My 10 favourite Tony Scott films

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Film director Tony Scott died in 2012, but today would have been his 73rd birthday. So to celebrate here’s a rundown of his 10 best movies.

10. Top Gun (1986) – ridiculous, overblown and macho. But so much fun too.

9. Spy Game (2001) – a CIA thriller with Robert Redford, Brad Pitt, four different time zones and lots of flashy camerawork.

8. The Fan (1996) – Robert De Niro goes entertainingly nuts as a baseball fan who stalks his favourite player.

7. Deja Vu (2006) – the sci-fi gimmick is ingenious and inventive, but the film never loses sight of the plot and the central character (played by Denzel Washington in one of his five Tony Scott films).

6. Crimson Tide (1995) – a tense submarine thriller with Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman butting heads in a battle of the heavyweights. (Quentin Tarantino did a pass on the script and added some pop-culture references.)

5. The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009) – a hip, flashy remake of the 70s train-based caper. It also has another great Denzel Washington performance, this time squaring off against John Travolta.

4. Unstoppable (2010) – essentially just a single 90-minute action scene, this movie has absolutely no fat on it at all. A simplistic yet thrilling film. It’s pure cinema: storytelling through action and visuals.

3. True Romance (1993) – an early Quentin Tarantino script given a Hollywood sheen by Tony Scott. Vivid characters, cracking dialogue and visual flair.

2. The Last Boy Scout (1991) – a stylish, witty neo-noir written with bags of attitude by Shane ‘Lethal Weapon’ Black.

1. Enemy of the State (1998) – a fantastic techno-thriller about surveillance, with Will Smith as the Cary-Grant-in-North-By-Northwest-type innocent caught in the crossfire.

James Bond in the UK

Spoiler warning: minor plot points may be revealed.

James Bond is a secret agent for MI6, an organisation that has a mandate for overseas espionage. Therefore the bulk of the Bond film series is set in other countries. (In reality, 007 would be legally barred from operating domestically.) However, it does still have sequences that take place in Britain. Obviously, there are briefing scenes at MI6’s HQ in London. We see Bond’s home life now and again. And some movies go a lot further…

So let’s rank all the films in order of how much of them are set in the UK. (Timings taken from the region-2 DVD releases.)

24. You Only Live Twice (1967) – 0.00%
UK: N/A. Total running time: 112 minutes 3 seconds.
This is the only movie in the entire series with no scenes whatsoever set in the United Kingdom. Bond is always in the Far East while M, Moneypenny and Q fly out there to brief him.

23. Licence to Kill (1989) – 0.57%
UK: 44 seconds. Total running time: 127 minutes 41 seconds.

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The only UK-set scene is a very swift moment in Moneypenny’s office. M tells her about some typos in a letter, then reassures her that the on-the-run Bond will be okay. She then makes a call to Q branch. James spends the entire movie in the US and Central America.

22. Moonraker (1979) – 2.38%
UK: 2 minutes 53 seconds. Total running time: 121 minutes 11 seconds.

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Just a few quick scenes in M and Moneypenny’s Whitehall offices, including the typical Bond-is-briefed-by-M stuff (which also features the Minister of Defence).

21. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) – 3.10%
UK: 3 minutes 44 seconds. Total running time: 120 minutes 26 seconds.

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Because the plot involves submarines, Bond gets given his mission by the Minister of Defence at a Royal Navy base in Scotland. We briefly see M’s office In London as well, though James isn’t present.

20. Live and Let Die (1973) – 3.78%
UK: 4 minutes 24 seconds. Total running time: 116 minutes 34 seconds.

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M visits Bond’s London flat at 5.48am to brief him on a mission; Moneypenny comes along too. It’s the only scene in the film that doesn’t take place west of the Atlantic.

19. Diamonds Are Forever (1971) – 3.87%
UK: 4 minutes 27 seconds. Total running time: 115 minutes 7 seconds.

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Bond’s briefing takes place in the office of a diamonds expert, so again the film never visits M’s office. There’s then a scene at Dover hovercraft port – where even Moneypenny gets to play dress-up – and later a quick cutaway to Q’s lab.

18. The Man With the Golden Gun (1974) – 4.56%
UK: 5 minutes 28 seconds. Total running time: 119 minutes 57 seconds.

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Bond gets briefed by M in Whitehall and flirts with Moneypenny. After a quick mission in Egypt, he pops back to London to talk to Q. If haven’t noticed, this list has now had all five movies from the 1970s in a row. They consistently have between two and five per cent of their running time set in Britain.

17. A View to a Kill (1985) – 4.95%
UK: 6 minutes 12 seconds. Total running time: 125 minutes 9 seconds.

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A large portion of the UK scenes is a sequence at a horse track: Bond, M, Q and Moneypenny get dolled up for a day at the races. There’s also a scene in M’s office.

