Wednesday, January 30, 2013

"Beneath the Pier" at Lovecraft e-Zine

"Beneath the Pier," one of my most recent little tales of fear, horror, dread, and woe, is now live at Lovecraft e-Zine (issue #21). The online edition is free. You can get the entire issue for your Kindle or Nook for $2.99, or the podcast edition for 99¢. Here's a little teaser from "Beneath the Pier":

Mercer was only fifty, but they called him "Old Grand-dad," like the whiskey, because he had made the trip to Lufford Bay every year since the others were adolescents and his weathered features and thin, sandy hair made him look wise—or perhaps more apt, battered but unbeaten. He liked these young people; six of them this year: the sons and daughters of his companions from trips long past, when the highway between Georgetown and Charleston was little more than a rutted, two-lane passage through the pine forests, cotton fields, and marshes. The highway was bigger and better paved now, but once you left it for the narrow, sandy roads that snaked toward the bay, you went back a hundred years, or thousands, into a lonely, primeval landscape that once had been the domain only of pioneers, pirates, and the Swamp Fox.

Once each year they came, early in the autumn, while the ocean was warm even as a chill began to overtake the nights. There was too much marsh and mud here for hotels and tourists, so Lufford remained mostly unspoiled by humans. Nature, however, had smashed it time and again with wind and water, leaving behind vast networks of black, reed-ridden pools and scattered clusters of only the sturdiest oaks, their branches choked and dripping with Spanish moss, their trunks gnarled, bent, and knotted. The beach cabin looked as if the slightest breeze might topple it, yet it had withstood five decades of storms and might stand for just as many more. Its dark bulk squatted atop a balustrade of bowed stilts, its sharply angled roof crooked but sturdy, its seams still sealed against the elements. Mercer didn’t remember what color it might have been, all the paint long since stripped, the splintered wooden siding now as gray as ancient cobweb. His father had built the house to endure.
The two four-wheel drive vehicles rattled and shuddered as they pulled up next to the cabin, their bodies and tires coated with fine gray sand. Mercer drove the lead truck; he always drove. Without a word to his companions, he shoved the door open and dropped into a bed of sand that swallowed his feet to his ankles. The others disembarked slowly, sighing and groaning after the long drive from Chapel Hill. The late afternoon sun was hot, almost stifling, but within the hour, the ocean breeze would turn cool, and come nightfall, a roaring fire would feel like heaven.

"I thirst," Ted Wakefield rumbled, stretching his arms out, Christ-like. "Rum, I think."

Check out the issue — if there's not too much seriously wrong with you (or maybe if there is), you'll love the hell out of it. Also on board are authors Joe Pulver, Gerry Huntman, Tom Lynch, and Wilum H. Pugmire; artists Nick Gucker, Mike Dominic, Stephen Lukac, Robert Elrod, Leslie Herzfeld, and Adam Baker; and audio readers Vincent LaRosa, Chaz Engan, David Binks, Lew Columbus, and Morgan Scorpion. Lovecraft e-Zine is edited by Mike Davis.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Earth, Wind, Fire, & Water

Everybody's got a laughing place. For some, it's a
crematorium oven in an old WWII POW compound.

Earth, Wind, Fire, & Water (GCJJTP). Headed out the door bright and early this morning, bound for Butner, just northeast of Durham, to meet up with a group of 20-some cachers determined to tackle this modest little hide. It's a four-stager, with each stage progressively more challenging — physically and otherwise — than the last. Among the suggested accouterments to bring along is a Native American numerologist, and, as the lot of us soon found out, for good reason. We gathered near stage 1 at 10:00 AM, and soon we were hiking out to ground zero, which turned out to be a crumbling ammo bunker circa World War II. We found and decrypted the hide quickly enough; returning it to its hiding place — an interesting balancing act — was no doubt my main material contribution to the group for the day. Alas, I did manage to carelessly place myself directly beneath a massive deluge of rusty debris as I maneuvered certain objects and ended up a very dirty Damned Rodan. From there, we had to negotiate some fairly treacherous terrain to reach the next stage, which certain of our party made short work of. At this point, though, the team became quite fragmented, and getting us all back together was kind of like trying to herd cats. At last, though, we found ourselves more or less regrouped, and thus resumed our forward progress. At the parking area for stage 3, Mr. Steve "Nthacker66" Thacker procured us a tasty bit of venison for lunch, and after we finished urping, we made the short hike to a challenging and fairly spectacular ground zero. Happily, we had brought along a few agile cachemonkeys to undertake the acrobatics — the highlight of which was an airborne squirrel passing directly over the heads of our unsuspecting, precariously perched daredevils. Finally, we're down to the final endeavor. This one had us scratching our heads for a bit, but at last, the hide revealed itself. An intrepid few of our number — military guys, much to our benefit — geared up for the job, which proved anything but quick and easy. There were a couple of fairly hairy moments here, but at the end of it, we all managed to scribble our signatures in the logbook. The cache owner and a previous finder or two came along to witness the proceedings, and I'm pretty sure they got themselves a few chuckles along the way. A great cache indeed, and a mighty fine crowd of cachers to do it with. Could hardly have asked for a better day. Many thanks to the CO and all who came out for the venture.

