Film Review – NO TIME TO DIE (2021)

NO TIME TO DIE (2021, UK/USA) ***½
Action, Adventure
dist. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) (USA), Universal Pictures International (UPI) (UK); pr co. Eon Productions / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) / Universal Pictures / Danjaq / B25 / Cinesite; d. Cary Joji Fukunaga; w. Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Phoebe Waller-Bridge (based on a story by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Cary Joji Fukunaga and characters created by Ian Fleming); pr. Barbara Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson; ph. Linus Sandgren (Colour. D-Cinema. Arri 765 (source format) (some shots), Digital Intermediate (4K) (master format), Dolby Vision, IMAX (source format) (some scenes), Panavision (anamorphic) (source format), Panavision Super 70 (source format) (some shots). 2.39:1); m. Hans Zimmer; ed. Tom Cross, Elliot Graham; pd. Mark Tildesley; ad. Mark Harris; rel. 28 September 2021 (UK), 8 October 2021 (USA); BBFC cert: 12; r/t. 163m.
cast: Daniel Craig (James Bond), Léa Seydoux (Madeleine), Rami Malek (Lyutsifer Safin), Lashana Lynch (Nomi), Ralph Fiennes (M), Ben Whishaw (Q), Naomie Harris (Moneypenny), Rory Kinnear (Tanner), Jeffrey Wright (Felix Leiter), Billy Magnussen (Logan Ash), Christoph Waltz (Blofeld), David Dencik (Valdo Obruchev), Ana de Armas (Paloma), Dali Benssalah (Primo (Cyclops)), Lisa-Dorah Sonnet (Mathilde), Coline Defaud (Young Madeleine), Mathilde Bourbin (Madeleine’s Mother), Hugh Dennis (Dr. Hardy), Priyanga Burford (Dr. Symes), Joe Grossi (Hotel Porter), Nicola Olivieri (Cemetery Caretaker), Pio Amato (Cemetery Attendant), Javone Prince (MI6 Security Guard), Davina Moon (Madeleine’s Receptionist), Mattia Lacovone (Young Shepherd), Giansalvatore Duca (Young Shepherd), Amy Morgan (Alison Smith), Lizzie Winkler (Sarah Jones), Andrei Nova (Bunker Guard), Ernest Gromov (Bunker Guard), Gediminas Adomaitis (Blofeld’s Right Hand Man), Andy Cheung (Chinese Businessman), Brigitte Millar (Vogel), Hayden Phillips (Sir Sebastian D’ath), Winston Ellis (Spectre Agent), Adnan Rashed (Spectre Agent), Rae Lim (Spectre Agent), Chi Chan (Spectre Agent), Denis Khoroshko (Spectre Agent), Lourdes Faberes (Spectre Agent), Philip Philmar (Spectre Agent), Raymond Waring (Spectre Agent), Eliot Sumner (Spectre Guard), Rod Hunt (Spectre Guard), Michael Mercer (El Nido Bartender), Gemmar Mcfarlane (Passersby), Leighton Laing (Passersby), Kimo Armstrong (Passersby).
Craig makes his fifth and final appearance as James Bond and completes several story arcs that have spread through his tenure. Here, Bond has left active service, but his peace is short-lived when Felix Leiter, an old friend from the CIA, turns up asking for help, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology. The story has personal impacts for Bond and more than once nods back at 1969’s George Lazenby starring ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE. The pre-credit opening sets up the story by re-introducing us to Bond and his relationship with Madeleine (Seydoux). The set-up creates conflict between the characters and introduces us to the main villain of the piece, portrayed by Malek. There are also links to SPECTRE and Blofeld (Waltz), which are resolved in a surprising fashion. It is not possible to explore the plot further without revealing key plot points. Needless to say, the plot is more complex than the usual villain who wants to take over the world – it is in fact that and much more. How successful the film is at dealing with these complexities is debatable. There are clever twists, but also an increased level of incredulity which requires the audience to suspend their disbelief and accept that whenever the villains shoot at Bond with their spraying machine guns, they never hit the mark, yet Bond dispatches them with such ease that the action feels overly choreographed on the level of a computer game rather than a real-life threat. This makes Bond feel like a comic book or gaming superhero and contrasts less favourably with the grittiness of the action sequences in Craig’s CASINO ROYALE debut. There are many positives, however. The cast is strong and the performances good, despite some occasionally clunky dialogue. The greater focus on character and inter-character relationships gives us something to care about. The locations and photography are excellent – as are all the technical attributes. The film’s excessive running time is not as cumbersome as it would seem, as the footage all feels relevant to advancing the story. I did feel, however, that I was being overly manipulated by the filmmakers and what I was watching sometimes felt superficial – particularly during the finale in Malek’s poisoned garden lair – a nice nod to Fleming’s novel You Only Live Twice. Overall, this is probably middle-ground Bond, both in Craig’s tenure and the series as a whole. It will be interesting to see where the producers take the series next.

