Silence Review

Simultaneously pensive and abrasive, Silence is an uncompromising and richly rewarding tour of the human condition.

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Liam Neeson as the enigmatic Father Ferreira. Copyright 2016 Paramount Pictures.

The latest film from director Martin Scorsese, Silence, begins with a relatively simple premise. In the mid-seventeenth century, the Japanese government has outlawed Christianity and instigated a purge of all Christian influence. News reaches Europe that an experienced Jesuit priest, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), has been subjected to torture and forced to apostatise. Fearing for their mentor’s soul, two Portuguese priests, Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garrpe (Adam Driver), risk their lives and make the journey to Japan, determined to discover the truth. What follows is a dark and thoughtful tale of religious persecution and personal determination. It’s a film to be endured more than enjoyed, an immersive assault on the senses that reaches to the most innate of human longings; the desire to amount to something greater than oneself. Silence is unflinching in its brutality and bold in its ideas – and it’s unmissable.

It should come as little surprise that Martin Scorsese had hoped to join the priesthood before he found his true calling as a film maker. Themes of religious devotion and doubt run throughout the director’s expansive body of work, from his feature-length debut, Who’s That Knocking at My Door (1967), to his Oscar winning crime-caper, The Departed (2006). While most of these films relegated religion to their subtext, Scorsese’s controversial biopics The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and Kundun (1997) were audacious in addressing the complexities and contradictions of spiritual belief. In much the same vein, Silence arrives as a methodical meditation on what it means to hold faith, and how it can possibly be reconciled with the reality of human suffering.

Silence is unflinching in its brutality and bold in its ideas

Andrew Garfield takes centre-stage with a convincing performance as Father Rodrigues, a complex role on which much of the film hinges. Rodrigues is a character who appears outwardly impenetrable, defined by his fanatical devotion to God’s word, but his internal monologues provide an insight into a fractured mind, full of doubts and desires. Likewise, Garfield instils the character with a growing vulnerability as the events unfold, making for a sympathetic protagonist despite his questionable philosophy. From the Japanese cast, Issei Ogata regularly steals the show as a fearsome local inquisitor, providing an effectively sinister riposte to the Christian devotion of the Jesuits and their followers.

Visually, Silence owes a clear debt to the work of Japanese film-maker Akira Kurosawa, bringing to mind the colourful vistas of Ran (1985) and the rain soaked bogs of Seven Samurai (1954). To this end, cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto has delivered a beautiful and visceral depiction of seventeenth century Japan. Sitting in the audience, it’s as if one can feel the mud soaking into their pores and the heat beating down upon them. Meanwhile, Scorsese has largely dispensed of his usually stylised directorial technique, opting for a flatter approach that emphasises the story and characters over visual indulgences. Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing is similarly restrained, and the result is a film that fully immerses the viewer into its world, refusing to let go until the final moments. It’s exhausting, but the story has enough weight to feel worthy of such a treatment.

Delivers a beautiful and visceral depiction of seventeenth century Japan

Scorsese makes little effort to examine the wider, historical implications of his subject matter – the root causes of the persecution, for example, are only briefly alluded to. Instead, Silence uses it’s setting to deal with broad themes of faith, redemption, atonement, and forgiveness. It posits questions on the endurance of the human spirit and how far one will go for what they believe in. These struggles are represented through the personal trials of Garfield’s Rodrigues, culminating in a harrowing final act which treads similar ground to Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979), or even George Orwell’s 1984. As the protagonist tries to cling desperately to his own idea of the truth, his world view is both brutally and casually eroded before him.

The result of a decades-long labour of love, Silence feels like Scorsese’s final word on a subject he holds dear. Indeed, for all its pontificating, the film acts as a conversation rather than a sermon; one is invited to ponder and explore its mysteries, while definite answers are rarely suggested. It’s easy just to marvel at its beauty, but Silence should be digested and discussed. At times it might feel like hard work, but this is cinema at its most rewarding; a meaty treat of a film, both technically and philosophically. In the commodified atmosphere of today’s movie industry, it’s a relief to see Scorsese dedicate himself to a project so personal and affecting. With a career stretching back half a century, he remains one of the screen’s greatest craftsmen.

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Rogue One Review

Rogue One breaks with the curse of the Star Wars prequel, making for a valuable and exciting entry in the aged saga.

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The Rogue One cast – think Kelly’s Heroes, but in space

When put together, the terms “Star Wars” and “prequel” are likely to send chills down the spine of any self-respecting film-goer. Rogue One, a fresh spin-off from director Gareth Edwards, happily breaks with this unfortunate tradition. Set almost immediately before 1977’s Star Wars, Rogue One is a gritty and exciting exploration of an otherwise unseen chapter in a galaxy far, far away. The story here focuses on a plucky band of rebel fighters as they pursue the plans for the all-destructive Death Star, and bring hope to an oppressed galaxy in the process.

Rogue One invites direct comparison with classic war films of ages past. In the vein of Where Eagles Dare, The Dirty Dozen, or Kelly’s Heroes, it’s the story of a small, ragtag collection of foot soldiers and unlikely heroes, all playing their part within a much larger conflict. Tackling Star Wars from such a grounded perspective makes for a refreshing adventure, so much so that’s it’s almost a shame when the final act descends into the massive, effects-laden spectacle that we’ve seen so many times before. A more intimate finale would have made for a rewarding conclusion to the story, and helped to further distinguish the film from its forbears.

This is not to say that the action is poorly executed – it’s all as coherent and exciting as one could hope for, and the denouement is packed with enough crowd pleasing moments to be worth the price of admission alone. But Edwards is a director who seems more interested in his characters than the multitude of TIE fighters and X-Wings above them. For the first two thirds of the story, the film takes its time in establishing personalities and building relationships, suggesting an intimacy that is somewhat lost in the mayhem of the last battle. Admittedly, the script is a little over-eager to leap into lengthy monologues, but the pace is kept tight enough to avoid weighing the film down. Felicity Jones makes for an excellent and wholly sympathetic lead as Jyn Erso, a disillusioned fighter who is initially more concerned with staying alive than defeating the Empire. She’s supported ably by Diego Luna as Cassian Andor, a cynical agent of the rebel alliance and a veteran of the battle against tyranny.

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Felicity Jones takes the lead as the heroic Jyn Erso.