Hmm, did I say modest little hide up there? I meant monster hide. Yeah, that was it.
Don't do it, Ms. Nocona, don't jump! It's not THAT bad!!!
Wonder where this stage might be hidden?
Oh... yeah, there.
I say, are there trolls in this neighborhood?
Why, yes there are. The victorious caching party on the old bridge.

Friday, January 18, 2013

A New Angel

Martha and Mum at Christmas, 2008

Growing up in Martinsville, VA, I had not one mom but two. More or less, anyway. My mom's best friend, Martha Wickliffe, was a constant in our family, always there to keep my brother and I straight when Mum and Dad weren't able, and, in later years, as a dear friend and confidant who always knew just the right thing to say or do whenever life offered up one of its inevitable challenges. Back in 2000 and 2001, When my dad was going through his final trials, Martha and her husband, Dick, were my family's lifeline; I really don't know how any of us, especially my mom, would have sanely made it through that period if Martha and Dick hadn't been there to provide physical, emotional, and spiritual support.

Martha has been going through her own terrible trials these past couple of years, and she finally succumbed on this past Tuesday, January 15, 2013. The funeral was today in Martinsville.

Martha and Dick had three young' uns — Gretchen, who is my age; Todd, a couple of years younger; and Scott, five years younger and the same age as my brother. We spent a lot of our youthful years together, making mischief, sometimes getting in trouble (it was all Scott's fault, of course — except for those times it wasn't), playing army, creating mad scientist creations, climbing way too high up any tree we could find, wracking ourselves up playing tackle football sans any form of protection... all that good stuff that kids do. We often tried to keep our parents from discovering the crap we were up to, but they had ways of figuring it out... especially Martha. She always seemed tuned in to our secrets, and if it became necessary to foil us for our own safety, she would do it happily — but in such a way that it was "cool." When the general perception among the adults was that I was misbehaving (clearly this was wrong because I never did any such thing), she wouldn't tell Mum but have a little heart-to-heart with me, which usually made me feel a wee bit ashamed of myself — but not at the expense of my personal dignity. Now, I don't know whether Gretchen, Todd, and Scott got this kind of treatment (I suspect she just whooped them), but I think it's safe to say that her brand of discipline perfectly complemented my folks', who could straighten me out all right, but never so pleasantly as Martha.

As an adult, I maintained a close friendship with Martha, and for so many years, she was there to share her unique brand of wisdom with me, particularly when we were going through my dad's crisis and when my marriage began to crumble. I credit Martha with helping me understand Peg in a way I never could have on my own, which I think truly helped us work through the divorce as amiably as we did.

Martha Wickliffe was a guiding angel in my life, and I know I'll miss her with all my heart. But her influence on me was profound, and that is something that will remain with me till my time comes. In my just over a half-century of existence, I've been privileged to know many shining examples of life and how to live it, and Martha was among the brightest. Rest in peace, my dear friend.
Martha snugger than a bug in a rug.
Christmas 2008: Happy times. Back: Martha and Dick Wickliffe, Mum, Peggy Rainey, old dude.
Front: Mary Clifton, brother Phred

Thursday, January 17, 2013

It Was a Dark, Snowy, Sleety, Rainy, Windy, Thundery Night

After several days of temperatures that insinuated summer might be in the offing, we get our first winter storm, and it was kind of a doozy. Don't think I've ever experienced snow, sleet, rain, wind, lightning, and thunder simultaneously until tonight. And for some time, I kept hearing the distinctive, repetitive sound of footsteps on my roof. It unnerved the cats, and they all skulked off to hide. I took my camera and went outside for a bit, but couldn't spot any supernatural entities lurking about. Lots of snowflakes with delusions of grandeur, though — some as big as the Cockroach What Ate Cincinnati.

