Talking Movies

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.

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.

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.

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