Tuesday, October 30, 2012

GoldenEye - Dir. Martin Campbell (The Bond Project #17)

GoldenEye (1995)
Dir: Martin Campbell

Rebirth of Bond
Jay Maronde
                First and foremost, I should mention that this was the first Bond film I ever saw. I distinctly remember when my father took myself and my brothers to the movies opening week because he wanted to see the new Bond. The people at the theater tried to give him shit that he was taking three children to a PG-13 movie, but if you’ve ever met my Dad clearly you can understand why this wasn’t going to stop him at all. Now, a big part of the reason that he was so insistent upon us seeing this film is that it had been six years since the last film and there had been a lot of talk at the time that there would be no more Bond films. Fortunately, GoldenEye easily became the most profitable Bond since Moonraker, and effectively rendered Licence to Kill’s poor box office performance a nullity.
                The reasons for the many years between Bonds are always convoluted, but GoldenEye ‘s longest-ever-delay also had some of the craziest reasons ever. First, MGM had sold the broadcast rights to the entire Bond Canon to a company that wanted to broadcast them on TV. At the time this was a huge copyright issue and lawsuits ensued fast and furiously. For some time the Eon Productions team was intent on never making another Bond film unless they had control of these lucrative re-broadcasting rights (yes, I’m fully aware that the SPIKE network generally shows the entire Canon during these recent few Thanksgiving holidays, and I have no explanations for you as to why other than money—but in the early 1990s this was not going to happen without a fight). Second, there were no more Fleming novels to make films from, and as such GoldenEye is the first film ever that draws nothing from the works of Fleming (other than the Bond character himself). Further, after the script was finally delivered it required substantial rewriting as apparently it bore numerous similarities to True Lies, which was also being made and released around the same time. And even further, while all of these legal and creative issues were delaying the project, the U.S.S.R. was dismantled, and the Berlin Wall fell; as such the standard James Bond enemy of Russia wasn’t the best enemy anymore. Finally, while all of this bickering was going on, Timmy Dalton and numerous other Bond standards quit their roles making this the first James Bond to replace Bond, M, and Moneypenny all in the same movie.
                So again the producers were searching for a new Bond. Luckily for them they had already decided two films previous that they had wanted to give the role to Pierce Brosnan, who at the time was unfortunately unavailable due to contractual obligations to the Remington Steele television series. So while numerous actors were again auditioned (including again Mel Gibson) the producers eventually went with Brosnan, and personally I think it was a wonderful choice. Brosnan is a great Bond. He’s got the Roger Moore suave, Lazenby’s youthful looks, Dalton’s willingness to do his own stunts, and Connery’s grittiness. For me he just looks the role maybe the most of all the Bonds. Also new to this film was the casting of Dame Judi Dench as M, and she is fantastic (many early reviews of the new film Skyfall have critics clamoring that she deserves an Oscar for her performance). Dench is the first female to portray the MI6 chief and while initially there was much talk about how Bond would look taking orders from a lady, Dench’s outstanding performance quickly removed all doubts as she’s far more imposing and leader-like than Hilary Clinton (who is the only person I can even think to compare her character with).
                The film also featured two fantastic Bond girls: not only the lovely and very-much-come-hither Izabella Scorupco as James Bond’s Russian computer programmer Ally Natalya, but also the fantastically gorgeous and very sexually aggressive Famke Janssen as Xenia Onatopp—the extremely memorable henchwoman who literally copulates men to death. Now the name On-a-Topp is a fantastic Bond girl name, like tops up there with Plenty O’Toole and Holly Goodhead, but Janssen (who later becomes Jean MF Grey in the X-Men movies) is easily at the peak of her youthful beauty. She’s stunningly gorgeous and easily one of the best looking Bond girls to ever grace the screen with any Bond. Her performance in this role is stunning, moaning orgasmic as she murders people all over the world—she is so convincing as a henchwoman that it is remarkable.
                The casting in this film isn’t the only thing that makes it awesome, as this particular Bond has some record-breaking stunts (many of which Brosnan preformed himself) including the tallest bungee jump ever performed, and the most scale models ever used in a Bond film.  There is also a fantastic tank chase through the streets of St. Petersburg. I should mention first that the producers were so pleased with the stuntman who performed the record-breaking bungee jump that they gave him a cameo later in the film as one of the helicopter pilots whom Xenia kills. The other helicopter pilot is actually the other stuntman who performed the stunt in the beginning where Bond defies the law of physics and jumps into a falling plane (the stunt was actually performed in real life, and no laws of physics were actually broken—as while all objects fall at the same rate, a human will fall faster than a plane whose propeller is running in reverse, which is how the footage was actually achieved). These two amazing stunts right at the beginning of this film definitely let the viewer know that this new Bond film is going to be action-packed and utterly fantastic. The other stunt I would like to mention is the wonderful tank chase through the city as Bond is pursuing the kidnapped Natalya in a stolen Russian tank. Brosnan is actually in the tank for all these scenes, which adds tremendously to the realism of the film even though the tank was modified so that a professional was covertly driving from a hidden location. My favorite part of the chase (which is almost always cut from the TV version) involves Bond driving said tank directly through a Perrier tractor trailer truck and smashing millions of cans of Perrier everywhere (in real life the company paid to have every single can recovered from the streets of St Petersburg so as to avoid any chance of crafty Russians being able to bootleg their product).
                Also of note about this film is the Car—not necessarily for the car itself, because it has a very small role in the film and never uses any of the cool gadgets that Q branch has installed—but instead because the deal struck between EON and BMW is always recognized and the world’s most successful product placement deal ever. The James Bond edition of the Z3 in this film sold out in less than 24 hours. Several Z3’s were used to ferry journalists from the Premiere at NYC’s Radio City Music Hall to the after party at the MOMA (also of note: this is one of two Bond films to not have its world premiere in London, and the only one to premiere in NYC (San Francisco hosted the premiere of A View To a Kill)). While this car may not be the most “James Bond” of all of Bond’s cars it is clearly a very recognizable symbol of this movie.
                Before I close I feel I should mention that I really like the title song GoldenEye, sung by Tina Turner and written by Bono and The Edge. Personally I hate U2, and loath Bono (I could go either way on The Edge) but the song is great it really recalls to mind the great Shirley Bassey Bond anthems of earlier films.  And while it is only a small part of the film, I feel like the song really envelops the viewer into this new world of Bond. This entire film is wonderful. It’s gritty at points, sweet at points, extremely interesting, and beautifully filmed with wonderful locations. Brosnan’s transition into the role of new Bond was more than successful and the continuing viability of the Bond franchise may be attributable in part to his performance. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Licence to Kill - Dir. John Glen (The Bond Project #16)