Now, back into the warmth, which I am very thankful to have. I hope whatever's walking around on my roof doesn't poke holes in it.

And a late addendum. I had no sooner typed the above when the power went out. Fortunately, the house didn't get too cold, and the electricity was restored sometime around 1:00 AM. Things are returning to normal.... as they said in Invasion of the Body Snatchers....

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

THE MONARCHS — Get the e-Book Now!

Yes sir, the e-book edition of The Monarchs is available now — in Mobi (Kindle), ePub (Sony/Nook/iPad/Kobo), PDF (Adobe), and PRC (Mobipocket) formats. You can pick it up directly from Crossroad Press for $4.99 (try buying a glass of wine for that!) here: Crossroad Press: The Monarchs. Or you can get it (for the same price) for the Nook directly from Barnes & Noble (Barnes & Noble: The Monarchs) or for Kindle directly from ( The Monarchs). The Monarchs is scheduled to be featured in Barnes & Noble's "Nook First" program on February 7.

The trade paperback and hardcover editions will be available in February as well.

You can view a portion of the novel on both the Barnes & Noble and Amazon sites. Or you can read a sample chapter at my website, here: The Realm of Stephen Mark Rainey: The Monarchs.

Give it a look, that you may shake, rattle, and moan to your heart's utter delight.

That is all.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Another Mini-Milestone

Lord have mercy, a terrible coffee accident!

I'm pretty sure today was the first time I've ever considered turning on the air conditioning in my house in January, since the temperature upstairs was pushing 80 degrees this afternoon. Outside, it was in the mid 70s, which is kind of obscene for this time of year, but at least it made for some good geocaching weather. Yesterday, I was up and out before the crack of dawn, bound for Martinsville and Eden, where several new caches had been published. The ones in Martinsville — four entertaining "mystery" caches, which required solving puzzles in advance to obtain the coordinates for the hide — put me on the Dick & Willie Rail Trail, formerly the Danville & Western rail line; the hikes weren't terribly long, but most enjoyable in the early morning mist. From there, it was off to Freedom Park in Eden to snag a couple of more new hides.

Last night, Ms. Kimberly and I caught The Hobbit in 3D and iMax, which was visually impressive and generally entertaining, if not quite spot-on in the direction department. Following, we hit Singha II in High Point for some decent Thai food, then The Vino Shoppe, just down the road from there, for a wee spot of wine. A few episodes of Twin Peaks, which we've been watching from the beginning, wrapped up the evening.

Today, it was out on the caching trail again with Debbie "Cupdaisy" Shoffner — mostly park-n-grab caches in Rockingham County. We busted the cache owner, Mr DanRiverRunner (a.k.a. CountryBicycleRider), planting a few caches, and thus located one of his new hides before it was published. It came out tonight, actually, and is appropriately named "Busted." We got first-to-find, and it turned out to be my "mini-milestone" 5,500th cache find. All kinds of fun, wot? The day was spoiled only by Cupdaisy very rudely hitting the accelerator while I was taking a big old slug of coffee, sending a fair quantity of it out of the cup, as evidenced in the photo above. I'm a forgiving soul, of course, so I'll only hold it against her for the rest of my natural life and half of the next.

That is all.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

First to Find

King of the hill. Er... rock.

First to find new geocaches, that is. Last night, late, I got notification of a new cache not far down the road, so after Kimberly and I wound up a most enjoyable evening — dinner at The Claddagh in High Point and then some episodes of Twin Peaks — I decided to head out after it. Just a park-and-grab hide, but no one else had logged it, so it was a fun little first-to-find at 1:20 in the AM. I was reminded by some that this is an utterly indecent hour, but hey... it's a cache. It's all about the fun.

