. I loved it and I’d do it all again, just not today.
That’s the end of my story, but there’s still a little more to read. A few lessons that I’ve learnt from BlogalongaBond and a suggestion or two for the next one.
“I never joke about my work”
Actually, I joke about it all the time but no-one ever laughs at my work. With two years of opinion from a range of fifty-nine participants and 545 reviews, there’s plenty of data to crunch.
- With an average of 26/100, Die Another Day is the worst of the James Bond films
- With a stunning 94/100, Goldfinger is the best of the James Bond films
- We like our Bonds in this order: Timothy Dalton (77/100 average rating), Sean Connery (75), Daniel Craig (70), George Lazenby (68), Roger Moore (56) and Pierce Brosnan (48)
- Bond has got generally worse from the 1960′s (76/100 average rating), 1980′s (62), 1970′s (60), 1990′s (55) and 2000′s (50)
- Odd numbered films (70) are better than even numbered (57)
- Films that use an Ian Fleming story as a title (66) are better than those that don’t (58)
- An actors’ first and third films are his best (should they get that far)
- Dr No was the most popular watch with 35 reviews – this may be due to what’s known as ‘the new year gym membership mistake’
- Despite being praised, The Spy who Loved Me gathered the least reviews, only 19
- Very few so-called ‘reviewers’ use a rating system these days, which is clearly wrong and backwards. 5 stars!
With this data we can create the blueprint for a perfect Bond 24:
- Get Timothy Dalton back for his third outing
- Set it in the 1960′s
- Actually, skip #24 and go straight to #25
- Call it Risico or The Hildebrand Rarity
You’re welcome, MGM.