Talking Movies

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.

February 28, 2020

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXVII

As the title suggests, so forth.

Reloaded Revisited

I recently watched The Matrix Reloaded all the way thru for the first time in many years when Sky One idly decided to screen it. Oh, the wasted intellectual time and energy that went into trying to make this movie more than it was when it came out in May 2003. To indulge in hyperbole, between May and November 2003 sci-fi fans engaged in more delusional counterfactual speculations and fantasias than people wasting their time trying to disprove Darwin since 1859. Some of these fantasias were rather good, unfortunately the execrable Revolutions dynamited all the sophisticated ways that people had sought to frame Reloaded as both smarter and more successful artistically than it was. It is awful. It is memorable in places. But that is not enough to make it not awful. The film is almost an object lesson that merely subverting expectations doesn’t actually achieve anything. Cutting your climatic action sequence to pieces at the start and end of a film, ending a film with the climactic action beat being impenetrable polysyllabic gobbledegook in a room, having your plot be a ‘get that thing, to do this thing’ which only starts 40 minutes into the damn movie – all of these choices subvert expectations. And they are all awful. The proof of the pudding is that nobody has taken these models of subversion and run with them in the way that Skyfall and The Avengers both pilfered “The Joker planned to be caught. He wanted me to lock him up in the MCU!” from The Dark Knight. The Architect is memorable, but that scene is awful. Lines from it, bitterly engraved on my soul from fruitlessly going over and over the VHS, and from the memorable Ferrell/Timberlake MTV take-down of it, float across my consciousness from time to time. As Michael Gove lays the foundations for flouncing out of trade talks that haven’t even f***ing begun yet by announcing an impossible and arbitrary timetable one line seems … apropos. At some point it might even be uttered by M. Barnier to Gove. On being flatly told, “You’ll cave, Germany needs British car sales to survive”, he might riposte – “There are levels of survival we are prepared to accept”…

Billie Eilish mourns 007?

Oh dear, here we go again… Sam Smith’s derivative and embarrassing caterwaul ‘The Writing’s on the Wall’ should have tipped us off that Spectre‘s artistic decisions were not coming from the top drawer. Now we finally have Billie Eilish’s much anticipated Bond theme ‘No Time to Die’, and it is a mournful dirge. Why is it a mournful dirge? What happened to the musician who wrote the earworm hook of ‘Bad Guy’? Why is it that only Adele seems to have really nailed the archetypal Bond song in all of Daniel Craig’s outings? (Though Chris Cornell comes a close second).  Perhaps this was Eilish’s genuine musical response to seeing an early cut of the aged Craig in action, which should make us very afraid for what No Time to Die is actually like. I don’t know that there’s much that Hans Zimmer can do with this barely there song in the score, but that’s okay, John Barry twice magisterially ignored songs he didn’t like in favour of other songs for his Bond scores for Thunderball and The Living Daylights. Back in 2015 I suggested pressing Radiohead’s celebrated cover of ‘Nobody Does It Better’ from the mid-90s into action instead of Sam Smith. This time round I am not that exercised. I fear this song may accurately reflect a lethargic tiresome film.

November 15, 2018

From the Archives: Casino Royale

An unprecedented journey into the past finds amidst the uncollected material from even before the pre-Talking Movies archives a review of the film that brought James Bond back from the dead, where, in retrospect I find that I had been very willing to leave him after suffering thru Brosnan’s quartet.

I hate 007. It’s important to clarify this at the beginning so you will understand that it is through extremely gritted teeth I have inform you that not only is Casino Royale brilliant, but it is brilliant in all the specific areas where a Bond film has no right to be even half-decent. Specifically a strong female character, an element of realism, a coherent plot, a lack of cheesiness, a believable torture scene and Bond displaying human emotions.

The screenplay is credited to three people. The writing partnership of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade who wrote the last three execrable Bond films drafted the script, which was then completely rewritten by one Paul Haggis. I am not a fan of Haggis. I had a mean gag lined up about him being renowned in Hollywood by which I would mean not his back-to-back Screenplay Oscars for Crash and Million Dollar Baby but rather his ability to make Oliver Stone look subtle. It is with seething fury then that I have to tell you his contributions to this film are masterful. He locates Bond firmly in the real world of post 9/11 intelligence, complete with MI6 cleaners to get rid of dead bodies. We meet 007 assassinating crooked agents and investigating two bomb plots, all with thrilling believability, before he finally discovers who is financing these terrorist activities: a private banker named Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen).

Bond must defeat Le Chiffre at a high stakes poker game at the Casino Royale where his buy-in is supplied by Treasury official Vesper Lynd. Their first meeting on the train to Montenegro is delicious. Over dinner the pair verbally dissect each other’s characters based on their first impressions of each other. Bond is cruel but Vesper hurts him back with interest. Eva Green plays the first Bond girl who really is his equal. Furthermore in his relationship with Vesper we actually see James Bond displaying human emotions! There is a scene with Vesper slumped in the shower trying to wash blood off her hands after helping James in a gruesome murder which is jaw dropping: Bond makes no gags and does not try to take sexual advantage but actually just sits next to, and comforts, her.

The much touted castration torture scene meanwhile is gruellingly tense, blackly comic and utterly believable. This film has no Bond jokes. The funniest gags in the film are funny simply because they are unexpected unlike the double entendres of yore. David Arnold refrains from using the Bond theme for the entire film making its entrance incredibly impressive. Indeed the film’s final Get Carter style image confirms that Daniel Craig’s gritty Bond is in debt to Michael Caine’s unglamorous 1960s spy Harry Palmer. What’s more this scene makes us as impatient for a sequel as the promise of The Joker which ends Batman Begins. Damn…

4/5

September 27, 2015

Saving Spectre with a Sam Smith Switcheroo

It’s not too late! Yes, it turns out Sam Smith rather than Radiohead or Ellie Goulding was the artist chosen to record the new Bond song. And yes, we’ve all heard the song and it’s … not good. But there’s still a month to go. Spectre’s score can still be saved. And there are precedents.