Another enjoyable full-day outing today, with Bridget "Suntigres" Langley and her friend Dan, who's trying out caching for the first time. Snagged 29, if my math is correct, including another FTF and a fair number of creative hides, including a match container inside a hole in a telephone pole covered by a magnet-backed metal strip; a stick hanging from a tree (yep); a metal plate concealing a bison tube in the ground; and a bison tube hanging inside some evergreens that required some seriously prickly crawling to reach. Most fun of all, I got to climb stone pylons, boulders, and park signs. We ended it all by meeting Kimberly at Bill's Pizza Pub on Randleman Road for a big old pizza feast.

The weekend was far more enjoyable than the week to come, I fear. Son of beech.

That is all.
Yessir, dude up on sign. Nice view from here!
L: The old Cedar Falls Post Office; R: Bridget holding some wood

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Ranking 007

I rarely give more than half a hoot about "best of so-and-so" lists since they mean exactly jack shit, but now and again — depending on my mood, I suppose — I derive a little enjoyment from them, particularly when the subject matter is near and dear to me aging ticker. This morning, I came upon a best-to-worst list of James Bond movies, and while there were some entries with which I quite agreed, I mostly thought the thing pretty well out of whack. That's the beauty of lists, though; you can jump up and down in delighted agreement, swear the creators ought to be flayed for their audacious stupidity, or just avert your eyes because the whole idea is ridiculous. Said list this morning kind of made me want to compile one of my own. So... what the hell. Since the screen's Bond is 50 years old, Skyfall has surpassed the billion-dollar mark in ticket sales, and I've been on a bit of a Bond kick myself lately, for my first blog of 2013, I'm going to make me a list — not necessarily of my favorite and least favorite EON Productions' Bond films, but what I consider the best and worst of the series, starting at the bottom and working toward the top. Like most, I suppose, the list's middle entries are the most difficult to settle upon; the very best and very worst are easy. Your reaction may be one of the above or something altogether different, and that's just fine because, yes, I am gonna make me this list. And thus, with no further ado...

Damned Rodan's List of Damned Bond Films (Worst to Best): 

#23: Die Another Day
Pierce Brosnan's last outing as 007... easily his worst, and the series' absolute rock-bottom entry. It opens with some promise, despite Madonna's hideous theme song (second only to Jack White and Alicia Keys' song for Quantum of Solace for pure awfulness), but quickly devolves into second-rate science-fiction, loaded to the gills with poor CGI, and featuring the most idiotic of all 007's technological accouterments — an "invisible" Aston Martin.

#22: Moonraker
One of the most glaring examples ever of fabulous special effects going to waste on a stupid movie. And stupid it is — Roger Moore at his most fatuous, a plot recycled from The Spy Who Loved Me recycled from You Only Live Twice (all directed by Lewis Gilbert; a pattern, perhaps?), another cookie-cutter megalomaniacal villain in Hugo Drax (played without much panache by Michael Lonsdale), and the nadir of the series' plunge into sophomoric humor. John Barry's lush musical score, including the title song, sung by Shirley Bassey (her third and final Bond theme), tries hard to bring some gravitas to the proceedings; mais alas.

#21: The Man With the Golden Gun
Roger Moore as the lost Stooge. While Live and Let Die injected more comedy — mostly vapid — into the series than ever before, The Man With the Golden Gun plunges right into slapstick. Roger Moore is only slightly less wooden than in the previous entry, and even a dignified performance by Christopher Lee as the notorious hit man Scaramanga does little to make this almost-not-a-Bond-film palatable. John Barry's score is, as usual, high-grade, though the title song, with its inane lyrics and vocals by Lulu, who sounds like a chipmunk on helium, induces groans and uncomfortable chuckles. Not what you really want in a Bond theme song.

#20: A View to a Kill
Like so many of Roger Moore's outings, this film opens with promise — at least until the chorus of The Beach Boys' "California Girls" interrupts an otherwise reasonably engaging ski chase. Moore again at his witless worst, Christopher Walken and Patrick Macnee pretty much wasted, and Tanya Roberts as one of the least animated Bond girls ever to hit celluloid. Oh, and what's this? Yet more juvenile humor? Big sigh. Duran Duran's title song is high-octane stuff, though Maurice Binder's title sequence is the most gaudy, unappealing ever.

#19: Octopussy
There's actually a lot to like about Octopussy — particularly Louis Jourdan as the suave but treacherous Kamal Khan — but an equal or greater measure to loathe. It's one of Moore's better performances as Bond, but the constant, inappropriate insertion of juvenile humor spoils one potentially exciting scene after another. Maud Adams plays the intriguing character of Octopussy with far more aplomb than she did Scaramanga's girlfriend, Andrea, in The Man With the Golden Gun. A good John Barry score overall, but the title song, "All-Time High," moaned by Rita Coolidge, is one of the series' dullest.