16. Casino Royale (2006) – 5.30%
UK: 7 minutes 20 seconds. Total running time: 138 minutes 30 seconds.

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M catches Bond breaking into her Canary Wharf apartment. We’d earlier seen her ranting about politicians in a parliamentary committee hall, and later there are several cutaways to M (including a scene of her in bed) and the MI6 medical team.

15. Octopussy (1983) – 6.16%
UK: 7 minutes 43 seconds. Total running time: 125 minutes 22 seconds.

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After the by-now-familiar sequence in Moneypenny and M’s offices, there’s a big scene set at Sotherby’s. There’s even location filming outside the real auction house on New Bond Street in London.

14. Quantum of Solace (2008) – 6.25%
UK: 6 minutes 22 seconds. Total running time: 101 minutes 53 seconds.

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There are scenes in a rainy London as Bond and M search the flat of an MI6 traitor then head back to their super-shiny new headquarters. After James has gone abroad on his mission, we get a few cutaways to M and Tanner back in London (including a scene shot at the Barbican and one set in M’s bathroom). Incidentally, this is shortest ever Bond film.

13. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) – 7.37%
UK: 10 minutes 3 seconds. Total running time: 136 minutes 21 seconds.

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James shows up in Whitehall to flirt with Moneypenny (even grabbing her arse) and talk to M. After an argument, Bond heads to his office (the first time we ever see it) to have a snifter. Then, after some spying, 007 returns to London and visits M at his country pile. They discuss the case (and lepidoptery), then Bond goes to talk to Sir Hillary Bray at the Royal College of Arms in London. Much later there’s more stuff at MI6.

12. GoldenEye (1995) – 7.63%
UK: 9 minutes 31 seconds. Total running time: 124 minutes 40 seconds.

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All the UK-based scenes at set within the MI6 building. Bond wafts into Moneypenny’s office for some classy flirting, then spends a lot of time in an ops room with M and chief of staff Tanner. A little later, James and M have their famous ‘sexist, misogynist dinosaur’ talk. Bond then heads down to Q’s lab to learn about the latest gizmos.

11. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) – 7.86%
UK: 8 minutes 59 seconds. Total running time: 114 minutes 19 seconds.

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Bond’s pre-titles mission in central Asia is intercut with M and others monitoring the mission from London. A little while later Bond is with a fancy woman in Cambridge, then gets recalled to the capital, where he’s briefed by M and Moneypenny while they bomb round the streets in a fast car. During the film’s climax, we cut back to M at MI6 a few times.

10. Dr No (1962) – 9.90%
UK: 10 minutes 25 seconds. Total running time: 105 minutes 13 seconds.

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The UK-based section of the first Bond film is a continuous chunk near the start of the movie: people in an ops room realise something’s wrong in Jamaica, then we cut to James Bond flirting with a woman in an upmarket casino. He’s recalled to HQ, chats with Moneypenny, has a meeting with M, is given a new gun by the armourer, then returns to his flat – where his new girlfriend is waiting.

9. The Living Daylights (1987) – 10.27%
UK: 12 minutes 53 seconds. Total running time: 125 minutes 25 seconds.

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When James pops into Q’s lab for some information, we’re shown that it’s housed in a building just off Trafalgar Square. Later there’s a lengthy sequence at a country estate run by MI6 as a safe house. After things go belly-up there, Bond and M discuss what to do in the latter’s office; then Bond visits Q again to collect some gizmos and a car.

8. From Russia With Love (1963) – 10.31%
UK: 11 minutes 22 seconds. Total running time: 110 minutes 16 seconds.

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Bond has a riverside date with his girlfriend Sylvia (the woman he picked up in Dr No), then heads to Whitehall for the briefing with M. He also meets Q for the first time. Later in the film, there’s a comedy cut to M’s office as he, Moneypenny and others listen to a recording Bond has sent them.

7. For Your Eyes Only (1981) – 10.85%
UK: 13 minutes 18 seconds. Total running time: 122 minutes 36 seconds.

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This movie is topped and tailed by UK-based sequences. The entire pre-titles sequence is uniquely set in Britain. Bond lays some flowers at his wife’s grave, then flies over east London in a helicopter. And the film ends with some very silly cutaways to Margaret and Denis Thatcher (played by actors, obvs) in their kitchen at 10 Downing Street. In between those, there are scenes in the Whitehall offices of the Minister of Defence, Moneypenny, M and Q – although M himself is absent because actor Bernard Lee has recently died.

