Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Ten Statements About....DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971)

"The name is Bond, James...yaaaaawn...Bond."
“You killed my only other double, I'm afraid. After his death, volunteers were understandably... rather scarce."
“Such a pity. All that time and energy wasted, simply to provide you with one mock, heroic moment."

1) This is the first of three Bond films written by Robert Maibaum and Tom Mankeiwicz, a writing team perhaps best known for how...incredibly nonsensical the scripts are.  The plot to this film is totally incomprehensible, and the sooner we accept this, the better.

2) In this film, Sean Connery (who was lured back after George Lazenby abandoned the role and John Gavin had already been signed for a then-unprecedented million dollar fee--which he then promptly donated to a local school) looks thoroughly bored.  The only time he looks motivated is in the pre-credit sequence, where he goes through a cross section of criminal types looking for Blofeld (including strangling a girl with her own bikini top!).  He’s not having any fun, he’s not showing much in the ways of signs of life.  It’s almost as if he’s got one eye on the door and the other on the check in his breast pocket.

3) I think a large reason why this film seems me is because the bulk of it is set in Las Vegas.  Vegas just doesn’t have the same kind of glamour as some of the cities of previous Bond films, and its more blue collar sensibilities seem to leech into the film as a whole, making it feel a whole lot less special than it should be.

4) Yes, Tiffany Case’s character becomes extremely two note (“I want my money/the diamonds” and “I don’t want to go to jail”), and she ends up becoming part of the weirdly smarmy, condescending sexism (even for a Bond film!)  that runs through the Maibaum/Mankeiwicz scripts.  But--and maybe this is primarily Jill St. John’s doing--she is one of the sexier Bond Girls of the 70‘s and fills out that weird bikini with the long sleeves really, really well.

5) In my younger days, I preferred Charles Grey to the other two Blofelds.  While my opinion has changed--I don’t think there has been a definitive Blofeld yet--he does acquit himself well...until that last act, where he dresses up as Princess Margaret and becomes a leering goof.  Maibaum and Mankeiwicz’s tendency to play everything for broad laughs (something that will result in...shudder...Sherif Pepper in the next two films) ruins the menace by making him ludicrous.
Yep...Bond on the 'moon.'  It's gonna be a loooong

6) Is there any reason--any reason--for the Moon Buggy chase?  Admittedly, it’s typical of the lackluster action throughout this film (the best fight scene happens relatively early), but the sheer what-the-fuckedness of that moment is indicative of how this film is just a string of Stuff That Happens.

7) Don’t get me wrong--I like all of the henchmen in this film, even the campy homosexual hitmen Wint and Kidd.  But they’re a little...sketchy, and maybe calling them sketchy is charitable.  Plus, Wint and Kidd really have no direct confrontation with Bond until the final scene (a trademark of Maibaum and Mankeiwicz that grows old when they do it the third time in Man With The Golden Gun).  Their whole narrative arc really is so disjointed from the main story that they could be cut out with little or no rewriting; it’s as if they’re in the movie solely because they were in the book.

8) It’s funny, but Connery seems to have more chemistry with Jimmy Dean’s Wilfred Whyte than with Norman Burton’s fatherly, ineffectual Felix Leiter.  Hell, Leiter comes off as a mild annoyance that Bond can push aside easily, while Whyte becomes a general ally, even a friend along the lines of Draco from the previous film to the point where Bond consults with him rather than his supposed bestie.
mmmmm...okay, so maybe the 70's wasn't
all bad.

9)  Let’s be honest here....the main stunt in this film--the car driving through the narrow alley on one side--is not only boring, it doesn’t work.  Director Guy Hamilton has to resort to some editing and an obvious inset of Connery and St. John ‘shifting’ from side to side in their car to convince us that the car moved from one side to the other.  It’s just a poor payoff to a very poor car chase that’s all the more dull because of the obviously artificial glimpses of the big crowds calmly standing on the sidelines watching the filming.

10) There’s a very real sense of the movie not, you know, having an actual plot until the very last act. The whole ‘we’re built this giant-ass laser thingie in orbit around the Earth that melts tanks and vaporizes people and we’re going to sell it to the highest bidder’ endgame sees to come out of nowhere.  It’s not that Maibaum and Mankeiwicz don’t set up elements leading us to the giant-ass laser thing; it’s that those elements are either injected seemingly randomly or make no logical sense.  Thus the impact of the film’s pay off doesn’t work.

Overall...the first Bond film of the 70‘s (and one of the first Bond films I saw in the theaters with my natural father) is a mess and a half, with the few bright spots far outweighed by the broad comedy, the illogical plotting and the dullness of the setting and stuntwork.  Not recommended.

