Saturday, March 16, 2013

Ten Statements About....THUNDERBALL (1965)

"Yes, yes, I am boring...but given all the movies,
sometimes you get a baddie like me!"

“My dear girl, don't flatter yourself. What I did this evening was for Queen and country. You don't think it gave me any pleasure, do you?"
“But of course, I forgot your ego, Mr. Bond. James Bond, the one where he has to make love to a woman, and she starts to hear heavenly choirs singing. She repents, and turns to the side of right and virtue...but not this one!"

1) The reason this is my least favorite of the Connery Bonds is that even though it is more coherent than the two that follow it, it is aggressively dull.  This film drags, it has very few engaging moments, and is a chore to watch.

It’s also the only Bond film in the official canon produced by perpetually water-logged thorn in the Broccoli family’s side, Kevin McClory.  Make of it what you will.

2) And the dullness begins with the extended sequence at the health club.  The thing that makes this rather lengthy and boring stretch of film unendurable is how inconsequential and coincidental it all is.  Even though Connery does stumble across the imposter that is part of Largo’s plot to blackmail the world, his discovery is not integral to his cracking the case at all.  In all it’s just twenty hours of him running around in shorts and stuff.

3) The weirdest thing about the overall plot is how frontloaded the intrigue is; so much of the first forty five minutes is spent with Fiona and her plastic surgery’d pawn getting everything set up so the bombs will end up off the coast of Nassau....followed quickly by an hour and twenty-some minutes of Bond wandering around looking for trouble.  It’s hard not for the second and third acts to not be a let down after all the running around of the first act.

4) Of course, this leads us into one of the other major problems with this film--namely, Emilio Largo is a terribly dull villain.  Now I know Adolpho Celi is an amazing character actor; he’s been a highlight of many policia films, as well as Danger: Daibolik.  But here he comes off as a pumped up gangland accountant, even with all his accouterments.  Some of this may be because Celi was dubbed, but there’s something inherently flawed with the performance and the character that makes his a non-starter.

5) And while we’re on the subject of non-starters...I will admit that Claudine Auger is drop-dead gorgeous...but there’s a difference between being gorgeous and being sexy, and Auger’s Domino is cold and stiff, making her one of the least interesting Bond Girls to matter how hot the scene involving the poison spine is.

6) But luckily, Auger is the only dull Bond girl in this film.  Martine Bestwick’s Paula and--especially--Luciano Paluzzi’s Fiona Volpe are wonderful additions to the Bond the point where I wished that Fiona was the main villain Bond came up against, and not Largo.  Fiona is so fun, reveling in her nastiness while being flirty with Bond, that her every scene is a delight.

7) Fiona plays a part in what has to be the highlight of the film--namely, the cat-and-mouse chase between her, Largo’s henchmen and Bond through Junkcano, referred to as ‘the Nassau Mardi Gras.’  Apparently director Terence Young shot this sequence using handheld cameras, and it manages to increase the paranoia and suspense of the chase without losing any coherence.  Granted, the whole sequence ends kinda dopily, but other than that...choice!
Yep, evil...but I'd do her...

8) If you don’t like scuba diving, this film is going to be truly painful for you.  There are massive stretches of ‘suspenseful’ scuba fight scenes and similar action, and they’re dreadful boring.  No amount of orchestration will be able to convince you otherwise.

9) But you know, I would put up with all this underwater noodling and the dull villain and main Bond girl if Bond actually acted like an actual spy, and not like some schmoe who’s stumbling around in the dark guessing at clues.  Hell, Bond deduces the bombs have to be in Nassau because...well, he sees a photo of Domino in a bikini and naturally assumes that’s where it is.  The way the script makes it sound, it’s more like Bond decides the weapons are there because he wants to see Domino in a bikini in the flesh.

10) The thing I find so amusing about Rik Van Nutter’s version of Felix Leiter is how it seems that McClory found an actor who looked as much like Jack Lord as possible, dressed him up like Jack Lord...but made the actor behave like a goof.  Leiter in this film is here mainly to drive Bond around and, in a key scene, get punched in the gut by him.

Overall...dull, uninteresting and full of filler, this is the first real big let down of the Bond series (although it’s gold compared to what comes down the pike during the later part of the Moore era).

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Ten Statements About....ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE (1973)

This is the day/your life will surely change...

