Talking Movies

September 19, 2020

Any Other Business: Part LX

As the title suggests, so forth.

But if it’s a five stage plan, how can we have started at level 2.5 and gone on to level 3, with elements of level 4? That just doesn’t track.

“I have a new plan, it involves beards and Morocco”

–So we beat on, boats all moored on the quay, hopelessly tied up for the present.

The media has curiously decided to remember the unelected and indeed rejected regime of Leo & Simon as the golden age of communications; despite the fiasco of the picnic in the park, coming after the statesman speech that said nothing, and the literal game of name that quote played for a celebrity Twitter audience.

But Dublin finds itself in an intolerable situation. The simplest task seems to stump this new cobbled together coalition of the unwanted. Why announce a plan with five levels, and simultaneously announce that Dublin is betwixt and between levels two and three? Why announce that Dublin is moving to level three, but then crucify pubs and restaurants with level four restrictions without calling those restrictions by name? Why pretend that any of this is based on science when there is no actual evidence that pubs and restaurants have been spreading disease while we all look pointedly at schools, that opened suspiciously at the right time to be responsible for the recent spike, and which will remain open – even during level five – because … science said that’s that okay?

The sinister nature of classical music

Hannibal is leaving Netflix at the end of September. Good riddance, one should say. But a completist Mads Mikkelsen impulse drove me to try and crash thru the final two seasons. To no avail. 6 episodes into season 2 and its increasingly disgusting visuals I began to lose the will to live and had to abandon the drive to the Reichenbach fall. There is much to dislike about the clear enjoyment the makers take in showing human organs being turned into haute cuisine, even when it’s a major character; suggesting they were talking about themselves when having Will say Hannibal eats not to honour, but because he regards humans as no different to pigs. So to Bryan Fuller et al these are not real living breathing characters, just empty sharply dressed ciphers to be pushed (agonisingly slowly) around the chessboard; in a world conveniently entirely devoid of CCTV outside the lunatic asylum. But I also began to be disheartened by the relentless yoking of classical music to Hannibal’s ghoulish evil. It reminded me of a piece around 2015 that praised Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation for giving Simon Pegg’s comic relief Benjy a love of classical music, when the standard operating procedure would have been to give such a detail to Sean Harris’ supervillain Solomon Lane as a marker of his supervillainy, a la Stromberg in The Spy Who Loved Me; watching sharks eat people to the strains of Mozart. Cruise and McQuarrie went further in fact, basing an astonishing set-piece around Puccini’s Turandot, and making ‘Nessun Dorma’ the leitmotif for Rebecca Ferguson’s mysterious assassin. But why is this so damn unusual? Why is classical music so often relegated to nonsense touches like Kevin Bacon’s Beethoven-loving Nazi in the cold open of X-Men: First Class? Football fans lap up ‘Nessun Dorma’ and ‘Zadok the Priest’, everybody who whistles the ‘Imperial March’ from Star Wars is unconsciously a fan of ‘Mars, the Bringer of War’ from Gustav Holst’s The Planets. Why do film-makers who will often edit to a temp-track of classical music so despise that very same classical music when it comes to depicting it as a part of their characters’ lives?

August 26, 2020

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXXV

As the title suggests, so forth.

I tell you R-Patz, I just can’t stop washing my hands lately. You’d think I’d been reading Heidegger or something.

The End of Cinema, or at least American-led cinema

And so Tenet is here. Eventually. The most anticipated summer blockbuster of 2020 might also be the only summer (or autumn or winter) blockbuster of 2020 that actually gets released in cinemas. But not in America. I am still tentative about venturing to a cinema for the first time since the coronavirus arrived, but it’s a dilemma. There is no such dilemma Stateside, because Tenet is not being released in America. In some senses this merely makes painfully obvious what was already to be gleaned from statistical analysis of say Transformers or Fast and Furious: major American movies make more money overseas than in America. But the risk, to simply cut off the American market and throw it away as unnecessary, is still breathtaking on the part of Christopher Nolan and Warner Bros. And it seems, in this week of make-believe by Donald Trump that everything is rosy in the Rose Garden, that the pandemic has been defeated by his amazing leadership, that the roaring economy is now roaring again in a V shaped recovery, to take on an almost mythic cultural and political heft. The free world has given up on America providing any sort of leadership, and now even America’s own dream factory has given up on America. Americana still sells overseas, but the country itself is no longer a viable market.

