Goldfinger (James Bond #3)

GoldfingerGoldfinger
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Goldfinger, the third film of the Sean Connery era truly changed the James Bond franchise.  Based on the seventh novel by Ian Fleming of the same name, this film built up on the momentum of the previous two and added the final motifs related to the franchise in becoming the quintessential James Bond film.

James Bond begins an investigation of bullion dealer Auric Goldfinger in Miami, at first observing and then upsetting his cheating scheme at a game of gin rummy which has deadly consequences for a recently met love interest.  Back in London, Bond learns that Goldfinger is suspected of smuggling gold internationally and is task to figure out how he does it.  After playing (and defeating) Goldfinger in a game of golf, Bond follows Goldfinger and his henchman Oddjob to Switzerland where he discovers how Goldfinger smuggles his gold as well as a meeting with a Chinese agent.  However, Bond is captured and set up to be cut in half by a industrial laser but saves himself by lying about MI6 knowing about his plan with the Chinese agent.  Goldfinger brings Bond to Kentucky, where on the surface he is setting up an operation to steal all the gold in Fort Knox but in fact it is to make it radioactive by setting off a dirty bomb.  Bond “persuades” Goldfinger’s personal pilot, Pussy Galore, to notify the FBI and Army about the attack and interrupt it through Bond is locked in the vault with the bomb and Oddjob.  Bond is able to electrocute Oddjob then struggled to disarm the bomb only for a nuclear specialist to arrive and turn it off.  The film ends with Bond on a flight to Washington when Goldfinger comes out of the cockpit, but the resulting gun battle sees Goldfinger sucked out of plane due to explosive decompression while Bond and Pussy parachute safety to some secluded woods.

Though my synopsis of the plot is pretty basic, Goldfinger’s was clearly the best of these early Bond films.  With a mix of action, espionage, and various locations, the plot was tight allowing both Connery and Gert Frobe (playing the titular Goldfinger) to deliver great performances with the latter’s becoming the standard future Bond villains would be measured.  This film completed the motifs that would define the franchise: the Bond theme songs introduced over the title sequence began with the classic “Goldfinger” sung by Shirley Bassey, the Bond quote “Shaken, not stirred” was first spoken in this film, and Bond’s heavy reliance on technology.

Goldfinger is considered the classic installment of the franchise, in fact because of its huge success in 1964 that its script would be the template for films to come as well the reliance on technology that would be overused in installments to come.  However, neither of those factors takes away the luster of his film which is always in discussion for the best in the entire franchise even 50+ years later.

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From Russia with Love (James Bond #2)

RussiaFrom Russia with Love
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The tremendous success of Dr. No instantly demanded a follow-up leading to Sean Connery returning as James Bond in From Russia with Love a year later. The film, based on another Ian Fleming novel of the same name, continued to create elements that would define Bond film franchise for the next 50 years.

The criminal organization SPECTRE begins the film looking to get its hand on a Soviet cryptographic device, the Lektor, as well as get revenge on James Bond for his actions in Dr. No. Using the plan created by “Number Five” with personnel selected by “Number Three”, Bond is lured to Istanbul with full knowledge that he’s being set up. Followed by both Bulgarian and SPECTRE agents, Bond meets station chief Ali Kerim Bey before heading to his hotel. Afterwards, the SPECTRE agent Donald Grant kills one of the Bulgarians beginning a blood feud between the British and Soviet agents that Bond and Bey have to deal with before meeting with Tatiana Romanova. With Grant providing unknown aid, Bond and Romanova are able to plan and steal the Lektor then aided by Bey they board the Orient Express in an escape planned by Bey. Grant though kills Bey and a Soviet agent then a British agent in Belgrade taking his identity so as to kill Bond and take the Lektor. However, Bond is able to kill Grant then use the SPECTRE agent’s own escape plan to get Romanova and the Lektor to Venice only to face “Number Three” in one last fight to secure both the Lektor and the girl.