Licence to Kill (1989)
Dir: John Glen
A Gritty Film for a Gritty Bond
By Jay Maronde

John Glen’s final entry into the Bond Canon could easily be one of the most violent and divisive James Bond Films ever produced for two reasons. First, Timmy Dalton had already shown that he wanted to play Bond in a very different, much more gritty way. Second, Producer and Broccoli family member Michael G. Wilson wrote most of the movie because the Writers Guild of America was once again on strike. These two factors contributed to this very gritty entry into the Canon, which leaves everyone to wonder what would have happened had the franchise continued with this director/ actor pairing.           

The first thing I want to mention about this film is that the villains are extra fucked up and crazy. Robert Davi plays Franz Sanchez, the biggest of the big-time South American drug lords, and he is fucking awesome. Sanchez is so evil he doesn’t kill his enemies; he feeds them partially to sharks and lets them live so that he can enjoy their suffering. He also is more than willing to travel to America (where he is under indictment) and risk arrest, exclusively for the purpose of recapturing his escaped girlfriend (the radiant Lupe, played by the beautiful Talisa Soto) and beating her (but only after cutting her new boyfriend’s still-beating heart out of his chest (which he later refers to as his little valentine). This is where the film opens. James Bond and his old friend Felix Leiter are on their way to Leiter’s wedding in Key West when the Coast Guard flies over, stops the limo motorcade, and enlists Bond and Leiter to capture Sanchez. Felix Leiter in this film is once again played by David Hedison of Live and Let Die fame, making him the first actor to reprise the role of Felix. Leiter advises Bond that he is only along on the adventure in an observatory position, but Bond jumps out of the Coast Guard chopper and literally hooks the tail of Sanchez’s escape plane, dragging him back into American airspace and a waiting jail cell. Bond and Leiter then parachute into the wedding, making for one of the most positive James Bond pre-credits sequences.* After this moment however, the film gets progressively darker.