Both these leads and their diverse supporting cast, including the superb Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe, are pleasantly well-drawn and complex. The script even makes an effort to blur the lines between good and evil, a welcome innovation that acknowledges the unsavoury reality of an insurgency war. This is not to say that the righteous ideals of the Rebel Alliance are ever brought into question, but they are forced to consider how far the ends justify the means. It’s not the subtlest of writing, but it gives a new perspective on a well-trodden conflict that has often been represented in black and white terms.

In this vein, Rogue One embraces an impressively dark tone, probably the series’ bleakest since 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back. It’s a bold choice after the fun and frolics of last year’s The Force Awakens, and one befitting the forlorn state of the film’s universe. In keeping with this milieu, Ben Mendelsohn makes for a thoroughly sadistic and unsettling villain in Director Orson Krennic, callously instructing massacres as if he were ordering lunch. Of course, this ruthlessness is balanced by judicious comic relief, mostly provided by a sarcastic droid sidekick, K-2SO. His acerbic humour doesn’t always hit the mark, but Alan Tudyk’s endearing voice performance makes up for the script’s few failings.

As has been well commented upon, Rogue One is a film for fans, first and foremost. Obviously there’s plenty for all to enjoy, but the uninitiated are liable to find themselves lost, particularly with the lack of an opening text crawl this time around. References and homages to past films come thick and fast – such fan-service is never as uncomfortable as in George Lucas’ prequel trilogy, but some moments are a little on the nose. A brief appearance from two familiar droids edges into eye-rolling territory.

The biggest disappointment, however, comes in the form of Michael Giacchino’s score. For a composer with such an impressive back-catalogue (The Incredibles, Up, Star Trek) this soundtrack feels less than half-hearted. The only recognisable cues are borrowed from John Williams’ existing motifs, while the rest blends noisily into the background. It gives the impression that a keyboard was switched to the “Star Wars” setting and then played indiscriminately. The cacophony is particularly egregious, since the film’s rich selection of new characters and environments are so deserving of their own themes. The feeble soundscape is likely explained by the untimely departure of original composer, Alexandre Desplat, but it’s nevertheless grating.

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Ben Mendelson is an evil presence as Director Orson Krennic

Controversy has already been sparked by Rogue One’s use of CGI, particularly in rebuilding the faces of seventies-era actors who have since died or aged beyond recognition. Viewers will disagree on the success of this technique, and its moral implications, but the technology still has some way to go before computer generated people can blend seamlessly with physical actors. Elsewhere, the special effects are generally excellent, as many of the ships and space-stations exhibit a photorealism reminiscent of classic models.

Although it’s often subdued, the film’s photography and set design are deserving of individual praise. Edwards frames a diverse range of locations and sets, all of which have a distinct atmosphere. From sun-baked deserts to rain-soaked ravines, there is a consistent level of artistry that gives each setting a character of its own. The subtle but visceral effect will be familiar to the fans of the director’s prior work on Monsters (2010) and Godzilla (2014) – it’s an approach that elevates some mundane material into cinematic delight.

Despite occasional missteps along the way, the final few moments of Rogue One will leave most Star Wars fans punching the air for joy. At its core, here is a film made with an obvious love for its heritage and an understanding of what makes it so appealing. Perhaps the script should have been stronger in its convictions, but it feels sincere in its effort to take the Star Wars franchise in a new direction, whilst still sitting comfortably next to the tone and aesthetic of the original trilogy. It’s easy to nit-pick, but the truth is that Star Wars hasn’t been this fun in a long time. Relax, and enjoy it while it lasts.

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2016 – A Year In Review

It’s been one hell of a year. When looking back over the events of 2016, films might be the very last thing on your mind. But amongst tragedy, political turmoil, and the ongoing collapse of Western civilisation, the cinema screens of the world have provided a few moments of much-needed respite.

Of course, not all has been entirely well in the world of celluloid. Some of the industry’s finest talents have sadly left us this year, including Alan Rickman, Guy Hamilton, Anton Yelchin, Robin Hardy, and Gene Wilder. Meanwhile, the DC Universe, for which hopes had been so high, remains floundering, facing a renewed critical mauling with every entry. And the avalanche of lacklustre sequels and reboots has continued unabated, bringing Ben-Hur, Ghostbusters, Independence Day: Resurgence, and a multitude of others too depressing to name.

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“Whit Stillman made a triumphant return with Love and Friendship

Amidst all this, however, a few beacons of light continue to shine through the tumult. In May, director Whit Stillman made a triumphant return with Love and Friendship, a bitingly funny and lavishly decorated adaptation of Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan. Starring Kate Beckinsale, with supporting appearances by Chloe Sevingy and Stephen Fry, Love and Friendship was a welcome surprise in the dour summer line-up, and a testament to the cinematic potential of Austen’s prose.

Summer also saw the UK release of Ciro Guerra’s Embrace of the Serpent, a beautiful and haunting film set in the Amazon rainforest during the early twentieth century. Telling the parallel stories of two western explorers, the film is rooted in a familiar adventure narrative, owing a clear debt to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and its many imitators. However, this time the focus is transposed from the outsider to the native point of view, providing an unvarnished perspective on the horrors and barbarity of colonialism. David Gallego’s monochrome photography perfectly captures the tragedy of a civilisation and a people since lost to time.

Hell or High Water, directed by David Mackenzie, was another surprising coup which left critics rightly bowled over. A gritty heist film with neo-western inflections, Hell or High Water wisely distinguishes itself with a focus on snappy, amusing dialogue and a cast of genuinely sympathetic characters. Jeff Bridges and Chris Pine both provide first-class performances as two men on opposite sides of the law, but equally adrift in declining rural America. A film which reaffirms your faith in old-fashioned, character driven storytelling.

The funniest and most charming movie of the year arrived in the form of Hunt For the Wilderpeople, a distinctively New Zealand-flavoured hit. Directed by Taika Watiti, the darling of kiwi comedy, Wilderpeople pitches screen legend Sam Neill alongside newcomer Julian Dennison, both bringing superb chemistry to a script that deals in equal parts hilarity and pathos. For anyone tired of the vulgarity and excess that characterises much of the modern comedy genre, this film provides a necessarily witty antidote.

