Talking Movies

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 3, 2020

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXX

Filed under: Talking Books,Talking Movies,Talking Television — Fergal Casey @ 5:59 pm
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As the title suggests, so forth.

This could be how I see Tenet in 70mm later this year, if it or any other blockbuster gets released at all in 2020

The polling suggests cinema may be done

It seems somebody had the good sense last week to poll Americans on whether they would return to cinemas once this coronavirus unpleasantness has blown over. The answer was yes. Certainly. But not right away. Rather like the beach on the 4th of July in Amity Island everybody would stand back and let someone else be the first to paddle out into the water and make sure there were no killer sharks lurking thereabouts. But if people are serious about waiting three weeks or three months before they’d dare venture into a packed cinema again, how can the cinemas survive? How many days can you survive as a going concern when your biggest screens showing the biggest blockbusters at the height of summer garner an attendance more usually seen at an Alex Ross Perry movie in the IFI? Big releases have been pushed into 2021 with abandon: Fast & Furious 9, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Morbius. I’d be surprised if MGM didn’t get nervous and shove No Time to Die from November to next April if they think that by November people will still be readjusting to the idea that going to sit in the dark with 300 sweating sniffling coughing strangers packed like sardines in a crushed tin can isn’t like asking for rat stew during the Black Death. I for one like the idea of taking a coffee into an obscure French film and listening to Jazz24 in screen 3 of the IFI after normal service has been resumed – but the kicker is, that would be a fairly empty screening. And too many years of press screenings, matinees, and unpopular art-house choices have made me unaccustomed to truly packed cinemas. I was already frequently exasperated at bustling audiences before the coronavirus; because of the constant talking, shuffling in and out to the toilets and sweets counter, and, above all, the feeling that I was looking out over a WWII night scene as the light from endless phones strafed the roof of the cinema on the watch for incoming enemy aircraft. To put up with that, and then be paranoid that anybody, not just the people sniffling or coughing, but asymptomatic anybody could have the coronavirus and I could end up with scarred lungs and no sense of smell or taste from watching a film makes me hesitant to go before the second wave.

Further thoughts on the xkcd challenge

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned re-watching Aloha and thinking about the xkcd challenge [https://xkcd.com/2184/]. To wit, it is easy to prove your independent streak by disliking films universally beloved, but less easy to prove your independent streak by liking films universally reviled. Randall Munroe gave a critical score under 50% on Rotten Tomatoes as the target, the other two parts of his trifecta being that the films came out in your adult life post-2000, and are not enjoyed ironically. Well, gosh darn if I didn’t find these ten films rated between 40% and 49% by critics on Rotten Tomatoes. And you know what, their critical pasting is, I would argue, largely undeserved. Some of them are rather good, some of them are not nearly as bad as reputed, and I would happily watch all of them again.

What Lies Beneath

I was astonished to see that Robert Zemeckis’ 2000 Hitchcock pastiche was so critically pasted when it features some sequences; in particular the agony in the bath tub; that rise to the height of genuine Hitchcock level suspense. Zemeckis’ increasing obsession with CGI-enhanced technical wizardry hasn’t yet completely swamped his interest in his characters, as he overtly toys with Rear Window expectations.

Orange County

Colin Hanks and Jack Black are the main players in Mike White’s knockabout comedy about a hopelessly bungled application to Stanford, courtesy of Lily Tomlin’s guidance counsellor, and increasingly ludicrous attempts to get the admissions kerfuffle all sorted out by any means necessary. It may not be as sharp as other White scripts but it’s always amusing for its less than 90 minutes.

xXx

Vin Diesel has valiantly kept the memory of this ludicrous 2002 film alive by somehow making it his only successful non-Fas & Furious franchise. The premise of an extreme sports dude being recruited into being an amateur CIA spook makes no sense what-so-ever, but it had better action, jokes, and humanity than the Bond film of its year by some measure – “Bora Bora!”

