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.

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.

August 21, 2019

Any Other Business: Part XXXVI

As the title suggests, so forth.

Catch-22: it’s not the best one Hulu have

It was all Friedrich Bagel’s fault. It was he who sent a link to a Guardian piece raving that George Clooney had broken the curse of the unfilmable novel. But why talk about filming an unfilmable novel when it’s a TV series? You might as well call Brideshead Revisited a triumphant 13 hour movie adaptation. Only in early 1970s France or the increasingly addled BAM would that make pretend sense. And why give the imaginary credit to Clooney? He directs as many episodes as Ellen Kuras and he’s barely in it as an actor, while every episode is written by the series developers Davies and Michod. And they sort of write the same episode again and again. A little comedy gets thru each week, but what a slog to get to it. And then the same ‘shock’ ending, week after week. Things got distinctly SJ Perelman:

The murders follow an exact, rigid pattern almost like the ritual of a bullfight or a classic Chinese play. Take ‘Veiled Lady’ in the October, 1937, number of Spicy Detective – Dan is flinging some woo at a Mrs Brantham in her apartment at the exclusive Gayboy Arms, which apparently excludes everybody but assassins:

“From behind me a roscoe belched “Chow-chow!” A pair of slugs buzzed past my left ear, almost nicked my cranium. Mrs Brantham sagged back against the pillow of the lounge… She was as dead as an iced catfish”.

Round up the most young actors you can find who look alike and then dress them all alike and don’t flesh any of them out and leave the audience baffled, until they realise that if someone finally gets individuated a bit as we head into the last 20 minutes of an episode that means they’re about to die and it will probably be Yo-Yo’s fault. As The Engineer said after it was all over: “You don’t have to watch it if you ask not to watch it because it wasn’t very good, but if you ask not to watch it because it wasn’t very good, you’ve already watched it.  Catch-22. It’s the best one they have.”

The Avengers begins with Honor Blackman

It has been a disconcerting experience watching True Movies’ extremely scrambled late night re-runs of The Avengers. I had only ever seen a handful of Cathy Gale episodes late at night on RTE 1 over 20 years ago. 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 this ever became the classic show it did. It is only when Honor Blackman shows up for season 2 episode 1 ‘Mr Teddy Bear’ that things really start to click, and then she keeps disappearing in favour of Julie Stevens’ Venus Smith and her wretched musical numbers, or the second iteration of Dr King who is no more interesting than the first. And let’s not forget that the show was supposed to be about Dr King! A nigh unwatchable first iteration Dr King episode didn’t even feature Steed. It is unfathomable using IMDb to straighten out the running order to see that the writers apparently didn’t realise they’d lucked into gold with Steed and Gale. I’ve rarely seen such huge swings in quality between episodes; from touches like a man at an auction being shot on “Going… Going… GONE!” to overwrought gibberish about a mole hunt with Steed being accused while everyone ignores the world’s most obvious mole spending money like water beside him. All the while the chemistry between Steed and Gale defines the show as The Avengers.

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