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Hunt for the Wilderpeople, “the funniest and most charming movie of the year”

It’s also been a great year for documentaries; Ava DuVernay delivered a scathing critique of modern America’s prison-industrial complex in the made-for-Netlifx 13th, while Mat Whitecross’ Supersonic gave a visceral insight into the heights of Britpop. My pick of the bunch, however, would have to be Eight Days a Week, Ron Howard’s exhaustive take on the heady days of Beatlemania between 1962 and 1966. For Beatles fanatics such as myself, the film is a gratifying tour of songs and characters that have become an essential part of my brain’s wiring. For novice audiences, the heavy use of original concert footage helps to illustrate why those four musicians were such a phenomenon. It may not open your eyes to a great injustice or inspire you to change the world, but as entertainers The Beatles remain unparalleled.

As summer came to a close, films with a greater social consciousness came to the fore. I, Daniel Blake, the Palme D’Or winning drama from Ken Loach, went on general release. The film acts as an enraged indictment of the political status-quo, detailing how the country’s most vulnerable people are being condemned to a precarious and pitiful existence. Paul Laverty’s screenplay is wholly human in both its warmth and its anguish, while the central performances by Dave Johns and Hayley Squires have a painfully clear ring of authenticity. For anyone who wants to understand the impact of austerity politics beyond a series of faceless statistics, I, Daniel Blake will outrage and enlighten you.

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I, Daniel Blake will outrage and enlighten you”

If the dreary reality of Ken Loach’s Britain is too much for you, then Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival has an altogether more hopeful outlook. This magnificent sci-fi is imbued with a palpable sense of awe and wonder, but never loses sight of its essentially human heart, anchored to an astonishing centrepiece performance from Amy Adams. After the moribund programme of blockbusters this summer, it is a joy to see mainstream film-making that is ambitious not only in spectacle, but in ideas. Dealing in substantial themes, from personal loss to geopolitical tension, Arrival feels all-too-relevant in the growing uncertainty of today’s world, but does so with an accessible and life-affirming vigour. Villeneuve has emerged as one of the finest and most versatile directors currently working, a reassuring sign for next year’s Blade Runner sequel. You’ll be left with plenty to think about once the credits roll, leaving the cinema on a thoughtful and wholly positive note.

All things considered, then, 2016 hasn’t been a bad year for film-goers. Admittedly, I can’t pretend to have been entirely comprehensive in my praise – a student’s budget can only provide for a limited number of cinema tickets, after all. And of course, at the time of writing, some of the year’s most anticipated pictures are yet to be released, with upcoming titles including the Star Wars spin-off, Rogue One, and Martin Scorsese’s long-awaited Silence. Yet, as the curtain falls on 2016 and we look forward to another year, it’s becoming increasingly risky to count on anything. As long as they keep making movies, I’ll make do with that.

 

This article was first published in Exeposé, Exeter University’s independent student newspaper. To find more of my work for Exeposé, click here.

I, Daniel Blake Review

Imbued with equal parts warmth and outrage, I, Daniel Blake is arresting and important cinema – essential viewing.

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Copyright 2013 eOne Films.

From the glum realism of 1969’s Kes, to the tragedy and bloodshed of 1995’s Land and Freedom, English director Ken Loach has crafted an impressive and varied back catalogue. Now aged 80, his desire to broadcast injustice and make demands for a better world remains as powerful as ever, equalled by his immense skill behind the camera. With this year’s I, Daniel Blake, Loach fixes his sights on contemporary Britain, and an uncaring state that uses its most vulnerable constituents for political capital.

As one would expect, I, Daniel Blake has a political agenda inherent in its design. Despite this, however, it never feels as though one is being preached to. Rather, we are shown an interpretation of reality and asked to draw our own conclusions. Paul Laverty’s script (his fourteenth with Loach) wisely roots itself in compelling and sympathetic character drama, focusing on the human experience in a world that is all-too-often reduced to a series of statistics and quotas. Meanwhile, Loach’s talent in making the everyday appear cinematic results in a picture that is both emotionally and visually striking.

Although the film focuses on a thoroughly depressing subject matter, it avoids submerging itself in misery. Laverty’s dialogue has a great sense of wit that runs throughout all but the most harrowing moments, and every key cast member instills their role with a genuine sense of warmth and humanity – it’s this unrelenting charm in the face of adversity that makes their continued plight feel all the more senseless.

Dave John stars as the eponymous Dan, a 59-year-old joiner who finds himself unable to work and reliant on the state following a major heart attack. It’s an impressive performance from an actor more likely to be found on Never Mind the Buzzcocks than a social-realist drama. Dan’s frustration is palpable as he grapples with the Department for Work and Pensions, every step powerfully chronicled as he faces layers of bureaucratic apathy.

The stand out performance of the film, however, is delivered by Hayley Squires as Katie, a single mother struggling to provide for her children after relocating from London. Squires shines in some moments of heart wrenching reality, as Katie tries to stay afloat against a tide of poverty and benefit sanctions. Her story packs an emotional punch that catches one off guard and leaves a harrowing impression.

I, Daniel Blake is not just a populist call to arms, but a damn good piece of film-making. Fundamentally, Loach has taken a series of phrases with which the newspapers have made us unfortunately familiar – sanctions, fit-for-work assessments, food banks – and placed them within their human context. He shows how people depend upon this confused labyrinth of paperwork and assessments for their very survival, and how the system is corrupted for political convenience. As a film-maker, Loach’s power ends here, but if we, as citizens, are truly appalled by what he has put on screen, then it is our responsibility to demand the change we seek. As the title suggests, Daniel Blake could be any of us, and this reminder of our collective responsibility is the film’s most essential ideal. I, Daniel Blake is enlightening, gripping, and emotionally exhausting, but more than anything, it’s important.

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What are film critics for?

This article was first published in Exeposé, Exeter University’s independent student newspaper. To find more of my work for Exeposé, click here.

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Like lambs to the slaughter.

Alex Proyas, the much maligned director of I, Robot and Gods of Egypt, recently called film critics “a pack of diseased vultures pecking at the bones of a dying carcass”. As part of a bizarre Facebook rant, Proyas said that critics “have no personal taste or opinion”, and would soon be going “the way of the dinosaur or the newspaper”. Popular film critic Mark Kermode, never one to take a beating lying down, responded that if he really was a “vulture”, then surely that made Proyas’ films as good as roadkill.