There is an idea of a United States of America, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real country, only an entity, something illusory, and though it can hide its cold heart and you can see its flag-waving and hear its anthem deafening your ears and maybe you can even sense its values are probably comparable: it simply is not there.

Tarantino misreads 1960s television

When I returned home last August from watching Quentin Tarantino make shameful pigswill of reality with his nonsense version of the Manson Family Murders I watched the end of Kill Bill: Volume 2 randomly playing on TV and then turned on True Movies for their late night re-runs of The Man from UNCLE, and this only increased my annoyance with QT for also shamefully calumning late 1960s TV. Cinematographer Robert Richardson has noted that Tarantino deliberately included camera moves in the Western pilot that our hero Rick Dalton appears in that would have been utterly impractical for the era. Taken beside how he presents Rick’s appearance in the real show The FBI as a bad joke, you’d be hard put not to think that Tarantino is implying 1960s television was a waste of time. Which is odd given how he’s been perpetually circling a movie based on a 1960s TV show – Star Trek. The truth is that 1960s television was actually pretty good: The Prisoner, The Avengers, The Fugitive, The Man from UNCLE, Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Thunderbirds, Mission: Impossible, Hawaii Five-O, The Monkees, Batman, The Invaders, Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel, Doctor Who, I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, Hogan’s Heroes, Rawhide, The Champions,  Land of the GiantsGilligan’s Island, Get SmartThe Munsters, My Favourite Martian, The Addams FamilyFlipper, The Flinstones, Joe 90, Stingray, Captain Scarlet and the MysteronsDad’s ArmySteptoe and Son. Ask yourself why pop culture would still be in thrall to so many of these shows if they were all a bad joke…

August 19, 2020

Status Captain Scarlet

Well, throw all the ship’s engines into hard reverse; we are now launched into an emergency lockdown again – let us call it Status Captain Scarlet.

Once again we are thrown back to the limits of where we can get to by shank’s mare. Buses and Luas are not to be used by the plebs. Confusingly cinemas and restaurants can still stay open despite a limit on 6 people rather than 50 gathering indoors. Does each cinema screen count as a separate indoor space in a multiplex? If gastropubs have been such a problem in spreading the virus why do they get an exemption from this new restriction? Having agreed to go see Tenet on August 31st, with some trepidation, I am now genuinely confused as to how that can go ahead even though it is seemingly permitted. I and many others are even more confused about why sports attendance is off. The virus is airborne and spreads best indoors; if you are outdoors the risk is less. 50 people chanting responses indoors at Mass cannot be safer than 200 people chanting outdoors at a GAA match. And how on earth schools are still scheduled to reopen in two weeks when 50 people can’t be allowed indoors together boggles the mind. Hovering over all of this bungled ‘it’s an emergency but not quite an emergency’ communique from the Government is the spectre of the Twitter mob. Are these restrictions actually necessary? Or are they a knee-jerk response from a cobbled together coalition that wants to be seen to be doing something after the Twitter mob went wild at the weekend? How many times does it need to be said that public health is rarely well served by public shaming…

July 31, 2020

Suggesting Several Screen Siblings: Part II

I’ve noticed two actors who I think would make a damn good pairing as siblings, so here is a suggestion for their team-up and the movie.