Though quickly written and filmed, the plot of From Russia with Love is actually better than its precursor. Though filled with more action than Dr. No, the story is tight and avoids any serious plot holes allowing Connery to expand his characterization of Bond. The film also showcases one of Bond’s most dangerous antagonists in Donald Grant that is played by the excellently cast Robert Shaw, who is probably best known as Quint in Jaws. As stated above, the film added more motifs to the franchise: a pre-title sequence, the Blofeld character (referred to as “Number One”, a secret-weapon gadget for Bond, a postscript action scene after the main climax, and a theme song with lyrics (though this film’s is at the end instead of the beginning like those going forward).

Given the quick time turnaround from the success of Dr. No to when From Russia with Love was released, it is surprising about how good the film is. Though it’s not perfect, it’s a tighter yet action-packed film that continued the slow build-up of the emerging James Bond film franchise. Whether or not you enjoyed Dr. No, From Russia with Love is a better all-around film.

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Dr. No (James Bond #1)

Dr. NoDr. No
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

The film that launched the James Bond franchise, Dr. No, not only introduced the world to James Bond but also was the breakout role Sean Connery. Based on the sixth novel by Ian Fleming of the same name, this film created the motifs that would last throughout the franchise.

In brief, the plot of the film follows James Bond as he looks into the disappearance of the MI6 resident in Jamaica and his secretary, who were seen getting murdered at the beginning of the film. Upon his arrival on the island, Bond is followed by several agents of the titular Dr. No and Felix Leiter, a CIA agent working with the missing MI6 agent to investigate mysterious radio interference with NASA rockets. Through various clues, Bond realizes one of the last men to see his missing colleague in the employ of Dr. No and hid the fact that samples the MI6 agent asked for analysis were radioactive. Bond slips onto the Dr. No’s private island and finding Honey Ryder collecting seashells. Captured by the island’s security, Bond and No verbally square off before the Doctor has enough and has Bond put in a cell. Escaping the cell, Bond infiltrates No’s control center that contained a nuclear reactor that he overloads then throws No into the reactor pool. Finding Ryder, Bond escapes the island and is found by Leiter onboard a Royal Navy ship.

The film’s plot is serviceable though nothing spectacular. Yet, what makes the film click and smooth over the rough edges of the plot is Connery. Although today it’s cliché that Connery and Bond are synonymous, but honestly if any other actor were to have been on screen or delivered lines than it just feels that the faults of the plot would have become more glaring. The action sequences and some very good shots, especially in the relation to No’s ‘Three Blind Mice’ assassins in background shots following Bond in several scenes helped give the film some added tension. As I stated several motifs associated with the Bond franchise first appeared, namely the gun barrel opening, the stylized main title sequence, and the Bond’s signature introduction; but luckily the gadget motif that became fantastically elaborate as the franchise progressed was nowhere to be seen.

Honestly, I had a hard time on how to rate this Dr. No. It isn’t perfect and has some plot holes, most importantly how does a nuclear reactor play into radio jamming of rockets, so it would not be a 5-star film but because of its success it spawned a franchise that has spanned 24 films over 55 years it had to be better than 2 ½. And unlike Gojira, there was no nuance that could make up for the film’s faults. So I feel that 3 ½ is a good rating for the first Bond film given it’s imperfects and its influential significance.

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Op-Center (Op-Center #1)

OpCenter1Op-Center by Jeff Rovin
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

A terrorist attack in Seoul raises tensions on Korean peninsula with war looking likely, but a new federal crisis management team is task to figure out who and why before things escalate too far. Op-Center through bearing the name of Tom Clancy, who along with Steve Pieczenik created the story, was ghostwritten by Jeff Rovin about a government agency tasked with handling both domestic and international crisis.

Renegade South Korean soldiers attack an official celebration of the founding of the country implicating the North Koreans. Op-Center director Paul Hood suddenly finds himself appointed head of Task Force by a President looking for a big foreign affairs accomplishment; however evidence and a cyberattack complicate Hood giving the President a clear go ahead to launch a war. On the peninsula, a former Ambassador to the country and his friend in the KCIA take their own individual routes to lessen the growing tensions between the two sides. But the renegade squad is racing towards their next attacks—the North Korean barracks at the DMZ and Tokyo—and the only thing that can stop them is Op-Center’s paramilitary response team, Striker with Hood’s deputy General Mike Rodger along for the action.