Although Proyas may hope to blame critics for the financial failure of his films, the reality is that professional movie criticism has very little impact on the box office. To take just one example, Michael Bay’s Transformers saga has received intense critical savaging with every new installment, yet the two most recent entries soared past the $1 billion mark at the global box office. A similar story is true of the various Pirates of the Caribbean sequels; universal derision within critical circles, but unadulterated hits among the film-going public.

This apparent paradox has felt more prescient recently, as a number of 2016’s biggest films received a notably poor reception in the press. The newest entries in the fledgling DC Universe, Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad, are both sitting on a decidedly “rotten” rating on the review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes. Meanwhile, the two films have earned a comfortable profit during their theatrical runs, despite a quibbling notion of “under-performance”. As far as the money is concerned, these big-budget, glossy franchise installments are often too big to fail, regardless of what the critics have to say.

Big-budget, glossy franchise installments are often too big to fail, regardless of what the critics have to say.

Positive reviews have a similarly negligible impact on a film’s chances at the box office. Star Trek Beyond and the controversial Ghostbusters remake were both released this year to a surprisingly upbeat press response, but neither has really succeeded in earning its keep, thus bringing the future of both franchises into doubt. Of course, critical darlings often fail to reap millions – you’ll rarely see a blockbuster sweeping the awards ceremonies – but the authority of critics remains ineffectual even when their praise is focused on mainstream fare.

If the influence of critics is really so limited, then why do people appear to care so deeply about what they have to say? Part of this phenomenon is surely down to the growth of review aggregate websites. Pages like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic attempt to condense often hundreds of reviews into some kind of binary compromise, usually a rating out of 100. While this is helpful if a film is genuinely loved or hated on a mass scale, it entirely fails to take diversity of criticism into account. By aggregating a broad range of opinions into a single figure, these websites rob film reviews of all their nuance, enforcing a consensus that may not actually exist. Many film buffs will no longer go to a single reviewer that they know and trust, but rather check if the assembled might of the world’s press have deemed a picture “rotten” or “fresh”.

The result is that far more weight is given to critical consensus than is really warranted. Narratives are quickly built around a film’s quality or popular reception, and these narratives don’t always reflect the lived reality of the cinema going public. Outside of the critical bubble, audiences remain as fickle and easily pleased as ever. The job of the critic is not to decide which films succeed and which do not, and the truth is that they rarely do.

Top 5… Best Suits in Cinema

More or less since the dawn of celluloid, men’s clothing and the world of cinema have been intrinsically linked. Typically dressed by the world’s best tailors and fashion houses, Hollywood’s leading men act as a rich and diverse record of style throughout the twentieth century. As an enthusiast of both film and classic menswear, I’ve assembled a list of my personal top five suits in cinema. I can’t pretend that I’ve been in any way exhaustive or impartial – instead you’ll find a slim selection of my favourite suits to ever grace the silver screen.

5. Cary Grant in North by Northwest (1959)

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Roger O Thornhill, New York ad man and victim of a mistaken identity, is one of Cary Grant’s most iconic roles. It’s fitting, then, that his wardrobe is similarly recognisable. This two piece, woven in a subtle grey and blue check, is worn for most of the film’s runtime, even as our hero is violently pursued by planes, trains, and automobiles. Blending American and British styles, this suit is a perfect example of late fifties tailoring, worn with panache by one of Hollywood’s most stylish men.

4. Michael Caine in Get Carter (1971)

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Get Carter was a landmark moment in the heritage of British gangster films, but also indicated a major transition in Michael Caine’s career, pitting him as a remorseless and vengeful London gangster, Jack Carter. Directly as he steps off the train in Newcastle, Carter’s suit clearly distinguishes him from his surroundings; the sombre, close-cut three piece is immediately distinct from the casual tweeds he encounters in the North. Tailored by the legendary Douglas Hayward, Caine’s suit makes few concessions to the fashions of the time, creating a sense of timeless style that remains as impressive today as in 1971.

3. James Stewart in Rope (1948)

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One of Alfred Hitchcock’s more overlooked films, Rope is never short on beautiful tailoring. Jimmy Stewarts’s Rupert Cadell, however, is a cut above his co-stars. The three-piece suit, crafted from a heavy wool and featuring large, peaked lapels, is a beautiful demonstration of late forties opulence. Other details include a pinned shirt collar, a classic but stylish touch which helps to establish Stewart’s character as a one of taste and refinement.

2. Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

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Steve McQueen was a man who looked good in more or less anything, and The Thomas Crown Affair is an effective demonstration of this fact. From business suits to casual knitwear, McQueen never fails to cut an elegant figure. His first suit of the film, however, is in a league of its own. This grey three piece, featuring a peculiarly straight-bottomed waistcoat, exudes an impossible level of cool. The list’s second example of Douglas Hayward tailoring, McQueen’s suit also illustrates how a relatively limited colour pallet can achieve eye-catching results

1. Sean Connery in Goldfinger (1964)

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The fifty-year history of the Bond franchise is littered with stunning outfits, but this three-piece example from Goldfinger surely remains Bond’s finest sartorial moment. Produced by Sean Connery’s usual tailor at the time, Anthony Sinclair, the Goldfinger suit is defined by its ageless appearance and superb detailing, from a subtle Prince of Wales check to the waistcoat’s notched lapels. Paired simply with a white shirt and navy knitted tie, the suit is an unfussy but masterful take on classic tailoring.

Jason Bourne Review

The belated Bourne sequel is an exciting romp, but it just doesn’t feel particularly necessary. Worth a watch, but don’t expect an equal to its hallowed forbears.

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Matt Damon and Julia Stiles. Copyright 2016 Universal Studios.

It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that the original Bourne trilogy was revolutionary for its time. Their directors, Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass, pioneered a fierce new style of action filmmaking that left their rivals humiliated. In response, the Bond films would entirely reinvent themselves in a more realistic mould, while the phenomenon of shaky-cam would come to dominate much of the action genre. Now, nine years since our last proper Bourne film, does the return of Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass recapture that old magic?

In short, it’s a mixed bag. The lazily titled Jason Bourne delivers much of what fans have come to expect; action sequences, from sprawling set pieces to intimate fisticuffs, are executed with Greengrass’ trademark panache. An early scene of cat-and-mouse within an Athenian riot is an exhilarating highlight, as the mobile cinematography adds intensity without crossing into incoherence. Admittedly, the action follows many of the same beats as the original films, but there’s just enough innovation to keep things feeling fresh.