6. Die Another Day (2002) – 15.36%
UK: 19 minutes 31 seconds. Total running time: 127 minutes 2 seconds.

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Villain Sir Gustav Graves meets some journalists outside Buckingham Palace – he arrives via parachute – then Bond seeks him out at a gentleman’s club called Blades, where they have a scrap. James then goes to see M and Q in the latter’s secret laboratory. It’s housed in a disused Tube station, Vauxhall Cross, which is accessible by a real-life door near the London Eye. This sequence features a scene seemingly set in MI6 headquarters, but which is actually a virtual-reality simulation. There’s then a scene that actually takes place in the HQ as M briefs a double agent. Near the end, Moneypenny gets to use the VR headset.

5. Goldfinger (1964) – 15.43%
UK: 16 minutes 16 seconds. Total running time: 105 minutes 27 seconds.

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After encountering bad guy Auric Goldfinger in Miami, Bond is recalled to London for a debrief in M’s office. He also does some flirting with Moneypenny, then Bond and M go to dinner with a representative of the Bank of England. Next, James pops over to Q’s lab and is given his new Aston Martin; then he heads to a golf club to cosy up to Goldfinger.

4. The World is Not Enough (1999) – 18.12%
UK: 22 minutes 18 seconds. Total running time: 123 minutes 4 seconds.

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Before the titles sequence, there’s a massive action sequence on the River Thames, which starts at MI6 headquarters in Vauxhall and climaxes several miles downstream at the then-new Millennium Dome on Greenwich Peninsular. James, M, Moneypenny, Q and the rest of MI6 then decamp to a castle in Scotland for some lengthy mission planning.

3. Thunderball (1965) – 18.34%
UK: 22 minutes 55 seconds. Total running time: 124 minutes 57 seconds.

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Bond goes undercover at a health farm in the English countryside, the bad guys hang out at a nearby pub/hotel, and a nearby Air Force base is vital to the plot. Bond later takes part in a big briefing scene in a grand Whitehall space, while we also see both M and Moneypenny’s offices. After 007 has gone abroad, we cut back to M in London a few times.

2. Spectre (2015) – 27.95%
UK: 39 minutes 42 seconds. Total running time: 142 minutes 4 seconds.

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There’s masses of stuff set in London – often while Bond is overseas. M, Moneypenny, Q and Tanner sometimes feel like they’re in a spin-off movie all of their own. We see M’s office, Moneypenny’s office, Q’s underground lab, a Whitehall corridor, a restaurant, and the riverside headquarters of the new Joint Intelligence Service. We also visit Bond’s sparsely decorated flat, while he and Tanner speed down the Thames on a boat. During a mission in Rome, 007 phones Moneypenny who’s at home with a guy in her bed. The last act takes place in central London: the team meet up at a safe house near Trafalgar Square, there’s action in both the JIS building and the abandoned MI6 headquarters, then the final stunt is on Westminster Bridge. By the way, this is the longest Bond film so far – it’s around 40 per cent longer than Quantum of Solace, just two movies ago.

1. Skyfall (2012) – 57.14%
UK: 78 minutes 27 seconds. Total running time: 137 minutes 18 seconds.

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This is the only Bond movie with more than half of its running time set in the UK. While Bond chases a bad guy in Istanbul, M is following events from the MI6 building in London. She then has a meeting in Whitehall – on her way back to HQ, she sees it attacked. Later, she finds Bond waiting for her in her town house. He’s then taken to MI6’s temporary (and underground) London base for assessment and training. He meets the new Q in the National Gallery, then goes abroad for some spying. When he returns we start a near-hour-long chunk entirely set in the UK. While M gives evidence to a parliamentary committee, the bad guy escapes. Cue a long chase sequence on the London Underground (hello, Temple station!). After M’s life is threatened, Bond drives her north – all the way to the Scottish Highlands, where the last half-hour of the movie takes place.

For completeness, the unofficial Bond films:
Casino Royale (1967) – 47.70%
UK: 59 minutes 57. Total running time: 125 minutes 41.
Never Say Never Again (1983) – 21.98%
UK: 28 minutes 12. Total running time: 128 minutes 19.

 

My 15 favourite hour-long episodes of Agatha Christie’s Poirot

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Yeah, I know they’re technically about 50 minutes when you lose the adverts. But having once listed my favourite feature-length episodes of ITV’s Poirot series, I thought I’d mop up the best of the rest.

* Murder in the Mews (15 January 1989) – this early episode has a neat twist and also demonstrates how the show embellished some often thin short stories when adapting them for TV.

* The Third Floor Flat (5 February 1989) – Josie Lawrence pops up in an episode set mainly in Poirot’s block of flats.

* Problem At Sea (19 February 1989) – one of the earliest Poirot-on-holiday stories, and the first episode where I worked out who did it (I was nine years old and very smug).

* The King of Clubs (12 March 1989) – especially in its early series, the show often used its 1930s setting to provide colour and flavour. This episode, for example, centres on the British film industry.

* The Dream (19 March 1989) – Agatha Christie’s plotting sometimes relies on you not being able to *see* the events and that obviously presents a problem for television. This episode has an ingenious solution.

