Many people will raise a champagne glass to ’07 tonight. I’ll probably just hoist a martini to 007.
I know it sounds lame, but there’s a good chance I won’t be doing anything more adventurous than a James Bond DVD marathon. With an infant son at home, I’m shaking more baby formula lately than the gin, vodka and Kina Lillet vermouth of Bond’s famous “Vesper” martini. Given that New Year’s Eve is on a Sunday night, with work early the next morning, this may not be a bad thing.
Sunday nights, James Bond and I go way back. Like every kid, my bedtime was too early, but I recall that the Sunday night Movie of the Week invariably seemed to be a Bond repeat and my parents would let me stay up late. In the days before cable TV (yes, I’m only a decade younger than the movie franchise), it was one of the rare occasions my entire family would gather together in front of the television for the same program.
Those were innocent times, before the arrival of push-button cable boxes with the three-level adjustable dial. If you were fast enough, you could even tune in the naked channels by quickly flipping the buttons. Of course, this meant both hands were occupied with the cable box, so what was the point, really? Play dumb if you wish, but like the secret cheat for setting double-shot in Space Invaders, it was a well-known technology loophole among pubescent boys.
What family fun memory is as quaint as a ruthless secret agent drinking hard liquor before lunch, crashing expensive cars and slapping women right before he beds, and on occasion, murders them? When I think of it this way, it’s difficult for me to explain my fascination with the man from MI6. I’m not particularly into sports cars, I’m indifferent about guns and I’m the furthest thing from a member of the He-Man Woman Hater’s Club. Yet I still love Bond. Why? Because it’s only a movie.
I’ve never hit a woman, or murdered anyone that I know of, but it doesn’t make the movies any less entertaining. Bond creator Ian Fleming, according to one biography I’ve read, certainly was a misogynist. However, the screenwriters, even in the early years, understood the shortcomings of their leading man. In “Thunderball,” villainess Fiona Volpe calls Bond a “sadistic brute…who only has to make love to a woman and she starts to hear heavenly choirs singing.” These lines were directly lifted from negative film reviews of the previous outing, “Goldfinger.” The critics, like Auric Goldfinger, expected Bond to die!, but (according to “Entertainment Weekly”) he responded with what would amount to a $500 million box office today, and he used the critics’ words to do so.
More than 40 years later, the 21st official Bond film takes opening-credit-gun-barrel aim at 21st century political correctness, which the world is not enough to contain. Not only is Fleming’s first novel, “Casino Royale,” back for the big-screen treatment, but so too is the original sadistic brute. New double-oh Daniel Craig is the most ornery operative since everyone’s favorite secret agent Scotsman (and I don’t mean Fat Bastard). This film attempts to explain how Bond became, if you will, That Bastard – the cold, suave spy we’ve come to know in the last half-century.
There is plenty of celebrity behavior to debate these days.
Self-created spectres of evil now loom over former Hollywood heroes Mel Gibson and Michael Richards. Sacha Baron Cohen will spend the next year in court defending “The Borat Movie.” But where do we draw the line on rejecting works of art based on the actions of those who created them? Should I root for the villains in “Braveheart” now instead of William Wallace? Should I only laugh at Jerry, George and Elaine, averting my eyes in protest when Kramer sets his hair on fire? My wife, who is black, says that she can’t now un-enjoy what made her laugh uproariously for so long. I’ll continue to list “Braveheart” as one of my top films ever, and I’ll still watch “Seinfeld” whenever I can. If you choose to stop reading my articles because of that, fair enough. However, before you get holier than thou, make sure you’re not listening to a Bing Crosby Christmas carol. Bad celebrity behavior is not a new phenomenon. Whether you consider domestic abuse allegations against Crosby fact or fiction, the reality is that everybody’s got skeletons in their closet, and some rattle louder than others.
I’d rather not extend my censure to fictional characters. Bond is a character made more interesting by his flaws, exposed brilliantly by Craig. Critics decry James Bond as a poor role model, but it all comes down to how you’re raised. When I was a kid, I didn’t even notice the impropriety of names like Pussy Galore or Dr. Holly Goodhead. My moment of realization came at the end of a family viewing of 1981’s “For Your Eyes Only,” when I read aloud with excitement, “James Bond will return in ‘Octopussy’!” My brother quickly rebuffed me with a pronunciation lesson – “That’s Oc-TOP-uh-see.” I’m not sure if it was for my mom’s protection or that my brother just refused to believe a title so blatant. Sure enough, in 1983, Bond girl Kristina Wayborn hit the big screen with her “little Octopussy.”
Though Maud Adams played the title role, supporting hottie Magda delivered the memorable naughty line. The secondary girls themselves were often more memorable. Many lists extol the virtues of headline Bond girls like Ursula Andress, but it’s the role players – the Shirley Eatons (“Goldfinger”), the Talisa Sotos (“Licence to Kill”), the Caterina Murinos (“Casino Royale”) that keep us shaken and stirred. Then again, I also like Moe better than crowd favorite Curly, so maybe I just have an affinity for supporting actors.
I apologize for mixing Stooges and sex symbols, but Bond was famous for being both at once. Roger Moore perfected the delivery of the corny line, but the films are infamous for their sex appeal, whether heterosexual, homosexual (“Diamonds are Forever”’s Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint) or metrosexual. I’ll admit it. The other critics may be raving about Daniel Craig’s chiseled physique, but I’ve got a man-crush on his short, guinea pig blonde hairdo. I’d trade Craig’s Persol sunglasses, handcrafted Luffield leather shoes and every one of his tailored suits for the number of his stylist.
I saw “Casino Royale” on opening day to avoid having the plot spoiled, but the idiot next to me did his best to ruin the film. If you know somebody that plays poker, leave him home, or at least stuff a handkerchief “all in” to his mouth first. Rain Man kept overlaying the film’s dialogue with his expert card-counting commentary: “Dude, he totally needs an eight of clubs or a queen here!” I’m sure I’ll Die-vulge Another Day my bewilderment with the popularity of televised poker, but let’s just say I wanted somebody to Texas-hold-him while I broke his indoor sunglasses off his poker face! Eh-hem. Good thing watching violent films as a child had no effect on me.
On New Year’s Eve, the kids will most likely fall asleep before midnight. If my wife doesn’t feel like Bonding, I could always go to the movie theater again. A haven for the politically incorrect, my local theatre now features a full bar right next to the front entrance. If you see a guy with guinea pig blonde hair drinking a Vesper, you’ll know it’s me. But remember, it’s only a movie. I’ll probably also have melted Raisinets on my tux.
For reviews of all 21 Bond films* as politically incorrect as 007, please read Review to a Kill.
*Up to “Casino Royale.”