Sunday, January 25, 2015

Ten Statements About....MOONRAKER (1979)

"I feel like I should apologize for your name, Holly..."
“At least I shall have the pleasure of putting you out of my misery. Desolate, Mr. Bond?”
“Heartbroken Mr. Drax."

1) You know, Bond films have recycled plots in the past--but never have they done the same exact film twice in a row.

2) While I understand Michael Lonsdale’s choice in underplaying Hugo Drax as a counterpoint to the more vigorous Curt Jergens’ Stromborg, his subtle performance tends to contribute to the film’s lackadasial pace.  Which is kind of a pity, because he has some very good lines that aren’t given the impact they could have had.

3) It’s dismaying to see Richard Keil’s Jaws--who is treated as a serious threat throughout The Spy Who Loved Me--being frequently treated as a goof in this film.  From his first appearance falling through a circus big top to the running gag of his romance with a tiny pigtailed blonde, Jaws’ fearsomeness is blunted.  And his face turn is...kinda sketchy.  In short, it’s a disappointing treatment for the only henchman to appear twice in the series.
"For the last time, I'm not asleep!
I'm being subtle!"

4) In retrospective, Lois Chiles is very good as Dr. Holly Goodhead.  There is a certain charm to her straightforwardness and she does have a pretty good chemistry with Moore.  Plus she is able to handle some of the expositional heavy lifting a scientist character should.  I have to assume her lack of favor in the realm of Bond girls has to come from appearing in this movie...and having the single most embarrassing name in the series history.

5) Here is where the comedy goes out of control in the Moore era.  Not only do we get Moore’s overobvious punning, we get endless sight gags, double takes (especially during that awful gondola chase) and goofy musical cues that ape Close Encounters, The Magnificent Seven and 2001.  Every time one of these comic moments happen, the film stops so we can appreciate the humor...except for the fact they all fall with a thud.

6) Even for an unrealistic spy series like this, the presence of laser gun wielding Space Marines propelling themselves on their own power through space to invade Drax’s spaceborn HQ officially breaks the suspension of disbelief.

7) One of the reasons I think this film ultimately fails as a Bond film is how, once Bond arrives in Rio the pace slows to an absolute crawl until the end.  Even the climax is kept from moving forward thanks to the endless model shots of Drax’s space station.  And speaking of these model shots....

8) It is obvious that this is a film that wants to be science fiction shot by a crew that doesn’t understand how to shoot science fiction.  The space element actually interferes with the natural flow and feel of a Bond film, and makes the film seem less than what it could be.
"So what was that you were saying about me being a big
goof before?"

9)  This is probably the last Bond film to feature great stylized sets.  As bad as the space elements are, the actual space station set is excellent--and it pales next to the absolutely gorgeous headquarters hidden in a Mayan temple.  It’s no surprise that this is Ken Adams’ last Bond film.

10) I have always contended that any Moore Bond film that ventures into California suffers....and while this one’s Drax Estate sequence does have its charm, the other fiddly bits around the edges help sink this movie.

Overall...a terrible, terrible film that is representative of the bottom of the barrel of the franchise--although, as we’ll find out, it actually isn’t as bad as From A View To A Kill and Die Another Day.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Ten Statements About....THE 2nd BEST SECRET AGENT IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD a.k.a. LICENSED TO KILL (1965)

"Why yes, I did get this job because I look vaguely like that
other fellow...."
1) Okay, we get that Tom Adams was hired to play Charles Vine because if you squint in a dark room, he sorta looks like Sean Connery....but do you have to keep reminding us with jokey references to 007?

2) I can’t decide if this film is meant to be taken straight or as a burlesque.  Adams and other actors play their role with a grim earnestness, but then we get villains named ‘HeShe’ and ‘Sadistico’ that seem a touch broad.

3) And since we’re on the subject of villains, the script never gives us a solid one.  We get a group of Soviets, a doppelganger and the aforementioned HeShe and Sadistico--but none of them are vividly enough drawn to qualify as a superspy baddie.

4) As non-sequitorial as the idea of Vine taking a first in Mathematics at Oxford is, it cleverly allows for the exposition about Regrav to be better disguised as a dialogue between peers and not a scientist explaining his work to a blunt object.

5) You know what’s really jarring?  That weird ass guitar based musical score.  It seems too jaunty to belong in a spy movie.