* The Veiled Lady (14 January 1990) – in this light, frothy episode, Poirot dresses up as a workman so he can burgle a house.

* The Lost Mine (21 January 1990) – a slight mystery, but a stylish episode that uses London’s Chinatown as a backdrop.

* The Disappearance of Mr Davenheim (4 February 1990) – there’s a sticks-out-like-a-sore-thumb twist, but also lots of comedy. Poirot learns some magic tricks, has to look after a parrot, and sends Hastings out to investigate on his behalf. The episode was written by David Renwick (One Foot in the Grave, Jonathan Creek, Love Soup).

* How Does Your Garden Grow? (6 January 1991) – a nice, well-written mystery with some lovely subplots and a comedic conclusion.

* Wasps’ Nest (27 January 1991) – Peter Capaldi guest stars in a dark yet bucolic mystery story.

* The Mystery of the Spanish Chest (17 February 1991) – a nasty whodunit with stylish flashbacks.

* The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge (10 March 1991) – the script contains a superb sleight of hand, which plays tricks with the drama convention that characters always tell the truth about certain things.

* The Chocolate Box (21 February 1993) – a flashback episode to when Poirot was a copper in pre-war Belgium. Oddly, everyone has an English accent… except Poirot.

* Dead Man’s Mirror (28 February 1993) – a cracking mystery set in a country house with a limited cast of suspects (ie, the definitive Agatha setting).

* Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan (7 March 1993) – Poirot and Hastings visit the seaside in the last ever ‘hour-long’ episode. A valuable necklace is stolen and I claim my five guineas.

Three years of reviews…

To mark the third anniversary of this blogging malarkey, here is a quick countdown of the 10 reviews that have been most viewed on this website.

10. Carry On Again Doctor (1969)

9. Fawlty Towers: The Psychiatrist (1979)

8. Catwoman (2004)

7. Blackadder Goes Forth (1989)

6. Carry On Nurse (1959)

5. Batman: The Movie (1966)

4. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

3. Carry On Emmannuelle (1978)

2. Voulez-Vous (1979)

1. King Kong (1933)

My top 10 Quentin Tarantino films

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Today is the 54th birthday of my favourite film director, Quentin Tarantino. So to celebrate, here’s my rundown of the 10 best movies he’s directed and/or written. Click the links for full reviews…

10. Kill Bill Vol 1 (2003) – 100 minutes of escapism.

9. The Hateful Eight (2015) – a character-driven chamber piece.

8. Django Unchained (2012) – it might not have greatness, but it does have bags of distinction.

7. Death Proof (2007) – certainly Quentin’s least successful movie and probably his least loved – but that gives it an underdog quality.

6. True Romance (1993) – a pleasing meshing of director Tony Scott and writer Tarantino’s styles.

5. From Dusk Till Dawn (1995) – terrific dialogue, great group dynamics, reversals of expectation, power games, grudging respect and edgy humour.

4. Inglourious Basterds (2009) – very impressive and headlined by a tremendous cast with some electrifying dialogue.

3. Reservoir Dogs (1992) – filmed 25 years ago, but is still stunning. Still captivating. Still fresh as fuck.

2. Jackie Brown (1997) – as it gets older, and you get older with it, it becomes more and more effective.

1.  Pulp Fiction (1994) – a sprawling film-noir masterpiece, populated by fascinating and entertaining characters, with more going on in 147 minutes than in most film directors’ entire careers.

My top 10 Spielberg movies

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Today is the 70th birthday of one of my favourite film directors, Steven Spielberg. His movies have been in my life for as long as I can remember – ET was the first film I ever saw at the cinema – so to celebrate here’s my rundown of his 10 best. Click the links for full reviews…

10. Catch Me If You Can (2002) – a vibrant, dynamic, fun and likeable caper movie.

9. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) – a terrifically enjoyable adventure movie.

8. Schindler’s List (1993) – a tough watch, but a necessary one.

7. The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011) – a glorious, glorious triumph.

6. Jurassic Park (1993) – a sensationally entertaining blockbuster of a B-movie.

5. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) – probably Spielberg’s strangest film; certainly his most underrated.

4. Jaws (1975) – there’s plenty of humanity, as well as terror and excitement; a masterpiece.

3. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) – a riot from start to finish.

2. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) – an astonishing achievement, a timeless gem.

1. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) – it’s difficult to think of a more thrilling, more captivating, more downright enjoyable adventure ride of a film.

 

My 20 favourite TV title sequences – part four

Note: I’ve restricted myself to dramas and comedies.

Part one here. Part two here. Part three here.

5 Magnum PI (1980-1988)

4 Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)

3 Black Sails (2014 onwards)

2 The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996)

1 Agatha Christie’s Poirot (1989-2013)