"Somebody died over lonelines.  Sometimes it’s just that simple."

1) Even if I didn’t know the back story about how James William Guercio came to make this movie, it would be obvious that this was made by a musician.  The way the film is paced, the way it’s structured, and the choices that Guercio makes in telling the story make it clear that this is someone who is more interested in making a symphony than telling a story--and for most of the film, that approach works....

2) ...however, there is a downside to having an artist who isn’t a filmmaker making your movie--namely, even for a 70‘s movie, there are stretches where this film drags to a halt.  It’s not so noticable in the first act, where we’re getting to know Robert Blake’s John Wintergreen and the other characters...but the way the second act meanders is almost deadly to the viewer, and the way the film spools out for another fifteen minutes past the obvious coda (four of which is a still shot of the Arizona skyline)....well, it can wear on you.

3) Let me say this now--man, could Robert Blake act.  We’re so used to thinking of him as this strange and sad figure who most likely killed his golddigging wife, but in this movie he brings John Wintergreen to vivid life.  And the best thing about Blake’s performance is how Wintergreen is never too bad or too good to be believed--he’s literally a normal guy, and he is able to do both bad and good things believably without us losing respect for the character.  Comparing him to the much broader Billy Green Bush’s Zipper makes you understand how deep Blake gets into his role.

4) I find it fascinating how there is much made of Blake’s shortness visually--but outside of a scene where he flirts with a girl while waiting for ice cream, neither Blake nor any of the characters make much out of it.  Guercio seems to make more out of it as a contrast with everyone else, and maybe using Blake as a ‘little man’ who stands up to those people who have been badly used by the authority figures around him.
You want proof that this is a 70's movie?  Well, here you are!

5) Guercio makes an interesting choice as to the color palette of the film.  Interiors are always semi-dark and emphasizes reds and brown, making every scene seem to take place in a murky back room.  Exteriors, on the other hand, are brightly lit and emphasizes blues and yellows, as if the world is open and full of promise.  The contrast between these two palettes are furthmore used to startling effect in key scenes, particularly when Wintergreen discovers the dead body that he is convinced was murdered.

6) Elisha Cook’s Willie is a very compelling character....Cook makes him nearly non-verbal, frequently stretching out his sentences to become howls and screams in protest of his own isolation.  And even though Willie does horrific things, he’s more a pathetic, sad figure than anything else.

7) There is only one real action sequence (I find it amusing that the closing credits refer to it as simply 'The Chase’)...but man, is it violent, full of crashes, burning cops and bloodied riders.  Even if you begin to drift during that second act, this lengthy pursuit will snap you out of your lethargy.
Sometimes you need to listen to someone no matter how
primal their cries seem....

8) Once again, this is a film that could not be remade today.  Not only do you have a glacial pace, not only do we have an ending that unspools over twenty minutes and two ‘false’ stops, but the ultimate fate of Wintergreen comes off as so arbitrary that I can easily imagine modern viewers booing it off the screen.  Never mind that that fate is thematically consistent with what Guercio is doing...

9) And speaking of arbitrary, there are some things in the story that are presented and dropped suddenly (supposedly these plot threads were resolved in ten pages of script Guercio tossed out when the shoot got behind schedule).  This may seem weird at first, but actually helps to build the sense that this is just a typical few days in this highway patrolman’s life, which allows us to then accept the abrupt and arbitrary nature of Wintergreen’s fate.

10) At its core, the best thing that can be said about this film is that Guercio creates this wonderful film about a character who feels real.  Wintergreen may be the protaganist of the film, but he is not a hero.  He does heroic things in investigating this murder case, but he does so for selfish reasons.  He does try to be a decent person, frequently acting as a calming influence when his partner behaves like a douche, but he can also be a douche himself.  And at the end of the day, it is his decency that seals his fate, which is why the film works with all its flaws. unjustly forgotten film that proves why the 70‘s were the last great decade of American movie making. Beautiful to look at and compelling to watch, this is essential viewing.  And it’s bound to look good on Blu-ray, which is forthcoming from Shout Factory.

Friday, March 1, 2013


...and after getting super-old, the Doctor will
try to convince people he's an elk...

