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 13, 2020

Any Other Business: Part L

As the title suggests, so forth.

Modern Family goes big

11 years is a long time for a sitcom to run, Cheers and MASH did it, but they didn’t have child actors built into the premise of the show like Modern Family did. Modern Family is the only American network sitcom that I would stand beside Arrested Development, and for much the same reasons. The faux docu-format, the lack of a soundtrack, and the delight in absurdity made it stand out in a world befouled by Chuck Lorre crudities. What made Modern Family so great for so long was the sheer variety of comedy in play: cross purposes, mistaken identity, sight gags, slapstick, word play, parody. Its weakest moments came in seasons that wobbled towards parody in the way that the final Naked Gun movie seemed to run out of comic invention and leaned too heavily into parody and ex nihilo zaniness. The triumph of the show is that it managed to course correct, perhaps as the maturing of the child actors into adults opened up new realms for the writers to explore. As a result this final season, now airing on Sky One, has had episodes; in particular ‘The Prescott’; that have been dizzying in the sheer number of plates kept spinning for twenty minutes, while the ‘Paris’ special feels like a North by Northwest moment as the writers grabbed one last big chance to do stuff they’d always wanted to but never got to.

Supernatural returns

E4 have finally got round to airing season 14 of Supernatural, two years after season 13. Since then RTE2 have shown the second revival of The X-Files, which seemed at times to be directly pitting itself against its spiritual descendant. Supernatural is not the show it was back in 2005, not least because someone turned on the lights in season 6 after creator Eric Kripke left and they’ve never been turned off again since, which has changed the goriness and mood of the show. But starting season 14 now is an odd moment, because you can’t but be aware that season 15 is coming to an end in America, and its final episode will be the finale for the entire series. Supernatural began in 2005, first aired in Ireland on TV3 in summer 2006, and will likely finish its run on E4 in 2021 or 2022 depending on their dilatoriness. That is an incredible amount of time to have spent with the characters of Dean and Sam Winchester, and their treasured Chevy Impala – which as we know from Chuck turned out to be the most important object in the history of the universe.

The democratic revolution continues

Today is the first day of a further three week period of what feels rather like martial law, imposed by a government rejected by the people but which has refused to leave office – and nobody in the media seems to want make a fuss about that. Far from all being in this together the Garda Commissioner has been actively encouraging people to inform on their neighbours. That feels a bit too much like Soviet Russia for my liking, and, it should be noted, comes just months after Drew Harris wanted access to everyone’s business on their phone ‘to fight serious crime’. That was before the pandemic. As the idea of testing and tracing for a relaxation of lockdown in Germany involves accessing data on phones it’s not hard to see Drew’s snooping being double downed as ‘for the sake of public health’. And yet… a temporary crisis is always a perfect moment for doing away with civil liberties on a permanent basis. By all means lockdown the country for public health, but let’s have more discussion. And if a national crisis needs national unity then form a national government. The refusal to do so should be seen for what it is, and discussed for what it is, a shameful attempt by Fine Gael to profit politically from a pandemic. Their failed election campaign centred on scaremongering that only they could handle the crisis of Brexit. And now they cling stubbornly to power to … make their point that only they can handle a crisis…? Remember Varadkar blustering he wanted to go into opposition? What exactly does it take for Fine Gael to leave government when they lose an election? Must we send the entire Cabinet abroad for St Patrick’s Day and change all the ministerial locks?

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.

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