And be prepared; this is going to be a long decade.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Ten Statements About...CEMETERY MAN a.k.a. DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE (1994)

Love means never having to say 'you've got bits of
my cemetery stuck in you.'
“I'm the watchman of the Buffalora Cemetery. I don't know how the epidemic started. All I know is that some people, on the seventh night after their death, come back to life. I call them Returners, but frankly I can't understand why they're so anxious to return. The only way to get rid of them once and for all is to split their heads open. A spade'll do it, but a dum-dum bullet is best. Is this the beginning of an invasion? Does it happen in all cemeteries? Or is Buffalora just an exception? Who knows? And in the end, who cares? I'm just doing my job."

1) This film is built firmly on the back of Rupert Everett, who was born to play Francesco Dellamorte.  All the laughlines, the tone and the exposition is carried by Everett, and his presence is what moves the film forward even as it becomes--consciously or not--more disjointed narratively.  And speaking of the film’s disjointed narrative--

2) A strong argument (one I agree with) can be made that everything supernatural happens in Francesco’s head.  All the zombies, the strangeness, the angel of death, even the metafictional ending are not acknowledged by any of the other characters save Gnaghi, and given how no one understands Gnaghi save for Francesco, there’s a strong chance that he’s reading meaning into the man-child’s grunts.  This could very well be a film about a mentally ill man and not a weird cemetery where the dead rise after a week.

3) I love how Michele Soavi is unafraid to indulge in his humorous side--and not only in the obvious ways (like how the Mayor tries to fire Francesco even after dying).  My favorite bit is how the photo of The Widow’s statements and, ultimately, her lovemaking with Francesco.   It’s an indication from Soavi that this film should not be taken on its face value.
And the scary thing?  This is the closest thing we have to
a normal relationship in this movie.

4) I love Francois Hadji-Lazaro’s performance as Gnaghi.  A mime by profession, Hadji-Lazaro has to use his physicality to carry his performance, and he does so magnificently.  And while he is used primarily as comic relief, he is able to give Gnaghi a level of pathos and joy at time that is infectious.

5) Anna Falchi....hmmmm.  I appreciate that she is capable of giving us three different characters (she’s referred to simply as ‘she’ in the credits,’ but I refer to the three as The Widow, The Secretary and The Student), but more often than not she isn’t very good, and I keep being distracted by the strangely impossible shape of her body.  She’s at her best as The Widow in the first act, playing off Everett extremely well and managing to get off a few darkly funny she has the greatest reaction to the weirdest pick-up line in the world.

6) What does it say about this film that the sweetest and healthiest relationship is between Gnaghi and the decapitated undead head of the mayor’s daughter?  Just saying.
He runs a cemetery, she's turned on by old's a
match made in...well, somewhere.

7) The thing that’s kinda weird about the Buffalora Cemetery that serves as this film’s backdrop is that it seems to go on forever.  It appears far bigger than Buffalora itself is, which seems to be little more than a town square and some side streets.  Granted, this discrepancy allows Soavi to create some beautiful shots, especially the brief tracking shot pulling away from Francesco’s home so we can see the parade of undead making their way to him as the flash from his frequent gunshots illuminate the night.

8) Having seen all of Soavi’s films, I’m willing to bet that the frequent parallels that he evokes throughout the film--the young girl evoking her lover, whose body is now fused with the motorcycle he loved mirrors The Widow emerging from her grave fused with bits of the grounds of the cemetery Francesco tends to; the ignus fatu that surround Francesco and The Widow when they first make love reflect the fate of The Student after Francesco realizes her true nature--are intentional and meant to be noticed, just as the way his composition of Francesco and The Widow’s first kiss evokes Magritte’s ‘The Lovers.’
All this and..BREASTS!

9) I really like Anton Alexander’s Franco, who truly does provide the only touchpoint Francesco has to the real world...although I continue to be puzzled by how he’s handled in the narrative itself.  He takes this strange turn in the third act that doesn’t quite jibe with his portrayal in the first two acts.  Even if we accept that the actions happen in Francesco’s head, there’s a definite disconnect in Fraco’s narrative arc.

10) I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that I would ever go to a doctor’s office like the one of Clive Riche’s Doctor Verseci.  Even if we take into account my ‘this happens in Francesco’s mind’ theory, that place is a dirty, grotesque horror show of a place.

Overall...a strange and peculiar film that is unlike any other zombie film, this is recommended viewing not only for Rupert Everett’s amazing performance but for the sheer oddness of the narrative and the beauty of the compositions.  One of my favorite, if not my favorite, zombie films.