1) This is the first serial produced by John Nathan-Turner, who will guide the series until the classic version of the show is put on permanent hiatus in 1990....and boy, does he do whatever he can to differentiate it from the Graham Williams episodes.  The new starfield credits, the new music score, the use of 1980's-style  (i.e. clunky and primitive) CGI, the darker outfit for the Doctor...everything amounts to Nathan-Turner shouting 'We t'ain't your father's Who!'.  And to be fair, the new look does serve to convince us that we've come out of the children's pantomine that the Williams/Adams season had become.

2) ...which isn't to say that the show is without flaws.  The serial is so in love with its new CGI-based optical effects department that it devotes big ol' sequences that go on forever to moments that show off their prowess.  One shot of a starcraft docking is shown in its entirety roughly four times, and another shot of a model of the titular building on a CGI generated background (complete with too-bright sun beating down) seems to be repeated every time director Lovett Bickford runs out of ideas.  And this--along with other moments where Bickford indulges in arty shots like the 360 degree pan of Brighton Beach--slows the pacing of the serial down tremendously.

3) I also wonder if the serial wouldn't have benefited from David Haig not chewing his scenery so vigorously as Pangol.  Haig is so sneerily over the top that there's no doubt that he's the villain, and that distracts from the Mafia-manque story that the serial is supposed to be about...and given how Pangol's story arc results in a particularly bad CGI sequence that goes on for so long we can lovingly appreciate the level of crapitude, maybe it's better his story was minimized a bit.

4) Pangol's craziness also detract from the whole backstory of the Argolins.  There are these weird hints at what they're all about and their biology--apparently they're plant beings (it's never explicitly stated) whose age is measured by the number of berries or seed-pods on the top of their head.  There's a number of interesting things about Argolin society that is sorta kicked aside for Pangol making nasty references to Greeks, ranting around and overall trying to be Better Than You.

5) I can almost buy the Fomasi.  In tight close up they can actually be a bit unnerving.  Even when I see them in full figure and notice the big cinch-sack like collar, I can suspend disbelief juuuust enough to let the serial flow on.  But I cannot buy the way the villainous Fomasi hide from detection for the bulk of the story....they simply cannot slip into those disguises so easily given their generous form.

6) Here's something that made all of us who weathered the panto silliness of the Graham Williams era happy....this story is based on the admittedly fictitious science of 'tacyonics,' but it's a fictitious science that is both plausible and based on a bit of science fact.  Throughout this first season and part of the next, we're going to see some pretty hardcore science fiction concepts--this season ends with a truly amazing story that's tied in to some pretty heady ideas about psychics and mathematics--and it's really refreshing after what we just endured.

"Raahr!  I's a fluffy monsta!"
7) I'm not quite sure, but there's some weird elements in the serial that seems to have been left on the floor.  There's these frequent hints that there's some form of mutual attraction between Adrienne Courri's Mena and Nigel Lambert's Hardin, yet outside of some quotes, there's nothing concrete we can hang this supposition on.  There's the whole concept of the Fomasi criminal underground.  Plus there are other things that are mentioned, allowed to take its bowed, and never brought up again.  It's kind of frustrating.

8)  Thank God that Lalla Ward is wearing something distinct and flattering to her in that Edwardian bathing outfit with the big ol' hat.  But then, the costuming overall is very clever in a minimalist way, allowing us to get a sense of each character with only the way a garment falls on them.

9) I rather liked the way the story sees the Doctor transformed (something we'll see again in the very next serial).  It shows one of the strengths of the early phase of The Nathan-Turner Years--namely, these serials for the first season and change look for ways to actively challenged and hinder the Doctor.  Seeing this doctor struggle with age and his failing brain cells, seeing him express frustration at being slower intellectually is something the viewer hasn't seen before.  We'll see this a lot in these early Nathan-Turner tales until the arrival of Script Editor Eric Seward screws it all up.

10) You'll notice how the serial quickly, and pretty much gleefully, disposes of K-9 and the Randomizer within the story.  This could be looked upon as Nathan-Turner rushing to convince us that This Is Not Your Father's Who....or if could be the very first indications of Nathan-Turner's pettiness, which we'll see in abundance once he and Seward are a team.

Overall...even with its wonky pacing and weak storytelling choices, this is a decent serial that provides something of a 'mission statement' for this first leg of John Nathan-Turner's era--an era that will sour fairly soon, but right now is bright with promise.