After the credits, the song for which is sung by Gladys Knight and isn’t that great but is very catchy, we are returned to the duel scenes of Leiter’s happy wedding and Sanchez’s unhappy (yet remarkably calm) interrogation. Then in a plot twist which was completely ripped off by the 2003 Samuel L. Jackson action flick S.W.A.T., Sanchez offers 2 million dollars to anyone who will spring him from the clink. Of course there’s a dirty cop who takes the cash, and he gets his later as Bond feeds him to a shark. But Sanchez escapes, and sends his goons after that CIA guy who arrested him, our old friend Felix Leiter, who is literally carrying his new wife across the threshold as the goons show up. Here we get our first view of a great young actor who was cast because he was weird and creepy but not too much. This young actor is Benicio Del Toro, and he is fantastic, like easily one of the best Bond Henchmen ever, and he is actually the only Bond henchman ever to win an Oscar. Later on in the film right before Sanchez feeds only part of Leiter to a shark,  Dario (played by Del Toro) remarks in the creepiest way ever that he gave Leiter’s wife “a nice honeymoooon”  (YOUTUBE LINK,
http://youtu.be/r5rUWO1ZUQA , BAM!) implying that they raped her before killing her. This is the first rape I can remember from the entire Canon so far, further adding to this film’s almost surreal grittiness. Clearly this upsets James Bond greatly and he begins his plans for revenge. Unfortunately, M wants him to go to Istanbul and solve other more pressing British problems. Bond refuses, resigns, and then is forced to escape from MI6 custody, as clearly being a super spy isn’t really a job you are allowed to just quit.               

With the help of Former CIA pilot Pam Bouvier (played by the ultra-lovely Carey Lowell (who is one of my favorite Bond girls exclusively because she later became an ADA on “Law & Order”) Bond escapes America, and travels secretly to South America to confront Sanchez on his home turf. Bond deposits a ton of Sanchez’s own money (which he stole) in Sanchez’s Bank, and then heads to Sanchez’s casino to play a quick game of no limit card counting. Personally, Bond blatantly counting cards could be one of my favorite James Bond casino scenes in the entire Canon, and it definitely works perfectly for Bond’s purposes of having a face-to-face with Sanchez. The two meet, Bond tells Sanchez that he is an unemployed assassin looking for work, which is shocking because it’s actually true. The two eventually become associates before Dario blows the whistle while they are all at Sanchez’s secret cocaine processing facility which of course Bond burns to the ground before escaping. Bond then chases down Sanchez and eventually lights the gasoline soaked villain on fire using the lighter that the Leiters gave him as a gift for being the best man at the wedding.

Also worth a mention in this film are Desmond Llewelyn as Q in his biggest role ever, covertly helping Bond, acting almost as if he’s a field agent when officially he’s only on vacation in South America (Moneypenny arranged this particular vacay without M having any knowledge), and the Great Wayne Newton. Both of these characterizations have unique back stories. First, this was supposed to be a Bond film where Bond takes out Noriega. Unfortunately the British have no jurisdiction over South American leaders which is why Bond quits before running off to settle this score. The producers didn’t want the movie to not feature Q branch but how would an expatriated James Bond be receiving his standard help other than to have Q covertly helping of his own accord, so for many parts of this film Q is almost Bond’s sidekick. The Wayne Newton appearance is far more amusing as Newton had always wanted to be in a Bond film so he wrote the producers and nicely asked if they could make it happen. Originally he was given a very small part but after the production team got him in front of the camera his role was greatly expanded to what we see today as the final product.

Licence to Kill
is certainly not the best of all Bonds and certainly wasn’t the most profitable films of that era, but it is quite gritty and is the exact type of film that Timmy Dalton should be the star of and therefore the movie is definitely worth a viewing.

 *Apparently the opening sequence in The Dark Knight Rises pays homage to this one.  -JK

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Living Daylights - Dir. John Glen (The Bond Project #15)