Aubrey Plaza & Stephanie Beatriz

Legion star Aubrey Plaza, Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Stephanie Beatriz, and Genesis Rodriguez were fearsome sororal superheroes known as the Furies. But then the solar flare that had made them gifted flamed out and erased their powers. Reeling from the loss the older sisters became estranged as the once-telepathic Plaza became an FBI special agent while the once-invulnerable and super-strong Beatriz retreated from the world and became a reclusive successful comic-book artist, struggling to be taken seriously for her legitimate painting. After nearly a decade they must grudgingly re-unite to solve the murder of their younger sister, who had become a reality TV star. But as the sisters work the case a new solar flare begins to erupt and their powers begin to falteringly return. Whoever killed their kid sister should be very afraid because whatever investigation these two begin with conventional weapons and tactics won’t end that way in this mordant neo-noir and lo-fi superhero movie.

June 29, 2020

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXXIV

As the title suggests, so forth.

2001: A very bad year

Well, I finally saw Evolution last weekend. Just because it was on. And because I was eating dinner. It was a sorta ambient film-watching experience. Watch 45 minutes. Tape the rest. Watch that during lunch the next day. Wonder then why I bothered watching any of it. Muse on not knowing about Head & Shoulders’ efficacy against aliens. Cheer on some truly minor TV actors in small roles. Wonder why on earth David Duchovny took the lead. Muse on whether its failure stopped him from parlaying his X-Files fame into a leading man career on the big screen. And then remember that, even though it was from the director of Ghostbusters, I’d skipped the film on purpose in 2001 from a complete lack of interest. A lack of interest not limited to Evolution. There were multiple reasons why I saw only eleven films in the cinema in 2001, an alarming number of them rep showings. But one of them is that the year 2001 was not a very good year for cinema. In fact it was by way of being a very bad year. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Tigerland, which were 2001 highlights for me arrived here then but were actually 2000 films. And the hangover went the other way with Ocean’s 11 and Monsters Inc being 2002 experiences here. Shrek, Planet of the Apes, AI, Moulin Rouge!, The Others, The Fellowship of the Ring. These were the films of 2001 I saw on the biggest screens in the Savoy and Ormonde during 2001, and if not for the Antipodeans Luhrmann and Jackson unleashing immortal classics in the final four months of the year what a washout it would have been. I don’t know if anything can really be said to cause a slump the likes of which Hollywood experienced in 2001 but it was a slump for sure.

John Cusack: Former Film Star

John Cusack turned 54 yesterday which led me to the question: What in the hell happened to John Cusack? In what should have been the decade of his career in which he played a defining role, like Kirk Douglas in Spartacus or John Wayne in The Searchers, or Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko or Keanu Reeves as John Wick, the best that Cusack rose to as a fortysomething was his lead role in the minor Stephen King horror story 1408 and his hero repeatedly escaping just ahead of the shockwave(s) in Roland Emmerich’s over-egged disaster pudding 2012. What went wrong? How did he end up making so many films that were not released, barely released, or sunk without trace here? 1408 and Cell, his two Stephen King horrors with Samuel L Jackson, got cinema releases in late summer 2007 and 2016 – they almost neatly cordon off the decade of disaster under scrutiny, and the decline in Cusack’s celebrity, as the latter went to VoD before a very limited cinema release. Before 1408 came Grace is Gone and The Contract. Ring a bell? Nope… 2012 and Hot Tub Time Machine while not great films got wide releases and made money. The Raven and The Frozen Ground are better films but got less wide releases and made considerably less money. They also flag a recurring problem – there are way too many films here that merge together when you read the loglines; impressive casts assembled for some glossy crime thriller, involving a serial killer or assassination or heist: The Factory, The Numbers Station, The Bag Man, Drive Hard, The Prince, Reclaim. There’s even a Phone Booth–like appearance in Grand Piano. And what’s stranger is that in the midst of these formulaic films Cusack made We Are Not Animals in Argentina, about a Hollywood star fleeing formulaic films, and then went back to Hollywood to make more formulaic films. There have not been enough meaty roles like his older Brian Wilson in the split-focus biopic Love & Mercy. Instead he’s made cameos in The Paperboy, The Butler, Adult World, taken more substantial roles in glossy films that sank without trace (Dragon Blade, Shanghai), indie films that failed to connect (Maps to the Stars, Chi-Raq), and somehow bungled a spiritual sequel to his towering 90s achievement Grosse Pointe Blank in the shape of War, Inc. Cusack has not stopped working, and perhaps that’s the problem. Like Matthew McConaughey, he needs to say no to a looooot of scripts for a while if he wants to get back on track. Otherwise Cusack will continue to work steadily, but solely on trashy nonsense (constantly declining in quality), that is made for midnight drunken Netflix buffoonery, and clicked on increasingly only by people who remember that his was once a face that appeared on posters inside cinemas.

