Sunday, February 15, 2015

Ten Statements About....KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2015)

"...a man with an umbrella is always prepared..."
“Manners maketh man. Do you know what that means? Then let me teach you a lesson."

1) In spots, this is the Avengers (the TV show, not the comic/movie franchise) movie that I always wanted, and so much of that is because of Colin Firth’s Hart.  He is the best John Steed never named John Steed, and is made all the more remarkable by the sense that Henry was as much a rebel as Taron Egerton’s Eggsy is when he was younger.  If only the Mark Millar-isms didn’t keep creeping into the film....

2) And speaking of Egerton, thank goodness the film doesn’t shy away from Eggsy’s, well, dickishness.  While he has aspects that are admirable, he’s never too far away from his chaviness right up to the payoff in the, ahem, end.

3) What is up with Samuel L, Jackson’s performance as Valentine?  It seems all mannerisms and quirks, and that lisp he affects bugs me the fuck out.

I've heard of wet dreams before, but this is ridiculous.
4) For a film that wears its love of spy culture on its sleeve, quoting and referencing everything from James Bond to Maxwell Smart to Jason Bourne, its got some sincere disconnects that can be laid at the feet of Millar.  When the good guys gleefully blow up the heads of major world leaders, the feel Vaughn is going for is lost.

5) While I have no problem with the film’s comedic coda given the James Bond formula it’s aping, the thing that makes it not quite work is that there’s a painstakingly created potential love interest in Sophie Cookson’s Roxy.  The script does a lot to forge this bond between the two only to have her discarded towards the finale without any resolution to their arc.

6) One of the spy tropes this film gets a hundred percent right is the henchman, Sofia Boutella’s Gazelle.  Grotesque but graceful and a formidable presence, Boutella gives this film her all, and her presence livens up the proceedings while also giving us a Hell of a ‘final boss’ for Eggsy to fight during the climax.
"I'm gonna introduce you to this chick with a machine
gun for a leg.  You two would get along great!"

7) Given that this is a film based on a Mark Millar comic, it’s excessively violent--so violent it almost doesn’t fit into the superspy movie genre the script gleefully wants to emulate.  Every time a human being gets sliced in half, or we sit through a horrifyingly brutal sequence where Hart slaughters a church full of people gone mad with bloodlust, we’re tossed right out of the spell this film weaves throughout its narrative.

8) I’m not surprised that Michael Caine is cast as Kingsman head Arthur given Caine’s position in the canon of superspy movie culture.  But I was surprised at how Arthur’s story arc ends up--although I shouldn’t have, given Mark Millar’s involvement.

9) Given the nature of the MacGuffin, I have to ask...did somebody watch too much Russell T. Davies era Doctor Who?

10) While I may not appreciate the way the storyline involving Eggsy’s mother was handled, I do appreciate that it is given a payoff in the post-credit sequence.

Overall...A peculiar film that is a very good pastiche of superspy movies, but becomes a mess whenever it hews closely to the Millar original and revels in its low sexuality and high brutality.

I was at the Atlas this time--maybe for the last time, given I’m moving at the end of this month.  Among the trailers were ones for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (which, to my pleasant surprise, is going to be a period piece), Ant-Man (which could have benefitted from not having that goofy comedy sting at the end), and...shudder...Paul Blart Mall Cop 2, which proves than Kevin James can’t be funny in an unfunny Die Hard parody.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Ten Statements About....THE SILENCERS (1966)

This is the perfect illustration of this movie...because it
certainly looks like ass....
“Mr. Helm, now do I look like an enemy agent?"
“Well I dunno, I haven't seen the latest models yet."

1) I wonder if a film ever started as slowly as this one.  The seemingly endless sequence showing Matt Helm’s lazy morning routine drags the film down even before it’s started.

Of course, some people would claim it never gets started.

2) It’s really hard to avoid the conclusion that Dean Martin is way too old for this--at 49, his face even more weathered due to his alcoholism and hard living, his love scenes with women twenty-plus years his junior comes off as uncomfortable to watch rather than sexy.  But speaking of those women...

3) ...easily the best thing in this film is the divine Dahliah Lavi.  One of the most beautiful women to grace spy films of the 60‘s, she has grace, poise and actually forces a playful chemistry with Martin’s Helm.  She’s a joy to watch, which makes her disappearance for a long stretch of time one of the true crimes of the film.
I wouldn't look half asleep if Dahliah Lavi was rubbing
my shoulder....

