This is by far my favorite Roger Moore “Bond” outing. And, even one of the best in the entire Bond series. The Spy Who Loved Me begins very similar to another one of my favorite Bond films…You Only Live Twice with Sean Connery. Both films start with the capturing of crafts…in You Only Live Twice it is a space rocket and in The Spy Who Loved Me it is a submarine. Obviously, we know that these “stolen” crafts are not to work of a sane person or entity. But, who is it? Is it Russia? Is it China? Basically once the craft is captured, it is up to 007 to save the day, as usual. Where both films differ is in the villain. You Only Live Twice has the ever-popular Blofeld, who by the time You Only Live Twice came out, was getting a little passé. But, in The Spy Who Loved Me, Curd Jürgens plays Stromberg…one of the best Bond villains. His evilness is intense and not prolonged…if he wants to kill someone, he just does it (unlike the other Bond baddies who talk and talk and talk about killing before they actually get around to it). Moore also has excellent chemistry with his Russian counterpart…played by Barbara Bach. They play well off of each other, even though Bach is a little stiff at times. Moore’s quips usually get to be too much after a while but Bach does a good job of countering his jibes with some of her own.

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Gritty and intense, this film is one of the more noir-esque films of the end of the 20th Century. It’s dark and brooding, as film noir films of yesterday, but it is quite brutal, which of course is the sign it’s a movie of the modern era. Brad Pitt plays a newly transferred cop who gets partnered with a soon-to-be-retiring cop, played by Morgan Freeman. The two begins to investigate a series of very brutal crimes based on the seven deadly sins. Freeman’s character is methodical and deliberate. Pitt’s cop is brash and overeager. Together, though, they solve the crimes and find the criminal…but is it too late? The use of a film technique called “bleach bypass” helped the movie get its dark, shadow-filled look. And, boy does it work…because even when nothing sinister is going on, the film retains its stark feel…giving the audience a constant feeling of dread.

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A decent action movie with solid action throughout. Sure, the action and the plot are not all realistic, but this IS an action flick. And at least George Clooney is convincing as the Army officer sent in to help Nicole Kidman’s scientist track down some stolen nuclear weapons. The car scene in Vienna is really top notch and the chase in Manhattan (near the UN) is also one of the best in recent years. If you’re an action fan, you really cannot go wrong with this one. If you like fine art, you might want to find something a little more plausible.

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For Roger Moore’s second time as 007, the filmmakers decide to go back to what James Bond does best…be Bond. In Moore’s previous outing as the super-spy for MI-6, 1973’s Live and Let Die, the best thing about it was the music (Paul McCartney and his post-Beatles band Wings did the title song). Here, Moore’s Bond welcomes back Q’s gadgets and his fast-acting romances. The plot is pretty silly (unlike the other Bond stories???)…Bond believes a famous hit-man (who only shoots his prey with golden bullets from a golden gun) has targeted him so he goes on the lookout for the assassin. What the “Man with the Golden Gun” really wants, though, is money (don’t they always want money!)…money for his clever way to harness the power of the Sun. But, if Bond happens to die, all’s the better. Christopher Lee (of Dracula fame) plays “The Man with the Golden Gun” but even though the role as a baddie usually offers actors to live out their fantasies of depravity, Lee does not seem to be enjoying himself. But, then again, maybe he read the script!!!! All in all, this is a fun romp through the MI-6 world of Bond and his ladies. Not the best Bond but not the worse either. A ringing endorsement, ain’t it?

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John McClane, I have to confess, is one of my favorite movie characters in contemporary cinema. From the first time we met him in 1988’s Die Hard, he has always been there to save the day, no matter who the bad guy is, what the obstacle is, or how old he is. It is now almost 20 years later and McClane is still going strong…maybe even stronger than ever. And, even after all the bruises and bullets and stabbings, he’s still got the goods to add two hours of pure entertainment to our hectic schedules. The plot of this one is pretty convoluted, but the guts of it are that a former computer security employee for the government got mad and wants to show America how angry he is by stealing billions from the country. McClane, once again, finds himself embroiled in this mess, not seeking out any trouble, but rather having trouble find him. Bruce Willis, born in 1955, does not show any wear and tear here…though I’m assuming the stunt team does more for him that they did in the previous outings. He gives McClane that perfect cocky attitude and the right mix of butt-kicking thrown in. The action sequences here are phenomenal…almost as good as the first. If I didn’t know better, I would think McClane was really caught in some of those precarious situations, rather than having them be computer generated. This just proves that even though times have changed, McClane and his Die Hards do not.