Book review – FOREVER AND A DAY (2018) by Anthony Horowitz

FOREVER AND A DAY (2018) ***½
by Anthony Horowitz 
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2019, 304pp (283pp)
First published by Jonathan Cape in 2018
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd. and The Ian Fleming Estate, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-784-70638-8
Blurb: A British agent floats in the waters of the French Riviera, murdered by an unknown hand. Determined to uncover the truth, James Bond enters a world of fast cars, grand casinos and luxury yachts. But beneath the glamour, he soon encounters a dangerous network of organised crime. It’s time for Bond to earn his licence to kill. He must find those responsible and unravel their devastating plan – before he becomes their next victim…
Comment: This latest continuation James Bond novel sees Horowitz return after his modest effort on Trigger Mortis. Here he decides to set his story as a prequel to Fleming’s Casino Royale, establishing Bond’s appointment to the double-o section and his first mission. The mission sees Bond travel to Marseilles to look into the death of his predecessor, who was investigating a local gangster. There is much exposition and time is taken on giving depth to the major characters in the story – notably the enigmatic Madame Sixtine, with whom Bond forms an alliance and an emotional attachment. The villains are the multi-millionaire Irwin Wolfe, who produces film stock and the slimy Jean-Paul Scipio – a Corsican gangster. The pace is a little laboured with the odd interjection of action until the finale aboard Wolfe’s steamer, which gives the novel an exciting finish along with a coda that wraps the story up nicely. Not many surprises but fans of 007 will likely enjoy this addition to the Bond library.

Book Review – COLONEL SUN (1968) by Kingsley Amis (writing as Robert Markham)

COLONEL SUN (1968) ***½
by Kingsley Amis (writing as Robert Markham)
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 344pp (317pp)
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1966
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1968
Introduction by Kingsley Amis (5pp)
ISBN: 978-1-784-87145-1
Blurb: Lunch at Scott’s, a quiet game of golf, a routine social call on his chief M, convalescing in his Regency house in Berkshire – the life of secret agent James Bond has begun to fall into a pattern that threatens complacency … until the sunny afternoon when M is kidnapped and his house staff savagely murdered. The action ricochets across the globe to a volcanic Greek island where the glacial, malign Colonel Sun Liang-tan of the People’s Liberation Army of China collaborates with an ex-nazi atrocity expert in a world-menacing conspiracy. Stripped of all professional aids, Bond faces unarmed the monstrous devices of Colonel Sun in a test that brings him to the verge of his physical endurance.
Comment: This is the first continuation James Bond novel commissioned by Ian Fleming’s estate. Amis, a respected author in his own right (Lucky Jim, The Green Man, etc.), was a friend of Fleming’s and a fan of the series. He had written two books about the series – The James Bond Dossier and The Book of Bond, or Every Man His Own 007 (using the pseudonym of M’s chief-of-staff, Lt-Col William (‘Bill’) Tanner). He was therefore a logical choice to continue the series. The book is very well written and provides a scenario which tests Bond to his physical limits. The torture scene in the book’s final act is more sadistic and unpleasant than anything Fleming conjured up. The Greek setting gives the tale a fresh feel too, but somehow lacks Fleming’s sense of place. The plot is simple in that M is kidnapped by the Chinese psychotic, Colonel Sun Liang-tan, who is supported by a former Nazi in a scheme to unsettle the international community by obliterating a Russian conference and leaving the bodies of M and Bond as framed culprits. Bond works with the Russians, in the form of female agent Ariadne Alexandrou with whom he becomes romantically involved, to track down Sun’s lair and rescue M. The action scenes are well-staged and Amis remains true to Fleming’s format and characterisations. Amis has Bond rely on his resilience and physical strength, rather than gimmicks, to overcome the odds. There is little in the way of back-reference to the events in the Fleming novels, so the story holds up well as a standalone. Ultimately, it makes for a solid thriller that would have sat within the mid-range of Fleming’s series.