The Rules of Attraction

It was a genuine shock to see that this film was so critically reviled when I enthusiastically featured it in my list of best films of the 2000s. It stands beside American Psycho as the best adaptation of a Bret Easton Ellis novel, and Roger Avary draws career highlight turns from leads Ian Somerhalder, Shannyn Sossamon, and James Van Der Beek.

Daredevil

One of the last examples of the big blockbuster movie with the big blockbuster song complete with a big blockbuster video; the at the time inescapable Evanescence hit ‘Bring Me To Life’; this is an only semi-successful attempt at knockabout nonsense with the villains all trying to out-ham each other (and Colin Farrell’s Bullseye winning), but Jennifer Garner shines as Daredevil’s love interest Elektra.

Switchblade Romance

I will die on this weird Gallic hill! Alexandre Aja’s utterly blood-soaked shocker starring Cecile de France (and a chainsaw that spooked the next crew to use it) is a goretastic virtuoso thrill-ride, and the final twist, which was presented as it was on the advice of Luc Besson that it would be funnier that way, makes the film even more preposterously entertaining!

The Village

This was the final straw for critics when it came to M Night Shyamalan, but it’s actually a very engaging and deeply creepy film with a star-making lead performance from Bryce Dallas Howard. Sure the final twist is probably over-egging the pudding, and indicated that M Night was now addicted to twists, but it doesn’t undo the effectiveness of all the previous suspense.

Constantine

Keanu Reeves’ chain-smoking street magus powered a supernatural thriller with exquisitely deliberate pacing, courtesy of future Hunger Games main-man Francis Lawrence; here making his directorial debut. It had a fine sense of metaphysical as well as visceral horror, featured outstanding supporting turns from Tilda Swinton and Peter Stormare, a memorable magus versus demons action showdown, and was easily Keanu’s best film since The Matrix.

Super

I can’t believe that writer/director James Gunn’s delirious deconstruction of the superhero genre could actually have been this lowly esteemed by critics on release in 2010. Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page both give tremendous performances as the delusional heroes who decided to dress in absurd costumes and fight crime; suicidally going up against Kevin Bacon’s gangster, who is very much not a comic-book villain.

The Green Hornet

I will often stop on this if I catch it late at night while channel-hopping. It may not be a very smooth or coherent film, but it has scenes, lines, and ideas that still pop into my mind frequently; “You brought a gas mask?” “Of course I brought a gas mask!” “Just for yourself?”; and Seth Rogen’s DVD commentary is a hoot.

You didn’t build that, Disney

It’s been quite maddening to see bus after bus pass by in the last few weeks with huge ads on their sides for the launch of Disney+ and know that this lockdown is a gift from the universe to a mega corporation by making their new streaming service an obvious choice for harassed parents eager to occupy the time of housebound children with the Disney vault while they try to get some work from home done. Not of course that it’s really Disney’s vault, as is made plain by the attractions listed on the side of the bus. The Simpsons, which is to say 20th Century Fox. Star Wars. Pixar. Marvel. National Geographic. That’s Disney+? These things aren’t Disney. Matt Groening created The Simpsons, and I highly doubt Walt Disney would have approved. George Lucas created Star Wars and changed the cinematic world with ILM, and it was from Lucasfilm that Pixar was spun out, with the help of Steve Jobs. Not anybody at Disney. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko are responsible for most of the characters of Marvel, and without James Cameron and Bryan Singer and Sam Raimi there probably wouldn’t have been an MCU for Disney to buy. And Disney sure as hell didn’t found the National Geographic Society in the milieu of Alexander Graham Bell in the 1880s. Disney bought these. They didn’t build them patiently, they didn’t put in hard work, or exercise quality control over decades to build up a trusted reputation, they just waved a cheque book, and somehow regulators looked the other way at the increasing monopoly power being acquired. Disney bought these to accumulate monopolistic power and make mucho money, and in the case of Star Wars when they have attempted to build something themselves they have spectacularly managed to kill the golden goose, as can be seen by looking at the downward trajectory at the box office of the late unlamented Disney trilogy.