#18: Live and Let Die
I actually enjoy Live and Let Die more than my ranking might indicate, but objectively, I have to place it pretty far down the list for Moore's sincere but awkward attempt at taking on the role for the first time and the film's frequent lapses into ill-timed comedy. Yaphet Kotto as Mr. Big/Dr. Kananga has his moments, though, in its time, the film moving into blaxploitation territory seemed a bit of a shock. The title song by Paul McCartney & Wings proved to be one of the series' most memorable, and the score by "fifth Beetle" George Martin, while a bit dated, stands out as one of the best non-John Barry efforts.

#18: The World Is Not Enough
Neither a terrible nor superlative entry in the series, The World Is Not Enough (the Bond family motto) offers a few decent plot elements, an engaging female villain (Elektra King, played by Sophie Marceau), and Pierce Brosnan comfortable and confident in the Bond role. It also features the rather dull antagonist Reynard (Robert Carlyle), who is unable to feel pain because of a bullet lodged in his brain, and Denise Richards as nuclear physicist Christmas Jones. Say no more. An unremarkable score by David Arnold, though the title song, performed by Garbage, is agreeably, thoroughly Bond-ish.

#16: Tomorrow Never Dies
Probably Pierce Brosnan's best performance as Bond. Media mogul Elliott Carver (Jonathan Pryce) looks to start World War III so his news network can get the big scoop. This improbable scenario at least offers a number of exciting moments, with some daring stunt work. The very appealing Michele Yeoh appears as Chinese agent and Bond ally Wai Lin. David Arnold's score offers a few distinctive moments. The title song by Sheryl Crow is nothing to write home about, though K. D. Lang belts out a much more Bond-like — and far more satisfying — tune ("Surrender") over the end credits.

#15: You Only Live Twice
Most reviewers and fans rate Sean Connery's fifth outing as James Bond much higher, but I can't get past the film's excessive inanities, plot holes, and visual gaffes. While there's a lot to like about Roald Dahl's screenplay, director Lewis Gilbert mucks up detail after detail — not unlike in his later directorial efforts. Donald Pleasance exudes cartoon menace as the quintessential Bond villain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, but his diminutive stature is quite at odds with Fleming's imposing literary character. Connery sleepwalks through the production, clearly tired of the role that for many years defined him as an actor. A pleasant John Barry score and melodic theme song sung by Nancy Sinatra.

#14: Goldeneye
Pierce Brosnan's first outing as Bond is among his better ones. He plays the character with some of the same darkness that Timothy Dalton brought to the role but appears far more comfortable handling the necessary humor. Sean Bean, despite his considerable talent as an actor, seems oddly lifeless as MI6-agent-turned-villain Alec Trevelyan. Izabella Scorupco, as Russian weapons system expert Natalya Simonova, and Famke Janssen, as Russian assassin Xenia Onatopp, both play refreshingly strong female characters. Tina Turner provides the vocals for a striking theme song, though the score by Eric Serra, while oftentimes atmospheric, is too low-key to get very excited about.

#13: The Spy Who Loved Me
A much more straightforward, oftentimes exciting Bond adventure than many from the Moore era, The Spy Who Loved Me still lapses into horrid humor too frequently to be wholly palatable. Roger Moore does turn in one of his better performances, though not without several cringe-inducing moments. Barbara Bach isn't bad as Russian spy Anya Amasova; her acting is competent at best, but the character makes for a stronger than customary female lead for this era of Bond movies. Marvin Hamlisch provides a mostly lackluster, sometimes irritating score, and Carly Simon performs the reasonably agreeable title song, "Nobody Does It Better."

#12: Quantum of Solace
This film, Daniel Craig's second as Bond, takes up where Casino Royale left off, and while Craig hones his skills as 007, the movie never comes near the level of excellence achieved by its predecessor. Its best moments are all Craig's, especially during his more emotionally charged scenes, such as the death of Inspector Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini). Villain Dominic Greene isn't terribly exciting, though Mathieu Amalric plays the part with enough bile to raise a little shudder or two. David Arnold turns in one of his better scores, though the title song by Jack White and Alicia Keys is the most repulsive piece of shit ever to play over the title credits.