May 29, 2020

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXXIII

As the title suggests, so forth.

If not Lazenby, then who?

Almost anyone. But seriously, folks. There were any number of actors in England in 1968 who could have done a better job of picking up the keys to Sean Connery’s Aston Martin. A typically three-cornered hat discussion with Friedrich Bagel and The Engineer to the music of de Falla produced this shortlist of contenders:

Rod Taylor, Alan Bates, Albert Finney, Oliver Reed, Michael Caine, Roger Moore, Terence Stamp, Anthony Hopkins

Patrick McGoohan, Malcolm McDowell, Christopher Lee, Nicol Williamson, David Warner, Edward Fox

Now, not all of these people would have been asked, and some of them would likely have refused had they been asked, (Alan Bates and Nicol Williamson spring to mind), and some of them would likely have refused contemptuously (*Dear EON, Patrick McGoohan has had quite enough of playing spies at this point, thank you very much). The EON producers would never have seriously asked a bona fide film leading man like Caine, in order to keep the budget down. They would have asked a TV star like Roger Moore, sadly tied up with The Saint, or Timothy Dalton, a supporting player in a major film. As indeed they did. But the actual shortlist of undistinguished Bond contenders from whom Lazenby won based on a screen test is the stuff of madness when you consider that all these alternatives were available. The roguishness of Oliver Reed’s 007, the undercurrent of menace of Malcolm McDowell’s Bond, the unpredictability of David Warner’s agent: these are the roads not taken. There seems to be some sort of retrospective attempt to insist they needed to cast an unknown actor, like they had with Sean Connery. But Sean Connery was not unknown when he was cast. Far from it, he had already appeared in Darby O’Gill and the Little People and his supporting role in The Longest Day would have been appreciated by British TV audiences who, between 1959 and 1961, had seen him as Count Vronsky, Hotspur, Macbeth and Alexander the Great. He was not an unknown, he was quite well known to British audiences as a leading man playing historic roles. Lazenby by contrast was quite well known to British audiences for advertising Fry’s chocolate bars.