6) While it’s obvious that the film is very low budget, I have to admit I didn’t realize that the big MacGuffin was never seen until after the fact...which is pretty effective screenwriting by Lindsay Shonteff and Howard Griffiths.

7) I guess I should be grateful that Vine barely gives Veronica Hurst’s Julia the time of day save for looking at her legs because she’s....well, a very bad actress and decidedly mannish in appearance.  I almost expected her to be revealed as HeShe at one point.

8) Okay, you make a big deal about the soviet baddies having a doppelganger of Vine they plan to replace him with so he can assassinate Karel Stepanek’s Jacobsen.  Then why don’t you ever even tease that Vine has been replaced, rather showing him being thwarted in his attempts before being uncerimoniously killed at the climax?

9)  You know how you can tell a film’s low budget?  When they use stock footage to represent the hero showing his charge the sights of London.

10) This ending makes. No. Sense.  Even with that seemingly endless scene of Vine’s superior explaining the plot afterwards.

Overall...a peculiar little oddity that may not be the greatest low budget spy movie of the era, but has some charm.  And to think there are two sequels and three sort of rip off Shonteff wrote featuring ‘Charles Bind,’ one of which starred Gareth ‘I was in The New Avengers’ Hunt!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Ten Statements About....DOCTOR WHO STORY ONE HUNDRED THIRTY-ONE: WARRIORS OF THE DEEP (1984)

"Yep...all fall down go boom I guess."
“The Myrka is a creature of the inkiest depths - or was until the Silurians tinkered with its biology. Anyway, it has little tolerance to light and hopefully none at all to ultraviolet rays.”
“Can you be sure?"
“No, Tegan. Perhaps you should ask it nicely to go away?”

1) There is a certain elegance to connecting the Silurians and the Sea Devils, making them akin to distant cousins.  Granted, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when you think about it in the context of the series for any length of time, but for the story it does.

2) Oh, God...go away, stupid pantomime horse Myrka.  Just...go away.

3) ...and you know, the Myrka would just be another crappy monster design if it wasn’t proving how ‘indestructible’ it is by stomping around on literal styrofoam sets.  There are moments where we actually see the rubble caused by this stupidity wobbling and curling under its foot.  It undercuts the veracity of a serial whose quality is already shuddering like a top.
"RAAAR--I's a Monstah!"

4) It’s nice to see that in 2094 all military personnel worship Michael Jackson and wear vinyl outfits with piping ala’ the video for ‘Thriller’.  No wait...no it isn’t!

5) I see that John Nathan-Turner's obsession with name stars has prompted him to ressurect Ingrid Pitt.  As if seeing this legendary Scream Queen all chunky and slathered in make-up wasn’t enough, we have to see her kung-fuing the Myrka.  And that moment may encapsulate everything that was wrong in the JNT era.

6) And speaking of Ingrid Pitt’s Dr, Solow, the whole subplot involving this conspiracy to turn Martin Neil’s Maddox into a pawn for ‘the opposition’ designed to sabotage the whole operation seems decidedly out of place.  Hell, it seems there primarily to add to the morbidity that Eric Saward confuses for being adult.

7) We get that ‘adult’ means gruesomeness and death to this era of Doctor Who....but don’t you think every. single. cast member dying save for our heroes a bit much?

"I figured I'd act all cowardly and resist
your every suggestion...sound good?"
"8) On one hand, I like the samurai-like armor of the Sea Devils--even if the necks list to one side.  On the other, giving the Silurians what amounts to a wrestler’s singlet and a perpetually surprised expression does not work a’tall.

9) You can kind of see how Turlough is not going to be the greatest of companions.  He’s not one for action and tends to contradict everyone around him.  To be honest, I see no advantage to having him tagging along.

10) What was the point of the ‘what have you been eating?’ gag?  Because it’s not, like, funny or anything.

Overall...a pretty low point for the series, and arguably the lowest point in the Peter Davison era.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Ten Statements About....THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977)

This is one of the best couples in Bond history...
“When someone's behind you on skis at 40 miles per hour trying to put a bullet in your back, you don't always have time to remember a face. In our business, Anya, people get killed. We both know that. So did he. It was either him or me. The answer to the question is yes. I did kill him."
“Then, when this mission is over, I will kill you."