Book Review – OCTOPUSSY AND THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1966) by Ian Fleming

OCTOPUSSY AND THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1966) ***
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 126pp
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1966
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1962, 1963, 1965, 1966
Introduction by Sam Leith (10pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57702-7
Short Stories:
Octopussy (1965, 46pp) ***
The Property of a Lady (1963, 34pp) **½
The Living Daylights (1962, 34pp) ****
007 in New York (1963, 8pp) **
Blurb: ‘This was going to be bad news, dirty work. This was to be murder’. Four classic moments in the life of a spy. From avenging the wartime murder of a friend to sniper duty on the East-West Berlin border, James Bond’s body, mind and spirit are tested to their limits.
Comment: This is the fourteenth and last of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books to be published, and the second posthumously. The book collects four short stories of varying quality. The two weaker stories – “Property of a Lady” and “007 in New York” were commissioned pieces of work. The former by auction house Sotheby’s for their journal The Ivory Hammer and the latter for the New York Herald Tribune newspaper. Neither story has anything of real interest. “007 in New York” is a brief episode describing Bond’s arrival in the city to warn a former British agent that her boyfriend works for the opposition. Its only claim is the written recipe of Scrambled Eggs James Bond. “Property of a Lady” describes Russian underhandedness at an auction of Faberge jewellery. The story has little to offer, other than some insight into auction etiquette. “Octopussy”, originally published posthumously in the Daily Express, is an interesting story of honour with Bond having tracked down Colonel Dexter-Smythe, who, following WWII, murdered a guide in the Swiss mountains as he tracked down some Nazi gold bullion. The guide also happened to be Bond’s former ski instructor from his youth. Bond allows Dexter-Smyth the honourable way out. The story is well written blending the flashback of the discovery of the gold with the present in which Dexter-Smythe is a sad recluse. There is a neat resolution as Dexter-Smythe, awaiting his eventual arrest, is stung by a scorpion fish and devoured by his own pet octopus. Was it accident or suicide? The best of the bunch is “The Living Daylights”, written for The Sunday Times colour supplement. It is set in Berlin where Bond is on a mission to assassinate a sniper out to shoot a defector as he attempts from East to West. When Bond realises the sniper is a woman he spares her life, but destroys her weapon allowing the defector to make his escape. Bond is chastised by his fellow agent for disobeying orders and putting the mission at risk. The story is excitingly written and just the right length. Bond sticks to his principles and we get to better understand how his attitude toward his job. So, a mixed bag, but still much to enjoy.

Book Review – THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1965) by Ian Fleming

THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1965) **½
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 238pp (214pp)
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1965
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1965
Introduction by William Boyd (8pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57699-0
Blurb: ‘Mister, there’s something quite extra about the smell of death. Care to try it?’ After a year missing in action, Bond is back…brainwashed by the KGB and on a mission to assassinate M. To prove his worth to the Service, he must hunt down and eliminate his fiercest opponent yet: “Pistols” Scaramanga – “The Man With The Golden Gun”.
Comment: Fleming’s final full-length James Bond novel (a collection of short stories followed) was the first published after his death. Hampered by a standard Bond vs. Gangsters plot, reminiscent of Live and Let Die (both share the Jamaica setting) and Diamonds Are Forever (both deal with an organised crime syndicate), this lacks the lavish excesses of Fleming’s later work. The plot is a simple mission for Bond to target and assassinate Francisco Scaramanga, a deadly assassin for hire who uses a golden pistol. There are few surprises along the way, although the finale is reasonably exciting. Disappointing too is the swift way in which the cliffhanger we were left with at the conclusion of You Only Live Twice is resolved here. The manuscript was still in edit when Fleming died meaning further polish and potential expansion, that may have improved the book, was not possible and the result is a rough and ready Bond novel that is perhaps the weakest of the series.

Book Review – YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1964) by Ian Fleming

YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1964) ***½
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 320pp (288pp)
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1964
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1964
Introduction by Tony Parsons (10pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57698-3
Blurb: You only live twice: Once when you are born And once when you look death in the face’ Doctor Guntram Shatterhand’s “Garden of Death” is a magnet for suicides from all over Japan. James Bond – grief-stricken and erratic – must kill him to save his career in the Service. But as Shatterhand’s true identity is revealed, Bond is forced to confront his past, in Ian Fleming’s twelfth 007 adventure.
Comment: Fleming’s twelfth Bond book was the last he fully completed before he died on 12 August 1964 (The Man With the Golden Gun was still being edited at the time of his death). The book is perhaps the darkest of all the Bond novels. Bond is initially a shadow of his former self as he continues to grieve the death of his wife, Tracy, nine months on. M is prepared to give Bond a final chance and sends him on an “almost impossible” emissary mission in order to obtain access to Japanese knowledge of US and Russian activity via their MAGIC 44 device. In return the head of the Japanese Secret Service, Tiger Tanaka, seeks Bond’s help in ridding the country of the mysterious Dr. Shatterhand, who has built a castle of death – its gardens containing poisonous vegetation and a lake filled with piranha – aimed at helping people who wish to commit an honourable suicide. Much of the book is taken in introducing Bond to Japanese customs and comparing them with those of the West. The detail of Fleming’s research is admirable, but these early sections tend to drag, despite building up excellent characterisations of both Tanaka and Bond. The book comes alive once Bond has agreed to Tanaka’s request for help and becomes a Japanese fisherman in order to gain access to the castle from the sea cliffs. The final section in Shatterhand’s lair is both tense and shocking. The grisly deaths of some of Shatterhand’s “followers” are truly harrowing.  The novel finishes in a surprising way that leaves the reader wondering where Fleming would take Bond next. Overall, this is a mixed bag, which some may find a slog initially, but the final chapters are worth it and contain Fleming’s most fantastical setting to date.