Furthermore, Matt Damon’s long-awaited return as the eponymous assassin is every bit a delight. With just a handful of lines, and lot more punches, Damon is able to communicate immense pathos and authority amidst the carnage. Despite the passage of time, seeing Jason Bourne on screen again just feels right. Of the rest of the cast, Vincent Cassel deserves particular mention as a brutal CIA “asset” on Bourne’s trial. It’s a familiar role for the series, but Cassel’s agent is given more exploration than we’ve seen from such a character in the past, putting him on a personal vendetta against our hero. It doesn’t always work, but he nevertheless provides one of Bourne’s more intriguing foils.

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Vincent Cassel as a vengeful CIA asset. Copyright 2016 Universal Studios.

Considering the satisfying conclusion to 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum, any direct sequel needed a strong story that feels worth telling. Unfortunately, Jason Bourne isn’t that. The fundamental issue if that the film’s plot is largely unable to justify its own existence. Bourne’s motivation for returning to the fray is flimsy, while his enemies are poorly drawn and are given too little time to establish themselves. Most of the script feels like a lightweight excuse to move Bourne from one foot-chase to another, meaning that the incessant combat never feels properly provoked. Meanwhile, the stakes are too contrived and personal to be believable. In this regard the story echoes last year’s Bond film, Spectre, delving into Bourne’s past in a way that feels more tacked on than absorbing. Perhaps such a shallow level of writing could be excused in a lesser action franchise, but the Bourne brand is so steeped in authenticity that this latest entry rings hollow in comparison.

Further adding to the script’s woes, Jason Bourne’s structure feels all too familiar. Much of the film’s supporting cast, including Tommy Lee Jones and Alicia Vikander, feel like pale regurgitations of what we’ve seen before, as does the movie’s central conflict. Our villain still takes the form of a crooked CIA chief, and the American intelligence service continues to spend more time cleaning up after itself than it does fighting actual bad guys.

Any real effort by Jason Bourne to distinguish itself feels mostly half-hearted; a subplot concerning online surveillance and a fictionalised social media platform attempts to place the film within a modern, post-Snowden context, but it’s an avenue that feels like an incongruous afterthought. At the film’s denouement, Bourne is more or less in the position that we found him, leaving the previous two hours as more of a trivial distraction than a meaningful progression.

As a piece of action packed entertainment, Jason Bourne succeeds tremendously. Where it fails, however, is as a satisfying new chapter in Bourne’s story. One is left with the impression that the script started with a number of disparate action sequences, and a threadbare plot was assembled later. Perhaps expectations were too high for the return of Bourne’s dream team – there’s plenty of thrills and enjoyment to be found within Jason Bourne, and Greengrass has done a competent enough job of delivering on cinematic spectacle. Nonetheless, I can’t escape a nagging disappointment that it isn’t accompanied by a story of palpable significance. It’s competent, but Bourne deserves better.

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Star Trek Beyond Review

Star Trek Beyond is a fun return to form for the crew of the Enterprise, capturing the old Trek spirit while boldly forging a path of its own. For long-term fans or otherwise, there’s plenty here to enjoy

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Copyright 2016 Paramount Studios.

Ever since its 2009 reboot, the Star Trek franchise has struggled to reconcile its roots with the expectations of a modern blockbuster. The original 1966 television series was, at its best, a fun and intelligent parable on the state of humanity, while the subsequent film series would combine this with a cinematic sense of spectacle. More recently, the efforts of JJ Abrams’ brought Star Trek kicking and screaming into the 21st century, but his two glossy undertakings left many fans feeling cold. Despite delivering on spectacle, Trek’s character-driven thoughtfulness was largely ejected in favour of a more contrived, Star Wars style adventure. Thankfully, with this year’s Beyond, director Justin Lin has produced a modern Star Trek worthy of the name.

Opening some time into the Enterprise’s five-year mission, Star Trek Beyond finds Captain James T Kirk (Chris Pine) caught in something of a rut. If the universe really is infinite, he ponders, then isn’t it futile to explore its vastness? Thus, we have our first sense that Beyond is treating its characters to some level of maturity and self-awareness, quite distinct from the stencilled caricatures found in the last two instalments. Indeed, it’s the characters and their enthusiastic interplay that provides the core of this film, dealing in equal parts humour and sentimentality that seldom feels overdone.

The script of Star Trek Beyond, co-penned by sci-fi aficionado Simon Pegg, is the first of the reboot entries to feel like bona-fide Star Trek. The colourful crew of the Enterprise find themselves trapped on a mysterious planet, at the behest of a vengeful villain, and must use all their wits to find a way home. It’s a premise that could just as easily have fit into a thirty-minute television slot, and this certainly helps to recapture a familiar Star Trek charm.

However, while playing homage to what has come before, Beyond is unafraid to blaze its own trail. The intensely derivative “fan-service” which plagued 2013’s Into Darkness thankfully takes a back seat, as Lin steers the franchise into fresh territory while retaining the spirit of the original form. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto remain excellent as Captain Kirk and Mr Spock, both of whom are developed with newfound complexity, while the rest of the familiar cast are given plenty to do. Unfortunately, the multitudinous talents of Idris Elba feel wasted on the film’s villain, Krall, an adequate yet underdeveloped rogue.

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Copyright 2016 Paramount Studios.

Action set-pieces are predictably spectacular, perhaps excessively so. The first act gives you little time to settle in before indulging in successive sequences of calamitous destruction, all of which are bracing and, at times, incoherent. The film’s pacing and narrative would likely have benefitted if one of these passages was deleted, and a little more time dedicated to those that remained.

Nevertheless, Beyond adopts a more confident stride as it slows down during the second act, allowing the characters and their predicament to come to the fore. Above all, there’s an overriding sense of fun to the proceedings, while still allowing time to reflect on weightier and more personal themes. The action and writing are never truly remarkable in their own right, but they nevertheless arrive as a part of a package that’s difficult not to appreciate.

If last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens was an enjoyable but risk-averse update to the Star Wars saga, then Star Trek Beyond similarly provides a satisfying interpretation of the Star Trek formula. It’s not quite among the best that Trek has to offer, nor does it particularly distinguish itself as a sci-fi adventure. What it is, however, is an exciting and worthwhile two hours that will reward fans and laymen alike.

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“Drama is Conflict” – A Barry Lyndon Retrospective

Barry Lyndon is a powerful reflection on eighteenth century life and the fallibility of the human condition.