4) On the other hand we have Stella Stevens’ Gail, who is more typical of a Helm Girl--clumsy, awkward, unintelligent and there primarily so Martin can make fun of her and expose her body.  Her performance is downright painful to sit through, doubly so as you can’t decide if this is her fault or Martin’s.

5) What is up with that singing Greek Chorus Dean Martin commenting on the plot?  It’s not funny, and actively interferes with the flow of the story.

6) Unlike with The 2nd Best Secret Agent In The Whole Wide World, the film attempts to match the Bond films in terms of sets, gadgets and the like on a limited budget...except that the sets are chintzy and the mini-grenades and ‘reversible gun’ make little sense.   The acrobatics which Helm and Gail go through to get their opponents to shoot themselves with the reversible gun only draws attention to how silly the weapon is.

7) This is one of those films that dated the second it came out.  The bulk of the gags seem to reference old commercials, while some are simply impenetrable (why is Victor Buono’s Tung-Tze sipping Diet Egg Fu Yung?)
"What's there to understand?  It's a Big O--like our organzation!

8) It’s obvious that ‘The Big O’ is meant to be an Asian organization--although there are no actual Asians on its payroll, and seems to be the chinziest evil organization ever.  Hell, they seem to run the majority of their operations from a converted moving van!  Of course, Matt Helm seems to operate solely out of a Nash Rambler, so it’s not like they have to spend a lot of money to oppose him.

9) Did anyone tell Victor Buono that this was supposed to be a spy spoof?  It certainly does seem like he’s playing it painfully straight, which gives many of his scenes a discordant tone.

10) Perhaps the weirdest thing is that the script does sometimes remain faithful to the two Helm novels it purports to be based on; strip it of the humor and the first act is very much from Death of A Citizen.

Overall...a painful film to watch for spy fans, no matter how much Dahlaih Lavi in cute outfits we’re given.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Ten Statements About....WHERE THE BULLETS FLY (1966)

1) While this film is still painfully low budget--like The 2nd Greatest Secret Agent In The Whole Wide World, this Charles Vine adventure confines itself to London and its environs--it’s obvious more money was spent on this film.  There are more elaborate set pieces, including several multi-person gun battles, and a number of sets that seem more spy movie-like.

2) This film also learns from what its predecessor lacked by providing an actual villain in Michael Ripper’s Mr. Angel.  Now granted, Angel is a strange creation with an indeterminate accent and appearance, but at least he’s someone we can focus our animosity on.

3) It amazes me that the film was directed by veteran film and television director Lewis Gilling, because there’s a frequent sense of amateurness to the whole thing.  Particularly alarming is the way the camera is constantly shaking and readjusting itself as if we’re experiencing a very, very slow version of Shaky-cam.

4) I have to wonder if Tim Barrett’s Seraph was meant to be a parody of John Steed in the same way that Charles Vine is supposed to be a mockery of Bond.  It doesn’t quite work, but I will admit that his sudden exit from the film is one of its bigger shocks.

5) While Dawn Addams’ Felicity Moonlight is an upgrade from the previous film’s female lead by, you know, actually being a female lead as well as a spy-movie girl, it’s weird how the film doesn’t introduce her until the third act.  But then....

6) ....there are long stretches where Vine himself doesn’t appear, including a painful ten minute stretch where a ‘comedic’ minister and his secretary visits the air base where the film’s MacGuffin is stored.  It’s a peculiar choice in a peculiar franchise.

7) You know, I don’t think James Bond, even in the Roger Moore era, would stop in the middle of a running gun battle to watch the world’s most awkward stripper.

8) There are moments where Gilling is trying to be too artistic for what, at its core, is a bread and butter spy film.  The sequence where various actors in a room are reflected in a cat’s eyes is particularly jarring.

9)  Boy, you guys got the most out of the cooperation of the Royal Air Force, didn’t you?

10) While the jokes about Tom Adams’ resemblance to Sean Connery is gone, they’re replaced by some forced comedy.  Besides the minister scene, there’s an interminable one with Sidney James as a cranky mortician.

Overall...only a marginal improvement over the original, and still a curiosity that might be of interest to fans of 60's spy culture.

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.