1) This is one of those movies--probably due to the fact that Richard Maibaum has a new writing partner in Christopher Young--that shows you the Roger Moore James Bond we could have had.  While the Moore punnishness and humor is still there, in many cases that humor is much darker in a way that fits the film’s world.

2) I think a lot of what makes Moore step up his game is working opposite Barbara Bach.  The two have a palatable chemistry and create a credible complex romantic and professional relationship together.  And while the final resolution of their story arc comes off as forced (and features some forced Moore-like humor), the two of them work very well indeed.

3) I know there are some people who feel Stromberg is a mite over the top, but I never felt that way.  Curt Jurgens actually has a very good pitch as the ocean loving villain, remaining arrogant and smart throughout while also having that level of operatic a good Bond villian needs.  If there is one flaw in Stromberg, it’s that he’s not as charming as other Bond masterminds (something Michael Lonsdale also fails at in the next film, but for the exact opposite reason; he underplays while Jurgens overplays).

He bites...and that's one of the reasons he's one of the
greatest Bond henchmen of all time.
4) This is the beginning of that weird period where the producers are experimenting with more contemporary composers for the Bond films.  This film’s score by Marvin Hamlish is at odds with the Bond tradition, being too...well, disco-y at times to be taken seriously as a spy soundtrack.

5) As delightful as Bach is, this film sorely needed more of Caroline Munro’s Naomi.  She is certainly the epitome of the Bond Girl, and her brief, very flirty role adds some spice to this already flavorful film.

6) One of the things this film is not recognized for is that it begins a heightened emphasis on continuity.  Besides making pointed reference to Bond’s marriage, the film introduces a number of characters who will recur throughout the next few films--primarily Walter Gotell’s Gogol, who serves as M’s opposite number.

You know what this film needed?  More Caroline
Munro in a bikini....
7) Just as Bach and Jurgens help to elevate this film to its great heights, so does the presence of Richard Kiel as Jaws.  Kiel is one of the scariest henchmen not due to his physical body, but his non-verbal acting.  Even when the script is obviously trying to make him a figure of fun, Kiel manages to keep Jaws a serious threat by sheer force of will.  The only time he seems to fail is a moment involving a magnet, but it’s a brief moment in an otherwise amazing performance.

8) I find it fascinating how this film reflects the softening of relationships between countries.  In addition to the relationship between Bond and Anya, we get an interesting dynamic between Gogol and M and a third act showing American and British naval personnel fighting side-by-side with Soviets.  This is the beginning of a reorientation of the Bond franchise away from the cold war emphasis of previous entries.

9)  This is one of Ken Adams’ crowning jewels--which is made all the more impressive given how badly his eyesight was failing at this time (he received an uncredited assist from Stanley Kubrick when it came to lighting the massive submarine dock sets).  There are some gorgeous set designs that reflect the changing design esthetic of the70‘s while also maintaining the elegance most people associate with Bond villains.  And while it’s obviously a model, Atlantis is a magnificent sight as it rises from the ocean.

10) I love the Lotus, and I’m even more impressed that its submersible qualities were not faked at all.  Practical effects like this is something I continue to sorely miss.

Overall...Along with For Your Eyes Only (which is atypical of a Bond film), the best of the Moore era with very little to lament.  Recommended.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Ten Statements About....DARKMAN (1990)

"I'd rather look like this than continue trying to speak with
an American accent...."
“I'm everyone and no one. Everywhere...nowhere. Call me... Darkman.."

1) Even though this is treated in almost every way like a classic super-hero movie, this is Sam Raimi’s love letter to pulp heroes.  Liam Neeson’s Payton Westlake is such a mash-up of a number of pulp characters (the intelligence of Doc Savage, the madness of The Spider, the chameleon-like nature of The Avenger, the visual of The Shadow) that he becomes Pulp Fiction’s Greatest Hits.

2) Boy, the non-Americans in this film can’t keep an American accent worth a damn.  Neeson struggles until he just gives up on it about midway through--maybe using the fact that Westlake damaged his body so much it altered his nationality--and Colin Friel’s Strack sounds like a bad imitation of every third Warner Brothers Gangster from the ‘30‘s...