The critical rehabilitation narrative

I’ve been thinking recently about what we might dub the critical rehabilitation narrative. Nothing seems to please some critics more than to discover neglected masterpieces, to rescue from the discard bin gems that were unappreciated at the time. The only problem is sometimes the critics are very pleased with themselves, their wider critical narrative powers along, and it’s only a minor detail that the film in question is still rubbish. That’s not to say that it is wrong to revisit films and see if they were misjudged; after all Fight Club suffered hugely from being released so soon after Columbine. But sometimes there is much to be said for reading the original reviews and getting a bracing perspective, like disinterring The Cabinet of Dr Caligari from the reverence of generations of film students and discovering in Peter Gay’s Weimar Culture that its own writers disowned the finished film for changes made to its finale which they regarded as dangerously reversing its political message, and doing so at a time that imperilled the nascent republic. Or realising that Matthew Modine saying recently that Full Metal Jacket has aged better than other Vietnam films because it’s finale of urban insurgency could be in Iraq only proves the point of the objections made by critics on release. Because of the WB indulging Kubrick’s power-tripping laziness he had departed from the novel’s jungle war conclusion to instead depict the (easily manufactured in England) ruined city of Hue, because he couldn’t be bothered leaving England. And it would be hard to easily manufacture in England a jungle war. Just as well Vietnam wasn’t noted for being a JUNGLE WAR. Revolution was reviled on release and exiled Pacino to Broadway. But Revolution is an unfocused film of baffling decisions, like shooting it entirely in England and not having Annie Lennox sing, rather than an outright atrocity. Watching its depiction of the start of the American Revolution, the mob bullying, the expropriation, the self-interested and abrasive self-righteousness is oddly reminiscent of Doctor Zhivago’s portrayal of the Bolsheviks. It’s hard not to think that this enraged American critics at the time, who sublimated that rage into attacks from other angles. And yet the final minutes of Revolution feature a truly astonishing tracking shot, a technical marvel and a triumph of production design, that I have never ever heard anyone praise or even mention. If you can’t do the hard work of salvaging the good from amidst the bad then what is the point of critical rehabilitation?

May 18, 2020

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXXII

As the title suggests, so forth.

The End of the Beginning

Today is the first day of Status Vermillion, in which we are permitted to socialise outdoors, if we comport ourselves like the Dave Brubeck Quartet after Paul Desmond has blown up at Joe Morello for drumming too damn loud and Dave Brubeck and Eugene Wright are both keeping a wary distance. And a few days ago Movies@Dundrum revealed a sketch of their plans for August 10th, the red letter day on which cinemas here will re-open. None of the studios want to suffer a tent-pole collapsing because audiences are scared to congregate, although rumour has it Christopher Nolan had to be talked off the ledge by the WB on letting Tenet try that stunt, so there will be a dearth of new releases. Movies@Dundrum intends therefore to revive The Lord of the Rings as well as The Little Shop of Horrors alongside more recent crowd-pleasers A Star is Born and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, entice the kids with The Iron Giant, Fantastic Beasts and Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, and bring back A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood which was coming to the end of its run when all this unpleasantness began and its star famously came down with the coronavirus. Will this initial comfort programming work? Will the lure of seeing the battle of Helm’s Deep on the big screen once again lure me out of hiding? I don’t know. Certainly not at this remove, when August 10th when all this ends is a date further away from now than is March 13th when all this began. I also don’t know how sustainable a cinema run as in the panicky days of mid-March with mandatory empty seats every other seat can possibly be. In the unlikely event we make it to August 10th on the ridiculous road-map laid out by the ridiculous rejected government it will still only be the end of the beginning when it comes to living with this plague.  (Oh look, I paraphrased Churchill.)

Tarantino and the obscurantist imperative

I had the misfortune last week to watch Dean Martin’s Matt Helm movies last week on Sony Movies. Why did I put myself thru this agony? Because they included Sharon Tate’s turn in The Wrecking Crew, as featured prominently in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, and as curated by Quentin Tarantino last summer for Sony Movie Classics for his Ten Swinging Sixties picks:

  • Gunman’s Walk (1958)
  • Battle of the Coral Sea (1959)
  • Arizona Raiders (1965)
  • The Wrecking Crew (1968)
  • Hammerhead (1968)
  • Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969)
  • Cactus Flower (1969)
  • Easy Rider (1969)
  • Model Shop (1969)
  • Getting Straight (1970)