March 26, 2020

Zhang Yimou presents Tour de France 2020

The French sports minister’s suggestion the Tour de France could be held behind closed doors caused much confusion yesterday. But this was not a comment lost in translation, there is in fact advanced pre-production on the plan with a film director, writes B. Bradley Bradlee from lockdown in Hubei province.

The spectators this year will be animatronic, but their clothes and hair will be changed daily to fool the peloton.

Roxana Maracineanu’s statement at first appeared to be garbled, and then after clarification simply insane. The Tour de France is after all defined by taking place outdoors, and with or without spectators the peloton rides as tight as a flock of birds and social distancing be damned. But the plan is as logical as only the French could think. Social distancing will not be enforced because the riders, their teams, and their accommodation will all in fact already be quarantined – as the race will take place behind closed doors, on a proposed 60 acre soundstage in the south of France.

This would be 43 times the size of the 007 soundstage at Pinewood and is already at an advanced stage of pre-production, preparatory to Chinese military flying in for construction in a planned 10 days. A number of animatronic spectators are already being manufactured, with a bewildering array of costumes and wigs being sourced so that the peloton will believe them to be different each day. A small herd of goats will be installed on a mountain laid with real grass so that a sniper operating a zipline camera can recreate the effect of animals fleeing the noisy helicopter camera.

Zhang Yimou, acclaimed film director and maestro of the 2008 Olympics Opening Ceremony, is masterminding this production. He is also on lockdown in Hubei province and spoke to us across the balcony. “This is for me like taking a theatre production on a cruise ship, you can’t go back for anything you forgot once you’ve started, so it’s high-stakes. Once the riders and their teams are in, that’s it. The ‘hotels’ better have all the rice and pasta they need…” We asked how the Tour would showcase France while indoors? “Huge greenscreen backgrounds, cutting edge! Real time footage of Provence”.

As well as complicated projections in the background for television, the physical space the riders travel thru will be something between an Escher staircase and a Victorian stage spectacle involving levers and pulleys. While unwilling to reveal details of how he would achieve an undulating terrain the director cackled, “The King of the Mountains will be as confused as he is exhausted by the end of this trek”. Apparently the French are resisting having Chris Froome mauled by a lion who will then be shot live on air. The director grumbled about Coppola being allowed to kill a water buffalo, and insisted that getting #ClaudetheLion trending on Twitter could only add to the publicity of the race. When pressed he admitted drinking an awful lot of green tea during this lockdown, but insisted the idea still had genuine artistic merit.

B. Bradley Bradlee is fictional editor emeritus of The New York Times. He is currently a quarantined roving reporter for the German weekly Die Emmerich-Zeitung.

March 23, 2020

Any Other Business: Part XLVII

As the title suggests, so forth.

What You Waiting For?

Why aren’t we already on lockdown? What are we waiting for? Surely it is time to stop pretending social distancing is going to get the job done. A lockdown is inevitable, just tell us when it’s going to be! Did we need permission from the example of the British doing it, because they allegedly have top experts working on the notion of behavioural fatigue? Today we had the nonsense that Government policy is not responsive to what’s Trending on Twitter, after Ministers have spent a fortnight calling out people based on videos that have been posted on Twitter. The Government will make a decision tomorrow, probably, based on the advice of the medical experts. As with so much else in the last 9 years Fine Gael hides behind someone else when they want to do something they want to do but want to pretend it’s being foisted on them. It is beyond time for Status Red. This is as ludicrous as the airlines having to decide in the absence of the State making any judgement call that it was probably a bad idea to be flying in and out to Italy 4 times a day. For once stop hiding behind other people, make the call yourself Varadkar, and do it already.