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Ryan O’Neal as Redmond Barry, later Barry Lyndon. Copyright 1975 Warner Bros.

It has become something of a cliché to refer to Barry Lyndon as “overlooked”. For any number of reasons, Stanley Kubrick’s 1976 masterpiece appears to have escaped the general acclaim that follows many of his other films, at least outside of critical circles. Nevertheless, it remains one of my all-time favourites. Cinematography, music, and editing all combine to produce a spectacular film of unparalleled beauty. Now in its fortieth year, the picture is receiving a cinema re-release across the country. This, one hopes, will do something to redress its relative obscurity.

Barry Lyndon is often criticised as being about nothing in particular. It may be very beautiful, they say, but why should we care about Redmond Barry himself? Such arguments, however, depend on the assumption that we are supposed to care about him. But Barry’s life is not one of any real significance. Watching him drift through existence is almost a voyeuristic act; he fights battles, beds women, and cheats at cards, as if in a series of paintings, but we are never invested in his travels, nor do we understand his passions and motivations. He remains impenetrable.

This is no mistake. As we study Barry, our struggle to comprehend him prevents us from feeling either sympathy or detestation. Kubrick himself said that cinema is unique as an art form in that it provides an “objective reality”, an unvarnished vision of life, supported in Barry Lyndon by an impartial, third-person narrator. Barry’s experiences are presented at face value, which, despite great sound and fury, amount to very little. As if we are appreciating a Gainsborough portrait, what we see is what he get.

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Copyright 1975 Warner Bros.

If you are able to detach yourself from grasping the central character, however, then Barry Lyndon is about a great deal. Despite its title, the film isn’t really concerned with its characters – they exist to serve a much wider narrative. Fundamentally, it is a story that hinges on conflict. The world of the film, and Barry’s life itself, is defined by conflict – of the heart, the head, and the sword. Obviously, the picture begins during the Seven Years’ War; a destructive struggle fought on a global scale, which the narrator tells us would take “a great philosopher and historian” to explain. Barry finds himself fighting for two different armies in this campaign, and he is seen to commit acts of great bravery and cowardice. If Kubrick has a central message, perhaps it is that life is too frustrating and paradoxical to be understood in broad strokes.

As soon as Barry escapes the war, the inferno of battle is repeatedly supplanted by another form of conflict. At first he is a spy for the Prussian government, before changing sides and conspiring with his intended target. Again, Barry is presented as an individual with whom allegiances are as quickly made as they are broken, a man who is never contented and always seeks another path. Ultimately, it is this internal conflict that will contribute to both his rise and his downfall.

Barry is quickly made a free man, and he uses this new volition to seek out fresh quarrels on his journey to prosperity. He competes for the affection of Lady H Lyndon, a married woman of great status and wealth. While this battle appears to have been won with the timely demise of Lady Lyndon’s husband, Barry finds a new enemy in the oedipal devotion of her son, Lord Bullingdon. It is never quite clear who is the more responsible party in this dreadful feud, but Barry, whose life has thus far been a series of struggles, is only able to fight fire with fire.

Of course, not all of Barry’s conflicts are self-afflicted. In the latter part of the film, he is set upon by a timeless and altogether less palpable enemy – class. Despite his continued efforts to rise above his station, Barry remains, as Lord Bullingdon puts it, an “Irish upstart”. He is unable to reconcile his tumultuous past with his newfound position, reaching a devastating climax as he lashes out violently, and publicly, against Bullingdon. For the assembled congregation of gentry, Barry is a discordant outsider.

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Copyright 1975 Warner Bros.

For a film so rooted in conflict, it is appropriate that Barry Lyndon is bookended by two pistol duels. During the final, disastrous confrontation, many of the film’s predominant themes are exposed. Barry clearly hails from a different world to that of his opponent, Bullingdon; a world of hardship rather than privilege, and brutality rather than manners. Nevertheless, he faces the duel with more honour and courage than his high-born enemy could ever muster. As Barry fights with equal parts defiance and mercy, Bullingdon is a snivelling and pathetic sight – the premature discharge of his pistol is an unsubtle, emasculatory metaphor. Here, conflict is again used to highlight the inconsistency of the human condition.

Of Barry Lyndon, Kubrick stated that “drama is conflict”. Conflict raises Barry into the immense fortune that he desires, and conflict brings this ideal world crashing down around him. While it may be difficult to empathise with, or even to understand the film’s characters, their individual battles offer a window into eighteenth century life – its culture, its prejudices, and its hypocrisies. Not only do they seek conflict, but they inhabit a world in which conflict seeks them. Conflict propels them forward, encouraging both humanity and ruthlessness, but also stops them dead in their tracks. Put simply, Barry Lyndon is not a film about characters, but what happens to those characters. Our role is not as jurors or judges, but spectators.

 

For anyone interested in reading more about Barry Lyndon, Stanley Kubrick was interviewed by Michel Ciment following the film’s release. Available here, the interview details some of Kubrick’s ideas and processes, as well as some interesting trivia about the making of the film.

Every James Bond Film Ranked

As the longest running franchise in film history, the Bond pictures have had their fair share of ups and downs. Below you’ll find my ranking of all 24 James Bond films in the official Eon Productions series, from Dr No (1962) to Spectre (2015). Enjoy, and feel free to leave a comment with your own thoughts.

1. From Russia With Love (1963)

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From Russia with Love isn’t just the quintessential Bond film, it’s the perfect spy thriller. Only the second film in the series, From Russia With Love pinned down Bond’s signature style without finding itself bogged down in formula, focussed on a complex and believable cold-war plot. The 115-minute runtime is littered with iconic dialogue and action sequences, while the best Bond, Sean Connery, provides a relaxed and charismatic performance. Highlights include Bond’s fisticuffs with the psychopathic Red Grant and a visceral shoot-out in a Turkish gypsy camp. It simply doesn’t get better than this.

2. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

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Perhaps the most sorely overlooked Bond adventure, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service treats the spy with a maturity and a depth otherwise unseen until the turn of Daniel Craig almost 40 years later. The non-actor George Lazenby flounders somewhat in the central role, but he is elevated by arguably the best supporting cast in Bond history, as Telly Savalas provides the finest on-screen portrayal of Blofeld and Diana Rigg shines as the enigmatic Tracy di Vicenzo. With a water-tight script lifted directly from the pages of Fleming, director Peter Hunt delivers some of the most exciting action sequences of the franchise. In its final moments, the film packs an emotional punch that’s not to be missed.