What is the point of getting upset about audiences not realising that Leonardo DiCaprio has replaced Steve McQueen in a real scene from The Great Escape when you indulge in this sort of too cool for film school buffoonery? To realise that DiCaprio has digitally been stood in for McQueen you would need to have seen The Great Escape, but it’s a big brash blockbuster, so if famous film directors never recommend it why would you watch it when you could get kudos from them for instead watching something nobody’s ever heard of? Tarantino’s obscurantist imperative comes back to haunt him… He had the opportunity to showcase 10 films from the Columbia back catalogue and these are what he chose? If you want proof of how obscurantist they are just consider that Mike Myers clearly lifted the Fembots for Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery from a brassiere sub-machine gun modelled for Dean Martin in one of the Matt Helm movies. Dino even makes an inferior calibre joke to Dr Evil. Myers knew he could get away with this, because nobody would remember seeing the conceit bungled 30 years earlier. These ten picks are for the most part not fondly remembered movies, because for the most part these are not good movies. Dean Martin is far too old for the part of Matt Helm, the promotion of his music and dissing of Sinatra is self-indulgent rather than amusing, the first film exemplifies the sheer dullness of the series with an endless scene of Dean discussing the plot with a woman sans any jokes, and, above all, his four movies are creepily sleazy in their depiction of women and actually have less self-awareness and sense of humour than the Bond films they are supposedly sending up. The only 1960s Bond that comes close to them comes after them: the tasteless dinner scene in OHMSS.

May 5, 2020

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXXI

As the title suggests, so forth.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service; I must whirl about like a dervish, to dub it merely bad a disservice

I’d heard enough mutterings about OHMSS being a great Bond film to start questioning whether I had in fact been wrong when I watched it in the late 1990s and thought very little of it. So I watched it again on ITV 4. No, it really is awful. In fact embarrassing is the mot juste. There is a level of professional incompetence that takes the breath away. It’s directed by Peter Hunt, the editor of the first five Bond movies, who was 2nd unit director on You Only Live Twice. It’s edited for him by John Glen, uncredited second unit director on The Italian Job and future director of all the 1980s Bond movies. How can these two men’s footage be so jarring and awful when working together? ALL the fistfights are dreadful. It’s almost as if Hunt arrived in with no properly shot action footage at all, just random shots that did not match up in choreography or angles. And so they just edited like billy-o with what little they had to create the facsimile of a fight with unintentionally funny sound effects.  John Barry’s OHMSS theme is majestic in David Arnold’s 1997 re-orchestration, but here is blighted by eccentric instrumentation, which I consider the musical equivalent of Lazenby’s casino appearance literally wearing Austin Powers’ frilly shirt. Who thought either touch was a good idea? How did the costume designer so often leave Lazenby looking like a beanpole when suited? Why do the corridors and interiors of luxury hotels not look remotely plush? Did Ken Adam’s absence cause an explosive decompression in classiness? The air of slapdashery even extends to Bond’s car! There are the baffling executive decisions: recasting Blofeld from Mitteleurope-accented scarred Donald Pleasance to American-accented unscarred Telly Savalas, throwing out continuity with the last film so Bond having met Blofeld in the last film now has a ‘Is everybody here very stoned?’ moment of not recognising him, and, perhaps most damaging of all, revoking Roald Dahl’s license to improvise with a vengeance. Adapting Fleming’s novel faithfully may have sunk the film. The dinner with Blofeld’s girls could have come straight from a Carry On movie, and the romance between Lazenby and Diana Rigg is never remotely convincing; not least when the movie forgets her for about half an hour and then has 007 propose to her about four scenes after he’d made plans to again bed two girls and add a third to the roster.  Imagine how devastating the end of this film would be if it had been Sean Connery and Honor Blackman at the end of Goldfinger, that’s how badly wasted it is on these two ciphers. How this is being given the critical rehabilitation shtick blows my mind. I can only assume that Christopher Nolan’s fondness for OHMSS is based not on the merits of the actual movie but on some sort of fever dream in which he’s mashed up Diana Rigg’s wit and athleticism as Mrs Peel from The Avengers with action scenes from Where Eagles Dare and loved that movie. … … To be honest as I think about it…. Where Avengers Dare sounds like a movie I’d pay good money to see.

When shall we big screen again?