Actors Daniel Craig jokingly gestures to photographers as he films a scene for the new James Bond film, Spectre, in London, Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Actor Daniel Craig jokingly gestures to photographers as he films a scene for the new James Bond film, Spectre, in London, Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Okay, I lied. A precedent. Tomorrow Never Dies. Remember the theme song from Tomorrow Never Dies? No? Of course you don’t. Sheryl Crow probably doesn’t remember it, and she wrote and performed it. It was called ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’. Still doesn’t ring a bell? Well get this, in addition to that k.d. lang sang ‘Surrender’ over the closing credits. But the real thunder was stolen by a different duel. Moby remixed the James Bond theme and got a lot of attention. Not that David Arnold, the composer of the film’s score, let that get in the way of promoting his own remix (with the Propellerheads) of the On Her Majesty’s Secret Service theme, which also got a lot of attention. And the next time round Garbage wrote a song with David Arnold and everyone calmed down on the music front.

It would be unorthodox, unusual, and, yes, slightly cruel, but, having paid him, there’s no reason not to thank Sam Smith for his sterling work, and then just use his song over the closing credits a la k.d. lang on Tomorrow Never Dies. But what to use instead for the title sequence? Well, Mendes and Craig practically admitted that Skyfall saw them thinking a lot about classic Bond elements they wanted to reinterpret for the 50th cinematic anniversary, and Spectre sees them reviving the series’ classic villains after a long legally-enforced absence. So, why not go for a reinterpretation of an existing theme tune? It’s probably not too late to write a new song from a scratch, but there’s an obvious and existing candidate to be press-ganged into action: Radiohead’s celebrated cover of ‘Nobody Does It Better’ from the mid-90s.

Just don’t put me in a cinema, listening to ‘Writing’s on the Wall’, thinking about Michael Jackson’s ‘Earth Song’ and Tiny Tim’s ‘Tiptoe Through the Tulips’, and being in a bad mood for the whole first act of the movie.

October 26, 2012

Skyfall

Director Sam Mendes nostalgically marks James Bond’s 50th anniversary with a typically measured piece of work that is very enjoyable  but which never quite matches the heights of Casino Royale.

The thrilling opening sequence in  Turkey sees Daniel Craig’s 007 implacably pursue a man who has stolen a  hard-drive containing the identities of NATO agents undercover in terrorist  organisations. Unfortunately the pursuit ends disastrously courtesy of the  bungled intervention of his back-up agent Eve (Naomie Harris), carrying out M’s  ruthless orders. Judi’s Dench M is being threatened with retirement by new  Security Chairman Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) over this blunder but Bond, now a  broken man (he has a beard…) and champion of a Turkish drinking game involving  scorpions, only returns when MI6 HQ explodes. Bond returns to a rattled agency,  hiding in Churchill’s old war bunker, and with a ridiculously young new  Quartermaster (Ben Whishaw), who trades barbed insults with Bond and then equips  him with the needful to get back out into the field, where there’s always  terrible wear and tear. Bond’s search for the stolen list of agents leads him to  the sultry Severine (Berenice Lim Marlohe) and her sinister employer,  super-hacker Silva (Javier Bardem)…

When reviewing the pointlessly maligned Quantum of Solace I held out the hope that the  ideas surrounding Quantum might lead to a Bond 2.0 film even better than Casino Royale. Well, sadly Quantum and Felix Leiter  are absent from this movie, but one idea from Quantum, that M and Bond have almost a fraught  mother/son bond, has been amplified and given a dramatic counterpoint to power  this film’s twisting plot. Oddly this feels at times like a Nolan Bond not a  Mendes Bond. Mendes has drafted in some regulars: Thomas Newman replaces David  Arnold but fails to make much impact; indeed dramatic strings during the Tube  sequence are uncannily like Arnold’s motif for similar sequences on Sherlock. Roger Deakins though gives the  mirrors motif of the title credits dazzling life in the Shanghai sequence which  is all reflective glass, and blue and green neon, while the night-time Macau  sequence is just gorgeously staged in warm oranges. But the crumbling city where  Silva has his lair screams Inception, a  plot twist is a familiar gambit from The Dark  Knight, and Rises echoes in the  constant references to Bond being a physical wreck, and the persistent  questioning of why this rich orphan continues to risk his life.

The deliberately measured pace of the movie is pure Mendes and he even  produces a trademark move with Silva’s entrance, a slow push-in while Silva  walks towards the camera from a distance. For the most part this approach works,  the first act feels like one of Fleming’s short stories, and the belated  entrance of Silva pays off in some wonderfully discomforting dialogue scenes and  a huge shock. Even Silva as cyber-supervillain works, mostly due to Q’s rivalry  with Silva. But then along comes the third act… Mendes throws everything at  the screen; the full Bond guitar riff, Aston Martins, references to and  borrowings from Goldfinger, Apocalypse Now, and From Russia with Love. But while it’s fascinating in  exploring Bond’s past, and ends fittingly with some in-joke references, the  climactic action just lacks the forcefulness or epic scale of Casino Royale and even Quantum.

Skyfall is a good film, which runs  out of steam somewhat, but it does seem to prove that action directors handling  sharp scripts make for the best Bond films.

3.5/5

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