Book Review – ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1963) by Ian Fleming

ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1963) *****
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 368pp (339pp)
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1963
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1963
Introduction by Stella Rimington (7pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57697-6
Blurb: Ernst Stavro Blofeld, head of the terrorist organization SPECTRE, is holed up in his Alpine base, conducting research into a terrifying biological weapon. 007’s mission is to gain access to Blofeld’s icy retreat and gather information vital to guaranteeing world safety. A new alliance with the troubled daughter of the head of the French mafia offers 007 the chance to bring down his nemesis once and for all – but will Bond be prepared to pay the ultimate price for victory?
Comment: Fleming’s eleventh Bond novel was a landmark for the series. It was the first novel Fleming had published after the release of the first Bond film Dr. No (1962) – indeed the novel has a sly reference when actress Ursula Andress is spotted at Piz Gloria; it made reference to Bond’s childhood and his Scottish/Swiss parentage and gives us much more insight into his character; and it sees Bond find the love of his life in Tracy. It also has the most exciting action sequences in the series with Bond’s escape on skis from Piz Gloria, Blofeld’s alpine base, and the final assault and bob sleigh chase breathlessly conveyed. The opening chapters also have a great deal of introspection on Bond’s part, he even considers resigning from the service, as he becomes knight-errant for the suicidal Tracy. The plot deftly mixes Bond’s relationship with Tracy and her father Marc-Ange Draco, who is head of a crime syndicate, with the tracking down of Blofeld and the uncovering, undercover, of his latest plot involving bacterial terrorism delivered through the hypnosis treatment of ten young female allergy victims. Fleming is at the top of his game as he skilfully weaves the story elements together into a satisfying whole, with its shattering conclusion.

Book Review – THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1962) by Ian Fleming

THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1962) ***
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 237pp (212pp)
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1962
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1962
Introduction by Douglas Kennedy (8pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57696-9
Blurb: ‘You take a wrong step, play the wrong card in Fate’s game, and you’re lost in a world you had never imagined, against which you have no weapons. No compass.’ Vivienne Michel is running away – from pain, from rejection, from humiliation. When she stumbles into a criminal plot, her life seems over…until a chance encounter with James Bond turns her world upside down.
Comment: Fleming’s tenth James Bond novel is a bold experiment in that it tells its story entirely from the point of view of a female character. The book is written in the first-person allowing Fleming to relate the experiences of Vivienne Michel and how her life is changed by her meeting James Bond. Split into three parts: the first exploring Viv’s life in England leading up to her job at the remote Dreamy Pines motel in the north eastern corner of the USA; the second introduces the two gangsters who would terrorise Viv as she is left in sole charge of the motel pending an end-of-season handover to the owner; the third part introduces James Bond as her saviour and the man who influences her life pathway choices going forward. Whilst the first part is necessary to let us understand Viv’s character, it feels a tad overlong, but the story picks up considerably with the arrival of Sluggsy and Horror at the motel. Then seeing Bond through another pair of eyes is an  interesting diversion, but adds little to Bond as a character that we don’t already know. As such the novel feels more of a diversion – a short story expanded into a novel. The insurance scam plot is simple and slight and only Viv as a character gets any colour due to the nature of the approach. Sluggsy and Horror are given dialogue that could have come out of any 1930s gangster movie. As a diversion it is and interesting, but flawed, experiment that is an entertaining read. Fleming returned to his more traditional writing format for the rest of the series.