As we begin yet another final extension of Status Burgundy, with our inner boundary maven now measuring 5km from home instead of 2km, we at last have a date set in stone (sic) for the re-opening of cinemas – August 10th. Set in stone insofar as all of this great five phase plan could be chucked at the first sign of trouble. And, as noted hereabouts before, whether anybody shows up on that date is another matter entirely, and even if people do show up in droves they won’t be allowed in in droves as the 50% (at best) capacity for social distancing will once again come into play as it did in the desperate days of mid-March. Will cinemas anymore than restaurants remain going concerns if forced to operate at half-tilt (or less) revenue and full-tilt (or more) expenses for an extended period of time? Who can tell…

Cameron Diaz retired?!

Oops… Seeing a recent interview in which Diaz expressed her lack of interest in returning to acting took me back to the end of 2009 when Brittany Murphy died, and it only became apparent in retrospect that something had gone badly wrong with her film career after 2005. The fact that her movies kept premiering on TV for another three years after her profile dimmed at cinemas kept her artificially in the public eye. So it was that as Diaz’s turns in The Green Hornet and The Counsellor kept popping up as staples of late night programming, and her 2014 films Sex Tape, Annie and The Other Woman trundled onto television, that I didn’t notice there were no new Diaz films. Even as I was writing before Christmas about the star wattage of the original Charlie’s Angels it didn’t strike me that Diaz was actually now a retired film star rather than just someone who probably had something new coming out sometime.

April 10, 2020

Top 5 Connery Bonds

As we now look forward to another 3 weeks of Status Burgundy, which by its sheer duration might be more appropriately thought of as Status House Arrest at this point, let us give thanks for ITV 4’s insistence on continually airing one of the crown jewels of 1960s cinema – the first five Connery Bonds.

5) Dr No

Joseph Wiseman’s titular Spectre agent is revealed late in the film with icy dinner party repartee and sets an impressive bar, as does Ken Adam’s first ever expansive supervillain lair. We see Bond’s home, something apparently forgotten by Mendes and Craig when it came to puffing up his minimalist flat in Spectre, and get some nice ruthlessness from 007: “You’ve had your six”. Ursula Andress’ memorable entrance as Honey Ryder rising from the sea set the marker for Bond girls’ glamour, but this is in retrospect a surprisingly grounded film with Bond doing some dogged detective work.

4) From Russia with Love

The second Bond film has no Ken Adam, busy creating Dr Strangelove’s War Room, but from the dashing title credits composer John Barry really starts to impose himself with his brass heavy, jauntily heroic secondary Bond theme. There is trade-craft aplenty but the action is a bit disconnected and notably bound to the location of Istanbul until the finale which pays homage to North by Northwest twice over with its espionage on a train and then a helicopter attack. Robert Shaw’s muscular psychotic and Lotte Lenya’s high-kicking Spectre supremo are hugely memorable as archetypal villains.

3) Thunderball

I have warmed to Kevin McClory’s Bond production in recent years. Ken Adam launched a thousand parodies with his modernist cavernous Spectre office, complete with lethal chairs, not to mention the Spectre agent du jour, eye-patched Emilio Largo, maintaining a pool for sharks to dispatch incompetent henchmen and MI6 gadflies. Claudine Auger’s Domino is a more than just a very pretty face, with a character arc climaxing in monumental brass. Elsewhere John Barry’s sinuously sinister descending woodwind motif conjures underwater intrigue before boisterously matching director Terence Young’s showy underwater battle and bravura carnival chase with Hitchcockian assassination attempt.

2) You Only Live Twice

The men in blue boiler suits versus the men in grey boiler suits as Stephen King put it. Ninjas versus Spectres: inside a VOLCANO. Ken Adam spent £1 million on the volcano set, complete with functioning monorail, gantry, lift, and full-scale rocket model. The next year Harold Wilson devalued sterling. John Barry created a suspenseful space march for Spectre’s extraterrestrial sabotage, as well as the signature use of his secondary Bond theme for Little Nellie’s helicopter battle. Donald Pleasance revealed to us at last the face of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, quipping from Roald Dahl’s fantasia.

