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.