3) ...which is  pity, because the script by Chuck Pfarrer and a slew of other people gives Strack a lot more shading and nuance than it gives the person we’re supposed to react to as The Biggest Bad, Larry Drake’s Durant.  From his background as a developer’s son made to work the high steel by his dad to his motivations, Strack ends up an intriguing presence.  Compared to him, Durant is just Pure-D-Mean.
"I's A Bad Guy!  A BAD GUY!"

4) I really did like Frances McDormand’s Julia (Hell, when I first saw this I thought she was, ummmm, rather sexy), but the reason she works is solely because of McDormand.  Julia is a criminally empty role to the point where I didn’t know what she actually did for a living until late in the last act.  Even with all the posturing about her as an active participant, Julia is nothing but a damsel in distress there to be threatened and saved.

5) I certainly respect the moment where Raimi uses CGI to amplify his own stylized tendencies, like when he uses it to ‘break down’ the backgrounds during Payton’s seizures.  But the few times when it’s being used to make stunts safer (particularly every time Payton swoops down over another character) it sticks out like a badly burned face.

6) I find it fascinating that the macguffin is this plastic flesh, yet the thing that the film is uncannily prescient about is the manufacturing process; Payton is using a 3-D printer!

7) I wonder if the film would have benefitted more by being set in an identifiable city.  I have to think Raimi patterned his no-name city after Detroit, and I can’t help thinking Strack’s argument about tearing-down-to-build-up would be more persuasive if the setting was this great American city that had almost turned feral.
"And one of my particular skills is the ability to make a
stupid face while the background explodes..."

8) I’m pretty sure it’s Raimi and company trying to keep the story true to the rather sketchy nature of the genre, but this is a seriously underwritten script.  This is the ultimate film where no one seems to have a life before the movie begins.  They just exist, with the possible exception of Strack.

9)  Even though this is a fairly violent film, albeit one that is not gory about it given its rating, it’s a real shock to hear some of the cursing in it. Maybe it’s because ‘you must be shitting me’ never appeared in an actual pulp adventure tale, but the examples of swearing stand out as an anomaly.

10) ...although, oddly enough, the Raimi-isms (I’m looking at you, Rivet-cam) actually make sense in this world, as they exaggerate the cartooniness of the film itself.  They fit more seamlessly here than they do later on in the Spider-Man films.

Overall...a seriously flawed but entertaining film that can be seen as the beginning of a transition from cult to mainstream director for Raimi.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ten Statements About....THE EXORCIST (1973)

The only thing backwards looking about the film is
Regan herself....
“Where is Regan?"
“In here. With us.”

1) One of the reasons this film is so brilliant--and the scare scenes so shocking--is how Friedkin approaches it almost as a police procedural.  The clinical way in which the story unfolds, and the way it progresses, mirrors a mystery story.  Hell, it’s probably the only reason Lee J. Cobb’s Lt. Kinderman is in the film!

2) Part of the reason the key scenes continue to shock decades later is that these scenes are shot with an almost documentary-like clinicalness and without music.  What Friedkin seems to be doing is forcing us to realize these things are happening just because awful things happen to everyday people, and they happen without drama or elaboration....and that elevates what should be a shocking effects scene into something that feels all the more grotesque.

3) Supposedly Friedkin wanted Jack Nicholson for Father Karras, and Stacy Keach had been cast.  Thank God he changed his mind and cast Jason Miller.  In a film full of great faces, Miller’s is the best.  His craggy features and sad eyes speaks volumes of his inner conflict and his past before he even utters a word.  And when he utters those words, it makes us sympathize with him immediately.
There is no way any of the other, more famous actors could
do better than Jason Miller.

4) Yes, the film can be a little plodding in the first act--but I love how Friedkin uses the parallel structure contrasting Ellen Burstyn’s Chris’ life of leisure and her loving relationship with Linda Blair’s Regan and Father Karras’s more austere life and complicated (but no less loving) relationship with his mother.  Friedkin doesn’t judge or come out one way or the other when examining these two lives, but allows us to decide who is using their time on earth more wisely.

5) Okay, I’ll call it--there’s no reason for that beginning sequence in Iraq and connecting Regan’s possession with it.  If anything, it detracts from the concept that this horrible thing is happening at random.

6) As I watched the Extended Director’s Cut, I can safely say I didn’t care for the spider walk sequence.  It seems to detract from the very gradual and subtle turning of Regan into a vessel for Pazuzu, and doesn’t have nearly the impact the other scare scenes have.
One of the single most iconic images in 70's cinema...