Set roughly around the time of book’s publication a little over 20 years ago, the plot reads almost like alternate history today but still holds up fairly well. While the primary plot is very good, the subplots connected with different characters were more of a problem. Hood is torn between crisis in Korea and with this son’s health that makes him look sympathetic while his wife appears too needy given that she knew something like this could happen, Rodgers appears to be in a mid-life crisis wanting to get back to his glory days instead of being at his post, and many of the female Op-Center personal are painted broadly with a brush in various stereotypes that back when I first read the book as a teenager didn’t pop out at me but certainly did now.

While the characterization of many of the principal characters is bland, the plot and the action are very well written making this a quick and fun read for the most part. While at the time Rovin wasn’t given his due as the book’s author, he did a good job in setting up a series that would eventually reach 12. While Op-Center is not the greatest book within the action and thriller genres but those that like those genres will find it a good read.

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Jurassic Park

Jurassic ParkJurassic Park by Michael Crichton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve had Jurassic Park on my shelf ever since the film adaptation appeared in theaters, sadly it took me this long to actually attempt to read it after my first attempt twenty years ago when I was still in elementary school.  After finishing Michael Crichton’s novel of a theme park with living dinosaurs gone wrong, I have to say I waited too long before read it.  The story, the characters (with development), and the thought-provoking scientific/philosophical dialogue are top notch combination that sinks the hook into the reader with each page they turn.

Since I’ve rated the book only 4 stars, there are obvious flaws that I felt detracted from the enjoyment of the overall piece.  While the majority of the characters were well rounded, a few characters that for sections of the book were prominent felt flat especially Hammond.  The lack of explanation of how the larger dinosaurs were getting off the island at the end as opposed to the boat being used by the smaller species and juveniles after how everything else was figured out left the ending a tad less wrapped up  However, even though the scientific knowledge was 20-25 years it didn’t turn out to be a hindrance to the enjoyment of the book.

After reading Jurassic Park, I am very much considering getting my hands on another Michael Crichton book.

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The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's NestThe Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The finale of the Millennium trilogy is a satisfying conclusion to the story of Lisbeth Salander began in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Taking up where The Girl Who Played with Fire left off, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest follows first Lisbeth’s struggle for first life and then her freedom with the assistance of Mikael Blomkvist and host of others.  The introduction of “the Section” from within the Swedish Security Service in the role as the antagonist helps move the majority of the story arcs along in an unexpected twist than what one assumes is going to happen.

The development of each established and newly introduced character throughout the book is not only well done, but welcome after devoting so much time invested in them.  The most important development is that of Lisbeth herself who transforms from someone uncompromising to someone who realizes her position as a full citizen after seeing all her demons expunged from her life, but only after a thrilling epilogue that wraps all the loose ends.

I can not express enough how much I love this book, but I read the last half of the book in just two days and as the title of my review states it hurt to put this book down when I had to.

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The Girl Who Played With Fire (Millennium #2)

The Girl Who Played With Fire (Millennium #2)The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In Stieg Larsson’s THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE, the second installment in his Millennium Trilogy, it opens with protagonists Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander world’s apart, literally.  But just like THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, both Blomkvist and Salander are drawn together in a riveting mystery in which one is aiming to avenge the injustice of her life and the other looking to save her even if she doesn’t him to.  The addition of old and new characters to help define give depth to not only the mystery but the dimensions of the fascinating dark version of Sweden that Larsson conceived.

For the first quarter to a third of the book, the stage is set for the event that launches the action for the rest of the book.  Though at times it is slow, Larsson’s execution after the “event” shows the genius of that stage setting.  For significant portion of the middle of the book Salander is not heard from making the reader wonder what her true roll in the “event” was.  In the meantime, the reader follows the police, Blomkvist, and others as they react to the “event” until Salander shows up once again and things really start to get interesting as not only do we find out what happened to her during the “event” but also the explanation of her life before THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.

Although I was a tad annoyed with all the build up at the beginning of the book, Larsson’s seemingly non-stop pace throughout the rest of the book more than makes up for it.  THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE is a amazing middle installment to this trilogy, building not only what came before but also setting the stage for what promises to be a fantastic finale.

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