Time Tunnel Revisited

Well now, this has been rewarding. After 4 episodes of The Time Tunnel I am happy that, unlike when Beauregarde Hinkelmeister-Schmitt ruined my childhood by showing me The Equaliser, Irwin Allen’s sci-fi show has been entertaining damn near 30 years after watching it. A particular joy being the writers clearly revelling in the time-travel paradoxes of an episode where a character in the present watches on in horror at his ruthless behaviour in the future. And, in a demented touch involving a comet not quite hitting the earth because of the tunnel’s interference, the writers both aim to be a bit trippy and insist that their time travelling is a closed loop – everything has already happened the way it happened because of their interference before they even start interfering.

March 20, 2020

Any Other Business: Part XLVI

As the title suggests, so forth.

Just in the nick of time!

I almost didn’t notice it but the Horror Channel are re-running The Time Tunnel from the very beginning in their Sci-Fi Zone. I for one shall be tuning in at 12pm tomorrow for a triple bill. Irwin Allen’s 1960s shows were re-run in the late 1980s and early 1990s on Channel 4 and Sky One and I have very fond memories of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Land of the Giants, and The Time Tunnel. Having been highly impressed in the last few years by re-runs of The AvengersThe Man From UNCLE, and The Invaders I’ll be interested to see how this stands up. In particular when I was originally watching the show I was totally unaware that Lee Meriwether, who played scientist Dr Ann MacGregor, was Catwoman in the 1966 Batman movie. And if you think a triple-bill on a Saturday afternoon is overdoing it then I merely say you can’t excuse yourself on the basis that you possibly have anything else to do at this particular moment in time.

Who fears to take The Strokes Test?

Back in January Stephen Errity sent me on Evan Rytlewski’s provocative tweet (https://twitter.com/Evanryt/status/1215008355149856768) about what he called The Strokes Test: Would people still care about this band if their best album did not exist?  It is meant to knock out The Strokes but it also gravely endangers Nirvana, because of their tragically truncated discography. Pixies survive the test because if you get into an argument over whether Surfer Rosa or Doolittle should go then you are still left with either Surfer Rosa or Dootlittle to place beside Bossa Nova and Trompe le Monde. Talking Heads survive the test in style because if you get into a spat over Fear of Music, Remain in Light, Speaking in Tongues, or Little Creatures as their best album you are still left with three great albums and several more to boot. A similar embarrassment of riches occurs for the Beatles, the Doors, Led Zeppelin, U2 and REM. But, and here’s a nagging thought, what about the Beach Boys? Absent Pet Sounds from their discography and what remains? And once you dwell on that you realise you could say the same for Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Kinks and the Who. Any band with a number of great songs that never truly perfected the art of making essential albums is imperilled by the test.

And normal service has been resumed…

We are a week into the social distancing shuttering of the country and yet the government won’t admit what we all know – a more perfect lockdown is coming. The universities have abandoned the 2019/20 academic year; it’s over, classes, exams, something something online, don’t bother coming back to campus, have a good summer, see you in the autumn, maybe. The schools patently will be told to stay out until the Easter holidays begin, and then, sure why not take off all of April, and well, you know, May is kind of freewheeling into the end of the year anyway so who really needs it. Yet officially everything is still just on the mother of all pauses until March 29th. Are we supposed to take that seriously? Are we meant to believe all pubs and cinemas, cafes and theatres will re-open on that day and we all breathe a sigh of relief that we shut down that pesky coronavirus good? How does it help to keep the citizens of the country engaged in an idiotic guessing game? When will the actual status red lockdown begin? March 30th? April 1st? What is the point of Leo Varadkar embarrassing himself and us by going on national television on St Patrick’s Day to plagiarise Winston Churchill? You do not become a statesman for our time by appropriating a resonant phrase from a statesman from another state at another time anymore than I would become Dan Rather by ending all these posts with the single word – Courage. Yet Varadkar decided to tell us what we already knew about the coronavirus, fail to elaborate on economic aids for people thrown out of work, and did not announce a lockdown – which one would have thought the only reason for such a state of the nation address. Instead he told us the Emergency was ‘likely’ to continue past March 29th. Good to know.

Courage!

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