7) You have to give Blair credit.  Yes, she’s a limited actress (something we cannot write off due to her youth once you take into account her full body of work), but she does work to make the bond between her and her mother, and her physical acting as she slowly falls under Pazuzu’s control is very effective.

8) As scary and disturbing as the scenes of Regan possessed are, the single most uncomfortable scene for me involves the spinal tap and encephalogram.  The sheer quietness of the scene makes her cries of pain sound like rifle shot.

9) One of the things Friedkin excels at (and still excels at, as witness from some of his recent efforts) is making the best use of limited spaces.  So much of this movie takes place in a single bedroom--hell, there’s really only two or three sets where most of the action takes place--that it needs someone of Friedkin’s spacial creativity to break up the visual monotony.

10) Reasons This Film Could Not Be Made #57: The bittersweet ending, where Father Karras knowingly sacrifices himself by damning himself to Hell, would never stand. And because it would never stand, the film’s ambivalent nature would collapse in on itself in an instant.

Overall...still pretty hard to watch after 40 years, a seminal movie for students of horror.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Ten Statements About....THE COMPANY OF WOLVES (1984)

"I am the Devil, and I endorse this message."
"Never stray from the path, never eat a windfall apple and never trust a man whose eyebrows meet in the middle."

1) I am loathe to call this a horror movie, even though there are horrific things within these 91 minutes.  The combination of Neil Jordan’s surrealism, the source material by Angela Carter and the unconventional narrative structure makes this something singularly unique that has to be experienced so that each person can determine what it is to them.

2) And speaking of horrific things--I don’t care how much it’s obviously an animatronic, the transformation of Stephen Rea’s Young Groom into a wolf is absolutely grotesque, and pure nightmare fuel.

3) Of course, one of the amazing things about this film is how Jordan took a feminist sociological text and turned it into a film that thoroughly disguises that it’s an anthology film with big heaping piles of dream logic woven in.

4) Casting Angela Lansbury as Granny was a masterstroke.  Lansbury is able to walk the thin line between being a kindly relic of an older age (even in the medieval setting her segments occur in) and being a very sinister presence.  Thus we sort of agree with Sarah Patterson’s Rosaleen’s mother that the girl spends too much time with her, but also feel awful when the fate we know is coming for Granny comes.
"Crackd mirror on the wall/who's the wolfiest of them all?"

5) I’ll be the first to admit that the dream-within-a-dream-where-stories-are-told structure makes the narrative unclear--but that might be exactly what Jordan intended.  He wants us to be disoriented and confused, just as we would be if we were dreaming this narrative.

6) Just as I think Lansbury’s casting was genius, so do I think the casting of  Sarah Patterson as Rosaleen is brilliant.  She is able to convey that weird mix of awkwardness, innocence and confidence of a girl on the cusp of womanhood, and manages to reflect what others try to feed her--thus she becomes a miniature of Granny when interacting with her mother, and her mother when interacting with the boy in the village who is courting her.  It’s a tiny little complex performance that is a perfect fit for what Jordan and Carter are trying to achieve.

7) I think every movie could be vastly improved by having Devil Terence Stamp rock up in a Rolls Royce driven by a female albino chauffer holding a skull to hand out gifts.
/"Nightmare FUUUUUEEEEEL!"

8) For a film with a number of werewolf transformations spread out over its various stories, I am struck by how Jordan makes sure each one is unique in and of itself.  While most people would remember the ‘wolf out of the mouth’ transformation that became the film’s poster, the one that’s the most visually striking is the mass transform taking place in a shattered mirror.  That Jordan was able to give us this variety in a film that’s obviously low budget is amazing.

9) A lot of the main thread was shot on set, as were key scenes of the individual stories....and I think this once more feeds into the dream-like tone Jordan is going for.  When the skies are colored just a little bit wrong, you have to accept that you’re not in anything close to reality.

10) The last story, featuring Danielle Dax, is so sad thanks to Dax’s physical performance.  And even though the story says more about the teller than the character within, it provides an excellent coda to the film and a rationale for Rosaleen’s decision at the end.

Overall...a singularly original piece of work that weaves a number of disparate elements to produce something that stands out from other horror films of the period.  I cannot recommend this film enough.