3. Casino Royale (2006)

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After a decade of mediocrity, Casino Royale breathed new life into the world’s most famous spy. Re-invigorating the character for the 21st century, Casino Royale restored the series’ reputation for a post-Bourne, post-Austin Powers world. Daniel Craig gives a nuanced and fearsome portrayal of a young, reckless 007, taking Bond back to his roots with a surprisingly faithful adaptation of Fleming’s first Bond novel. More than forty years since the beginning, Casino Royale proved that Bond still reigns supreme.

4. Goldfinger (1964)

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Probably the most iconic and influential of all the Bond films, Goldfinger nailed the character and formula of the series as we know it today. Released at the height of Bond-mania, Connery had fully relaxed into the role by this point and gives a performance that is equal in parts deadly and charming. While director Guy Hamilton struggles to deliver truly exciting action sequences, he imbues the film with an irresistible sense of style and wit, resulting in a picture that has resonated with audiences for decades.

5. Skyfall (2012)

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Released to mark the 50th anniversary of the Bond franchise, Skyfall asserted the enduring relevance of the Bond character. Although the plot is often contrived, Skyfall makes up for it with an emphasis on character. Classic figures such as Q and Moneypenny were reintroduced and updated for modern audiences, while Javier Bardem appears as Roaul Silva, a villain hell-bent on a personal vendetta. Shot by legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, Skyfall is probably the most beautiful entry in the Bond canon, with a sense of artfulness not typically found within 007.

6. The Living Daylights (1987)

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The first episode in Timothy Dalton’s all-too brief stint as 007, The Living Daylights brought Bond back to basics following Roger Moore’s departure. Dalton instils the character with a humanity and brutality rarely seen outside of Fleming’s writing. Meanwhile, the narrative is rooted in topical concerns of the day, placing Bond within the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The villains of the piece are somewhat lacking in personality, Bond’s eclectic mix of allies, both reluctant and otherwise, help to add warmth. Often overlooked, The Living Daylights is essential viewing.

7. Thunderball (1966)

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Following in the footsteps of the wildly popular Goldfinger, Thunderball went on to become the most successful Bond film, accounting for inflation, until 2012’s Skyfall. Dispatched to the Bahamas to locate two stolen nuclear warheads, Connery’s Bond continues to delight, alongside another first rate cast of supporting characters. Thunderball was an ambitious project, at times too ambitious. The action set-pieces take on an unprecedented scale, but lengthy underwater sequences often outstay their welcome. Nevertheless, Thunderball remains an exciting entry in the Connery era, with a high-stakes plot that remains relevant today.

8. Goldeneye (1995)

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Arriving six years after Timothy Dalton’s truncated run of films, Goldeneye was the first Bond to emerge into a world without the Soviet Union. Pierce Brosnan faced weighty expectations, as many doubted that the new 007 could compete against modern action blockbusters. Thankfully, Goldeneye delivered with aplomb, much thanks to the slick direction of Martin Campbell and Sean Bean’s performance as the vengeful villain Alec Trevelyan. Judi Dench makes her first appearance as M, and her censure of Bond as a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur” remains a classic moment.

9. For Your Eyes Only (1981)

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The highest rated Roger Moore adventure on the list, For Your Eyes Only was also the actor’s most down-to-earth effort. Dispensing of the gadgets and absurdity that plagued Moonraker, this film saw Bond on the trail of heroin smugglers rather than a maniacal billionaire. The serious tone also allows Moore to deliver his most mature performance, pitted against a compelling female lead, Melina Havelock. Perhaps a little slow-moving at times, but nevertheless the closest Moore came to Fleming’s original hero.

10. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

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Alan Partridge called it “the best film ever made”, and The Spy Who Loved Me certainly has some stand-out moments. The pre-titles ski chase has a strong claim to being the finest opening of the series, and Carly Simon’s title song, ‘Nobody Does It Better’, remains a timeless classic. But while it’s a fun ride from beginning to end, I struggle to really invest in a film that refuses to take itself seriously. Some excellent sequences are occasionally denigrated by misplaced comic relief, often playing for laughs rather than tension. Nonetheless, it’s difficult to resist the larger than life charm of the film, particularly as events pick up during the action-packed finale. For fans of Roger Moore’s distinctive interpretation of Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me has everything you’re looking for – for everyone else, it’s well worth a watch.

11. Dr No (1962)

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It feels somewhat unfair to put the first Bond film below the top ten – after all, it did an admirable job of setting the template for the next fifty years of 007 and introduced the world to the talents of Sean Connery. It’s also full of some absurdly iconic moments: the first “Bond, James Bon”; Honey Rider emerging from the sea; and Bond’s icy exchange with Dr No over dinner. But the film itself simply isn’t as watchable as many of its descendants, limited by a minuscule budget and an unseasoned production team. Filmmakers and cinema lovers everywhere all owe a great debt to Dr No, but it’s most profound legacy lies in the greatness which would follow.

12. Licence to Kill (1989)

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Arguably the darkest entry in the franchise, Licence to Kill was a notable break from the Bond formula. Dalton’s second and last appearance as the spy is a personal story of revenge. The usual MI6 proceedings are dispensed with as Bond goes rogue, and therein lies both the film’s major strength and its weakness; while Licence to Kill works as an effective crime thriller, it feels distinctly generic, akin to a Die Hard or Lethal Weapon sequel. Although the gritty, sadistic edge of Licence to Kill is often welcome, Bond is most successful when he distinguishes himself from his peers.

13. Spectre (2015)

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The most recent Bond film saw the return of Bond’s nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, and his eponymous criminal organisation, the Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion. The second directorial effort of Sam Mendes, Spectre features some outstanding action and another superb performance from Daniel Craig. Unfortunately, the plot crumbles under its own weight during the final act, including the frankly embarrassing revelation that Blofeld is, actually, James Bond’s foster brother. With a wealth of world-class talent listed in the credits, there’s a pervading sense that a much better film lies beneath the surface, but Spectre has enough Bondian thrills to be worth the entry price.