#11: The Living Daylights
Timothy Dalton brings some much needed Fleming to the character of James Bond. After Roger Moore's tenure, which ran a bit past its prime, the series certainly needed some reshaping. Dalton did capture the darker essence of Bond but appeared worse than uncomfortable with the moments of levity required of the screen character. The plot is among the series' most dated, in which Afghani mujahideen team up with Bond to foil a plot by mad mercenary Brad Whittaker (Joe Don Baker) and rogue KGB agent Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbe) to profit from illicit arms and drug deals. John Barry's score shines, with electronic augmentation to his traditional orchestrations, and while A-ha's effective title song mimics the style of Duran Duran's A View to a Kill, it never achieved nearly as much commercial success.

#10: Licence to Kill
Dalton's second Bond film is the better of the two, though it often feels more like Die Hard-noir than a typical Bond film. The film's dark, serious tone, featuring the drawn-from-life villain Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi) foreshadows the style of the Daniel Craig entries in the franchise. Timothy Dalton seems far more comfortable as Bond, and Carey Lowell as CIA field agent Pam Bouvier capably handles both levity and substance. Gladys Knight provides vocals for the excellent title song, which echoes strains of Goldfinger, but "lackluster" is too kind a term for Michael Kamen's deadly dull musical score.

#9: For Your Eyes Only
Easily Roger Moore's best performance as Bond and the best film to be made during his tenure. There's actually some Fleming to be found in the screenplay, which, during the Moore era, was a rarity indeed. Mostly eschewing juvenile humor and far-fetched plots, the story harkens back to the style of From Russia With Love and On Her Majesty's Secret Service, though it still falls short of these particular landmark films. Sadly, a well-staged opening finishes with one of the series' single stupidest moments; in fact, it's so bad, getting past it to appreciate the rest of the film is actually an effort. Carole Bouquet as vengeance-driven Melina Havelock has some good moments, though, on the whole, she isn't one of the series most outstanding Bond girls. And another negative in the midst of so much positive: Lynn Holly Johnson as young nymphomaniac Bibi Dahl, a character so pointless that every scene with her could have been excised without impacting the film. Bill Conti offers a mostly unremarkable score, though a few of the tracks provide effective atmosphere. Sheena Easton sings the romantic title song to Maurice Binder's best title sequence since the 1960s Bond films.

#8: Diamonds Are Forever
Sean Connery's final appearance as 007 (until Irvin Kershner's Never Say Never Again in 1983) is actually one of my personal favorites — it was the first Bond film I ever saw — though in good conscience I can't rank it higher here. While the movie draws inspiration from some of the earlier, better Connery films, its lapses into zaniness uncomfortably foreshadow the tone of the Roger Moore Bonds. Charles Gray plays Ernst Stavro Blofeld with more charm and humor than either Pleasance or Savalas — which can be jarring, given Fleming's description of Blofeld as a "scarred, asexual monster" — but his sharp lines and personal charisma make the character memorable. Jill St. John as Tiffany Case may come off as a bit dizzy, yet she possesses enough wit and will to present Bond with a somewhat challenging female lead. Jimmy Dean, as reclusive millionaire Willard Whyte, provides some of the series' best comedic moments, and Connery's one-liners are sharper than ever. Bruce Glover and Putter Smith as gay assassins Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, respectively, each bring an engaging quirkiness to their characters, mostly bouncing amusing one-liners off each other. John Barry composes one of the franchise's best musical scores, including the title song, sung by Shirley Bassey.

#7: Doctor No
The very first Bond film isn't the best of them — it seems at times outright amateurish — but it's reasonably true to the novel and sets up a respectable tone for the films that follow immediately. Connery immediately stands out as the consummate Bond, and while he isn't exactly Fleming's Bond, he absolutely nails most of the qualities that distinguished the literary character. As the title villain, Joseph Wiseman is perfectly cast; again, a departure from his literary counterpart, but every bit as imposing, if not more so.