1) Goldfinger

The most quoted exchange in all the Bond films; “Do you expect me to talk?” “No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die”; sits among cinematic riches equivalent to Fort Knox. Ken Adam’s gargantuan and gleaming Fort Knox set, the garrulous Goldfinger and his lethal laser, the mute Oddjob and his lethal hat, Felix Leiter in the role of Triumph the insult comic dog. Honor Blackman, Shirley Eaton and Tania Mallet are the knockout trio of English blondes in the series’ ‘traditional’ roles of the bad girl who dies, the good girl who dies, and the bad girl who lives. Sean Connery is in fine mid-season form as 007, matched by Blackman’s characteristic swagger; her Pussy Galore helping save the day when John Barry’s stirring Goldfinger march complements Guy Hamilton’s gorgeous direction, with more subtle push-ins and zoom-outs than Terence Young ever considered.

April 7, 2020

Any Other Business: Part XLIX

As the title suggests, so forth.

RIP Honor Blackman

Honor Blackman has died aged 94; she was the oldest surviving Avenger. I wrote last summer about what a disconcerting experience it was watching True Movies’ scrambled late night re-runs of The Avengers. I had only previously seen a handful of Cathy Gale episodes late at night on RTE 1 over 20 years earlier. As True Movies jumped between episodes and seasons of the first three years of the show it became evident that it was something of a miracle that it ever became the classic show it did. It was only when Blackman debuted in the first episode of the second season, ‘Mr Teddy Bear’, that things really started to click. The chemistry between Steed and Gale, and her judo prowess, defined the show as The Avengers. In retrospect she fared much better than Diana Rigg in transferring from The Avengers to Bond. I remember watching On Her Majesty’s Secret Service for the first time after devouring Channel 4’s re-runs of The Avengers in the mid-90s, and being immensely frustrated that Rigg’s Bond girl was so damn passive. By contrast Blackman as Pussy Galore in Goldfinger walked from a TV role into a movie role and traded away none of her antagonistic strength, flirtatious charm, and judo prowess. And that is not something that can be said, even now, for many actresses making that transition; just look at Jessica Alba’s failure to ever find a film role to remotely equal her star-making lead in Dark Angel.

Donnie Dumbo

Trump Delenda Est

I think at this point we can say that Trump has not grown into the job; he has actually got far worse. What can be said about a man whose ego is so monstrous that he has transformed press briefings on a pandemic into virtual campaign rallies, who is so incredibly incapable of not making a pandemic all about him that it drives hardened journalists to profanity in their disbelief? This is his shooting people on 5th Avenue moment. People have died, are dying, and will continue to die because of Donald J Trump’s ego. The bragging, the bluster, the bullsh-t, the strong impression of functional illiteracy; a ten year old is trying to run one of the world’s biggest countries, and not a smart ten year old, but the type of bully who when called upon to read aloud in class painfully plods along not reading so much as sounding out the letters he sees as he sees them as if he’s never seen them before in his life. It explains much when you actually allow yourself to admit that Trump probably cannot read. He can pick out certain words, and improvise around them, with his simplified vocabulary. But he cannot read. If you forced him to deliver a well-known Bible passage at a Mass, he would endure agonies, because it would be made obvious thru cutting off his favourite tactic of paraphrase and riffing. His decision to weigh in on the firing of Captain Crozier, who was actually trying to do his job, makes a lot of sense from that perspective: the peculiar gripe that this was not English Lit, don’t write a letter, just call someone, makes perfect sense coming from a man who cannot read. Mike Pence probably wouldn’t do a stellar job of steering America thru this pandemic, but, freed of Trump and the need to continually massage Trump’s ego, he might not make things worse by actively promoting snake-oil remedies from the White House. Invoke the 25th Amendment now.

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