Book Review – THUNDERBALL (1961) by Ian Fleming

THUNDERBALL(1961) ****
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 372pp
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1961
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1961
Introduction by MIchael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli (5pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57695-2
Blurb: ‘He was one of those men – one meets perhaps only two or three in a lifetime – who seem almost to suck the eyes out of your head. He was their Supreme Commander – almost their god’ SPECTRE is a merciless new enemy – a group of the world’s toughest criminals, headed by the brilliant Ernst Stavro Blofeld. When two NATO atom bombs go missing, Bond must unravel SPECTRE’s intricate plans and prevent a global catastrophe.
Comment: Fleming’s ninth James Bond novel is unique in that it is based on an original screenplay Fleming had developed with Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham, Ivar Bryce and Ernest Cuneo. It became the subject of a long, drawn-out legal battle when Fleming’s novel appeared without any acknowledgement of the contribution of the others involved. The result was a court ruling that gave story credit to the three main writers, which meant all future publications of the novel carried the following credit: “This story is based on a film treatment by K. McClory, J. Whittingham and Ian Fleming.” McClory would also retain film rights to the subject matter following Fleming’s death in 1964, which resulted in a deal with Eon productions to film the novel for release in 1965 (originally planned as the first Bond movie but held up by the legal wrangle). The legal battle between Eon and McClory re-emerged in the 1970s with McClory claiming copyright ownership of SPECTRE and the character of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, both introduced in Thunderball. This resulted in McClory’s ill-received remake, Never Say Never Again, in 1983 row which Sean Connery was lured back for one last bow as 007.
Fleming’s novel, meanwhile, is an excellent spy adventure coasting on all the elements that made the series popular. Whilst his use of coincidence (the Shrublands meeting with Count Lippe and his bumping into Domino in the Bahamas) as a story advancement technique, may be questionable, it ensures the plot moves quickly. The Bahamas setting is exotic and the characters are strong. Emilio Largo has a conceit that proves to be his undoing, when he brings his mistress – the feisty Domino Vitali – with him on atomic bomb salvage and extortion operation. The introduction of SPECTRE, a criminal super-organisation, and its leader Blofeld creates an added threat and a chief villain with gravitas and charisma who would return in two further novels. The underwater fight climax is thrillingly written and exciting. The story does seem to wrap up remarkably quickly after this and leaves the reader with a feeling of a lack of closure, with Blofeld and SPECTRE remaining at large, but that was understandable given the options this would give Fleming moving forward. In summary, whilst not quite the peak of Bond’s literary adventures, Thunderball is still enjoyable escapism and an important watershed in the series.

Book Review – FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1960) by Ian Fleming

FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1960) ***½
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 262pp
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1960
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1960
Introduction by Ian Rankin (8pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57694-5

Short Stories:
From a View to a Kill (43pp) **½
For Your Eyes Only (61pp) ****
Quantum of Solace (34pp) ***
Risico (54pp) ****
The Hildebrand Rarity (54pp) ***½

Blurb: ‘Private armies, private wars. How much energy they siphoned off from the common cause, how much fire they directed away from the common enemy!’ Five stories. Five missions. Five glimpses into the mind of a spy. From Jamaican estates to brooding French forests, Bond is tested to his limits by the world’s most dangerous men and the dark secrets they keep.

Comment: Before James Bond hit the movie screens, consideration had been given to a television series and four of the five stories in this collection were adapted from story outlines Fleming had compiled. The fifth, “From a View to a Kill”, was initially outlined as background for MOONRAKER. Fleming uses these stories to explore Bond’s motivation and attitude. In “Quantum of Solace” Bond’s glib remark that if he ever got married it would be to an air hostess, because they are eager to please, is typical of his view of women. The tale is a cautionary one, however, as his host recounts a chilling account of a husband spurned. The story plays out as a warning to Bond. In “For Your Eyes Only” Bond debates the psychological impact of revenge killing with Judy Havelock, whose parents have been murdered by a drug cartel. He ultimately lets her help him pay back the debt. “The Hildebrand Rarity” sees Bond question man’s need to kill for trophies as his rude American host, Milton Krest, seeks a rare fish in the Seychelles, whilst abusing is sub-servient wife. Krest looks to add poison to the sea thereby killing thousands of other fish in his quest for his prize. Bond reflects on his own need to kill for his country and his own sport of killing a stingray, which he views as predatory. His debate with himself is widened as he becomes more concerned with the abuse Krest delivers to his wife and there is ambiguity in the ultimate justice. “From a View to a Kill” and “Risico” are more straight-forward adventures. The former feels more like an interlude and hardly stretches Bond. It is wrapped up too neatly and is the weakest of the stories here. “Risico” is an excellent story that pits Bond against feuding smugglers Kristatos and Colombo. There is action and intrigue packed into a very satisfying tale, that along with “For Your Eyes Only” would form the basis for the Roger Moore film of the latter title. This collection of stories is much more down to earth than Fleming’s preceding novels and in the stronger stories is the better for it, as it makes Bond more human and less of a plot cypher.