#6: Skyfall
The most recent Bond film showcases Daniel Craig's talents to an even greater degree than the previous two. Also, the character of M (Judi Dench) gets more than customary screen time and development. Javier Bardem as Raoul Silva, a former MI6 agent seeking revenge for having been abandoned on a deadly mission, in some ways mirrors Sean Bean's Alex Trevelyan in Goldeneye, though he is a much more engaging antagonist. The stunt work may be a little more over the top than in Casino Royale, but it's also better staged than the too-frenetic action of Quantum of Solace. Like many of David Arnold's scores, Thomas Newman's lacks distinctiveness and cohesiveness, but the title song by Adele is appealing.

#5: Thunderball
By 1965, Connery had Bond down to a tee, and the films' formula had become engraved in the film-going public's mind. Thunderball hits mostly high notes, though some of the gadgets were now becoming pretty far-fetched, the witty rejoinders timed like clockwork. Chief villain Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi) possesses an imposing stature, much like Auric Goldfinger before him, and his Roman features convey quiet menace with just the slightest scowl. The climactic underwater fight proves quite the spectacle to behold. John Barry's score creates a somber, aquatic atmosphere, and the main theme, brilliantly sung by Tom Jones, accompanies a superb Maurice Binder title sequence.

#4: Casino Royale
A landmark film in many ways, Casino Royale re-invents James Bond, going back to his roots as an agent of MI6. Continuity in the Bond universe has never been much of a consideration, and it's easy enough to accept this contemporary rebooting. Craig creates a Bond clearly drawn from Fleming's original, though he is quieter, more introverted, and more darkly dangerous — very different from any other actor's portrayal of the character. Mads Mikkelsen plays the desperate villain Le Chiffre with just the right blend of humor and subtle malevolence. Eva Greene as Vesper Lynd possesses the ideal combination of vulnerability and coolness. David Arnold's score distinguishes itself a bit more than usual, and Chris Cornell's rousing title song, "You Know My Name" — the lyrics of which overtly reflect M's point of view — sets the perfect mood for the film.

#3: From Russia With Love
Sean Connery's second appearance as Bond and easily his second best. For the most part, the movie faithfully follows the novel, with some well-conceived alterations. It stands as the best honest-to-god spy thriller of the entire series, with atmosphere reminiscent of a Hitchcock mystery. Lotte Lenya as the brutal Russian SMERSH-turned-SPECTRE agent couldn't be more brilliantly repulsive, and Robert Shaw as the assassin Red Grant is very likely the most believable and dangerous of all the bad guys ever to menace James Bond. John Barry's score complements the action wonderfully, at least in most instances; a few ill-timed tracks occasionally mar its overall effectiveness.

#2: On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Choosing between OHMSS and Goldfinger as the "best" Bond film is indeed difficult. Both take the cores of the respective novels and in some ways improve on the original stories. OHMSS may be the most visually gorgeous of all the films, with much of the action taking place high in the Swiss Alps. The ski chases truly elevate one's adrenaline levels, particularly in conjunction with John Barry's score — also perhaps the finest of the entire series. The main theme is a rare instrumental and is all the better for it, played to Maurice Binder's most effective title sequence. George Lazenby is far from the best cinematic Bond, but he's an acceptable successor to Connery, particularly when it comes to handling the physical stunts. Had he continued in the role, I suspect audiences would have become quite comfortable with him. Telly Savalas is certainly "different" as Blofeld, but he does make for an effectively sinister antagonist. And Diana Rigg may be the best-drawn female protagonist of the entire series.

#1: Goldfinger
Goldfinger is a near-perfect Bond film, featuring excellent pacing, first-rate acting, gorgeous scenery, memorable women, and one of the sharpest theme songs/title sequences ever conceived for any film. Sean Connery turns in his best performance as Bond; in fact, this is very likely the film in which Connery truly became James Bond for millions of movie-goers. Gert Frobe plays Auric Goldfinger, the madman obsessed with gold, just a bit over-the-top, but with ultimate believability (and while his voice is dubbed, it's so perfect that most viewers don't realize it). The extraordinary Honor Blackman may also have the distinction of playing the most unforgettable Bond girl, if but for her character's name — Pussy Galore. Shirley Eaton is also memorable as Jill Masterson, the girl whose body is painted completely gold. Special props go to Harold Sakata as the iconic Oddjob, Goldfinger's mute Korean manservant, probably best remembered for his steel-rimmed top hat, which he uses to deadly effect. The gadgets are particularly novel this time around but never upstage Bond himself, as they tend to do in later films. A fine score by John Barry rounds out the superlative production.