15. Octopussy (1983)

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One of the more forgettable Bond adventures, Octopussy nonetheless has some excellent episodes – the second act, which sees Bond dispatched to East Germany, hits all the right notes of tension and excitement. Unfortunately, the rest of the film is somewhat less consistent and the action is often let down by some miss-timed comedy. Again, Octopussy saw the Bond producers reacting to change rather than provoking it, and many of the film’s India sequences feel reminiscent of Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. Octopussy is an enjoyable romp with a few stand-out chapters, but as a whole the film is a bit of a jumble.

16. Quantum of Solace (2008)

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Quantum of Solace has been increasingly derided since its release, with some going as far as to rank it among the worst entries of the series. Admittedly, the whole film does feel somewhat rushed; action scenes are frenetic and choppily edited, and the dialogue in between has little room to breathe. However, there are clear flashes of brilliance throughout Quantum of Solace – with additional time to flesh out the script and a more competent director, it could have been a stellar entry in the series. I suspect that history will look more favourably upon Quantum; a flawed but unapologetic attempt to continue what Casino Royale had started.

17. You Only Live Twice (1967)

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The first Bond film to properly deviate from its source material, You Only Live Twice was filmed from a script by children’s author Roald Dahl, and the result is more or less what you would expect. It’s an impressive, larger than life spectacle, with some terrific action and stunning use of Japanese locations. Unfortunately, this grandeur comes at the expense of plot, which is a mess of idiocy, inconsistency, and contrivance. Connery also delivers a less than enthusiastic performance, clearly tiring of the role that had launched him into stardom. It’s undeniably fun to watch a team of ninjas storm a secret volcano base, just try not to think about it too much.

18. Live and Let Die (1973)

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Once a favourite of mine, Live and Let Die has slipped down the rankings as years have passed. There are scenes which still elicit a grin, such as Bond’s ingenious escape from a crocodile farm, and Moore does a good job in establishing his own, distinctive version of the character. However, the film feels bloated, and some peculiar dialogue and character developments leave many scenes feeling more awkward than tense (particularly the villain’s baffling demise). Clearly in his infancy, Moore’s Bond was yet to find a place in the world after Connery’s final departure.

19. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

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More or less the definition of mediocrity, Tomorrow Never Dies was the Bond franchise on autopilot. Much of the film is an exercise in Bondian box ticking, with some overly explosive action sequences thrown in. There’s nothing here to really offend – Michelle Yeoh and Teri Hatcher are competent female leads, and I’ll always have a soft spot for Jonathon Price as the media-mogul Elliot Carver. But Brosnan’s portrayal of Bond, and the film’s script as a whole, seems like a regurgitated amalgamation of what has come before, leaving little chance for the film to discern itself. Tomorrow Never Dies feels like greatest hits album, just with all the number ones left out.

20. The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

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The Man with the Golden Gun is a picture with so much potential – Christopher Lee creates a classic villain in the form of Francisco Scaramanga, the world’s deadliest hitman, and his intense confrontation with Moore’s Bond hints at a far more interesting story. However, what should be an exciting cat-and-mouse plot is buried within nonsense about solar power and the real-world energy crisis. The dull narrative isn’t helped by action scenes that are devoid of tension and comic relief characters who evoke more cringes than chuckles. A few excellent scenes arise during the final act as Bond and Scaramanga finally come face to face, but it’s too late to save the slog that is the first hour and a half.

21. A View to a Kill (1985)

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Roger Moore’s stunt double has a good claim to being the star of A View to a Kill, as the 57 year old Bond looked just about ready to trade in his licence to kill for a free bus pass. In another bizarre bit of casting, Christopher Walken plays the villain of the film, Max Zorin (a performance which partially inspired Heath Ledger’s Joker), while pop star Grace Jones features as his henchwoman May Day. Both actors seem to have walked in from the set of another film, and no one really seems to know or care what’s going on. Even John Barry’s superb soundtrack feels like it belongs to something much more exciting. A mystifying experience all-round.

22. The World is Not Enough (1999)

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One of the most boring films ever made. Action is shot with all the deft and exhilaration of a Toyota advertisement, while the drama is about as well executed as an episode of Hollyoaks. The film actually takes some interesting risks with the Bond formula, personally implicating Judi Dench’s M within the plot, but the execution is so poor that it’s a chore to sit through. Robert Carlyle’s Renard must go down as Bond’s most ineffectual foil, while Denise Richards is laughably miscast as nuclear physicist Christmas Jones.

23. Moonraker (1979)

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I can understand why this film exists. The Bond producers clearly watched Star Wars take the world by storm and thought ‘we’ll have some of that’. But Moonraker represents the Roger Moore era at its absolute worst. The “comedy”, for lack of a better word, is incessant, and robs every scene of all possible intensity. Henchman Jaws returns from The Spy Who Loved Me and is more bumbling than ever, whilst Moore swaggers through the film with an eyebrow cocked and a quip for every scenario. The most insulting thing about Moonraker, however, is that some truly spectacular stunt work and music is wasted on this embarrassment of a film. By the time Bond gets into space you’ll wonder how it ever got this bad.

24. Diamonds are Forever (1971)

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Sean Connery demanded a record breaking amount of money for this, his last official Bond film, and made no secret of being in it for the cash. Badly aged and wearing the world’s worst wig, Connery looks more like your mate’s sleazy Dad than a suave superspy. With most of the budget having gone to the star, Diamonds Are Forever skimps on pretty much everything else, from the preposterous script to the pitiful special effects. Worst of all, Diamonds isn’t just a boring, uninvolving, gruelling state of a film, it’s actually quite offensive. The henchmen Mr Wint and Mr Kidd are two dated homosexual stereotypes, more suited to a Carry On film than a James Bond thriller. Most shockingly, this is the better Bond film to feature a diamond encrusted space laser.

24. Die Another Day (2002)

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An absolute car crash of a film. Watching Die Another Day is a bewildering, depressing experience, like walking in on your parents mid-coitus. I’ve struggled to pin down the exact moment that the film jumps the shark; is it the start of the Madonna title track, or when Bond stops his own heart in order to escape a hospital? Perhaps it’s John Cleese introducing an invisible car? What’s clear is that by the time Bond para-surfs a tsunami and flies a helicopter out of an exploding plane, you’ll have lost all sense of who you are or what you’re watching. There’s also a worryingly long sex scene between Pierce Brosnan and Halle Berry, in which we appear to see Brosnan actually climax. Harrowing stuff.