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I went into this one with low expectations. I had heard that Denzel Washington plays a troubled soul in Man on Fire, one who has had his fair encounters with criminal behavior. This depiction immediately took me back to Training Day, where Washington plays a corrupt cop in a role that earned him his first Best Actor Oscar. I did not like Training Day and even though Washington gives an extreme and powerful performance, I could not help thinking Man on Fire would be more of the same “bad guy” Washington. This time, though, the movie worked from start to finish, with only a few minor glitches along the way. Washington’s character, Creasy, is a man in torment. He accepts the job of guarding young Dakota Fanning’s character, Pita, as kind of a last resort before suicide or another form of self-destruction (Creasy is a rampant alcoholic in the beginning of the film). The beginning is strengthened by the touching relationship between Pita and Creasy. At first, he tries his best to keep his distance from this young girl but she softens him up and wins him over in a completely realistic way. This story could have become very trite during these scenes with Washington succumbing to Fanning’s charms without justification, but with credit to both actors, they are able to make the transition from strangers to friends natural and convincing. The second part of the movie continues to get its strength from the relationship between Creasy and Pita, but in a more dramatic and deeper way. Sure, there are parts of this film that are highly unbelievable and over-the-top. But, it’s an action movie. Most action movies provide more unbelievable entertainment that realism, whereas this is not the case here. For the most part, this film speaks true, mostly because of the relationship between and the performances by Washington and Fanning.

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True, Lucky Number Slevin has flaws but what action film made today doesn’t? And considering that unlike most actions film, this one has a clever plot and some semblance of intelligent characters, I was able to overlook the few problems with the film. From the excellent cast (all of whom give wonderful performances…including Josh Hartnett who I have dismissed in the past as just a pretty face) to the sharp twists and turns that keep the audience riveted, this film keeps the pace up and the tension high…what more can you ask for in a action film? But, this film goes above and beyond even those meager expectations of today and adds some true smarts to this often-silly genre. Lucky Number Slevin begins with the Josh Hartnett character getting caught in a case of mistaken identity. The identity he is mistaken for is asked by two different crime bosses to kill two different people. Along the way, he meets Lucy Lu who helps him decide what to do in his deadly predicament. This film could have easily also been made into a stylized thriller rather than a shoot-‘um-up action flick. I would say that VERY FEW action movies of today (use The Fast and the Furious series as an example) would stand alone without the explosions and fight scenes. Lucky Number Slevin would be just as good, if not better, a film without all of that extra added special effects.

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I had heard of this movie but I wasn’t sure why so many people had been asking for it. So, what I’m saying is that I went in with no expectations. And I came out laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe. This has to be one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in years…close-to-perfect comic writing, timing, acting….everything. Basically, it’s about a hot-shot London cop (Nick) who gets reassigned to a small English village where he thinks he will be completely bored for the rest of his career…but, boy, does he turn out to be wrong. The village police force consists of a bunch of crackpots…one of whom (Danny) becomes Nick’s partner. Some of the repartee between Nick and Danny is just priceless…Danny is quite simple-minded and his slow-wit counteracts perfectly with Nick’s confident policing. When Danny is forced to become a real police officer and fight real crime, the laughs do not stop! I immediately wanted to see Shaun of the Dead, which is the first film written by Simon Pegg (who plays Nick) and Edgar Wright. Sadly, I didn’t like that one as much, but for me, it would be VERY hard to top my Hot Fuzz experience.

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As critics and audiences alike call this their favorite James Bond film, I guess I am no longer alone in thinking this is one of the best spy films ever made. There is very little wrong with Goldfinger and what is wrong is very easily overlooked because of the strong plot and even stronger characters. With many series, the filmmakers begin to wane and rest on their successes when number three (or so) comes along. But, this is the case where the third film truly is the charm. Number one in the series Dr. No and two (From Russia with Love) just seem like practice in order to get to this third installment in the Bond series. Bond creator and author Ian Fleming got the title Goldfinger from the villain’s name…a man who is obsessed with gold. Truly. And the actor who plays the man-in-gold (Gert Fröbe) fits the bill perfectly. Sean Connery’s Bond also comes into his own in this film. In Dr. No he seemed a little unsure of himself and in From Russia with Love, it was the opposite…he seems TOO confident as the super-spy. Here, Connery shows the right tone of power, control and fear. And the plot is also one of the best ever in a Bond film…with Frobe’s Goldfinger trying to destroy the gold in Fort Knox so his mass amounts of gold increase considerably in value. But, for Bond films, plot always seems to take a back seat to the gadgets, romance and action. Here, at least, they made an attempt at a story…and did a great job in the process. No worries, though. There are lots of gadgets, action and romance. Promise.

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For Pierce Brosnan’s first 007 outing, he sure picked a fun ride. This is a James Bond film with bite…one that was perfect for Bond’s reemergence in theaters after a six-year break (the previous Bond film, License to Kill with Timothy Dalton, was produced in 1989). It also is a good film for the end of the 20th Century…no more Cold War doesn’t mean the former Soviet Union countries cannot be used as adequate threats. This story deals with a former MI-6 agent who went over to the other side in order to avenge his past (his Russian parents were Cossacks who were sent home by the British to be executed by Stalin) and cause World chaos. There are MAJOR parts of this film that are outlandish and unbelievable. But, remember, this is a Bond film. Unbelievable is a requirement. Brosnan fits into Bond’s tux perfectly…he mixes the right combination of Connery’s suaveness and Moore’s wit and Dalton’s fierceness. The series lagged with the two Dalton films (License and 1987’s The Living Daylights) mostly because many of the Bond-isms were gone. Yes, Dalton’s 007 was still asking for his Vodka Martini’s “shaken not stirred” but the quips and especially the romances were practically nonexistent…the latter probably because of the 1980s “safe sex” era. Enter Brosnan who brings it all back with gusto! Ian Fleming would be proud.

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