The Living Daylights (1987)
Dir: John Glen
Time for a New Bond
By Jay Maronde
                Everyone knew it was bound to happen at some point. Roger Moore was super old, and while Moore will forever claim that he “retired,” I’m sure the official story will always be that Cubby Broccoli fired his old dinosaur ass. So while The Living Daylights was still in pre-production, the Broccolis began the search for a new Bond—and the beginning of a new era for the franchise. This Bond search could easily be the most perilous and interesting one yet as many actors were tested, including a man who would eventually become Bond (Pierce Brosnan),  a man who would eventually become a Bond villain (Sean Bean in 1995’s GoldenEye), and even Mel Gibson.
                The drama of this movie began long before filming. As already mentioned numerous actors were screen tested in a very public search for the new Bond. The producers eventually cast Timothy Dalton as Bond.  While Dalton was easily one of their top choices, he was certainly not number one, as Cubby Broccoli originally offered the role to Brosnan after 3 days of screen testing. These screen tests proved interesting and actually very fruitful in several ways.
First, the original actress hired to screen test against the Bonds was Maryam d’Abo. D’abo would eventually also get the lead female role in the film, as she impressed the director and producers so much with her performance that they decided she would be perfect for the role of the Czech cellist Kara Milovy.  Second, the producers were quite sure that they wanted Brosnan as Bond, so they attempted to hire him, but that’s when the real drama started. Pierce Brosnan had been the eponymous star of the 80’s detective television program Remington Steele.  The show had been failing in the ratings for a long time and had been officially canceled when Cubby Broccoli offered Brosnan the role of Bond in this film. Brosnan committed, and then the story leaked to the press. When the world caught word that Remington Steele would be James Bond, a tremendous amount of interest was again sparked in the show, and on the last possible day, NBC utilized a contractual loop hole to un-cancel and re-hire Brosnan as Remington Steele. NBC was super excited about this turn of events and offered to completely rearrange their shooting schedule to accommodate the Bond Production. Unfortunately, Cubby Broccoli was infuriated by this scenario and famously declared that “James Bond will not be Remington Steele and Remington Steele will not be James Bond!”
Brosnan’s Bond contract was canceled, and Timothy Dalton as the #2 was again approached. He initially didn’t want to do the film at all but was eventually enticed and so filming began with a new Bond playing a new type of Bond. And Dalton was, definitely, a new type of Bond. He strayed away from Roger Moore’s “all suave, all the time” approach, and played the role as more of an “angry assassin” type. He smokes cigs like a champ, he’s much younger, and looks great doing a lot of his own stunts. Dalton’s more focused action-packed Bond is shown even in the pre-titles sequence, which happens to be one of my favorites in the series.
As the movie opens, 002, 004 and 007 are all being briefed by M that they will be parachuting out of a plane and trying to infiltrate the British radar station at the rock of Gibraltar (actual British military outposts at Gibraltar were used in the filming, making for some very excellent footage). The other two agents were chosen because they bore slight resemblances to former Bonds Moore and Lazenby. So, the three men jump out of the plane and begin their assault. One of the agents is immediately eliminated by a patrolman, and the other is murdered by a spy enemy. Bond is the last man standing and not only manages to catch up with and explode the henchman (in a fantastic scene where Dalton performed his own highly dangerous stunts on top of a jeep) but also parachute safely into the arms of a beautiful woman. All and all, many people criticized Dalton’s performance as Bond, but personally I think he’s way better than alright. He may not be all suave and goofy as Roger Moore, and he definitely has really bad poofy 1980’s hair, but Dalton is a very believable Bond and his willingness to do his own stunts really make the films that much better than the entire Roger Moore section of the Canon.
                Much like ole Timmy Dalton’s performance, the rest of The Living Daylights is not so bad, and while Timmy suffers from stupid hair the movie features a little bit of a silly plot, I say that the plot is only a little bit silly, and the reason is because the truth is almost always stranger than fiction and The Living Daylights is somewhat based on a true story.
The true story that the film is based on is basically the defection and subsequent “re-defection” of real life Russian General Vitaly Yurcheko. The character in the film is called General Georgi Koskov, and he is played very well, but rather effeminately, by classic actor Jeroen Krabbé. In the movie, Bond helps Koskov to defect, and he is then “kidnapped” from an MI6 safe house. What the viewer doesn’t learn till much later on is that Koskov’s kidnapping was completely staged so that he could run off with his drug dealing ally and co-villain Brad Whitaker. Whitaker is played famously by one Joe Don Baker, who is one of only three people to appear in the James Bond Franchise as both a villain and an ally (he returns in GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies as James Bond’s American CIA contact). His performance in this movie almost reminds me of the type of silly southern sheriff character that the franchise had done away with during the Roger Moore era. Shockingly it works well in this film, as he is playing a rogue American West Point dropout now looking for the drug deal of a lifetime, and his reckless cowboy attitude only enhances his performance. These two may not be the most macho, or wealthy, or even most serious Bond Villains of all time—but they are certainly shiesty. Their goal in the film is to take money given to them as a down payment for an arms deal with the Russians and spend it in Afghanistan on Dope (of course), then sell the dope in the western market making a tremendous profit and using said profit to deliver to the Russians their promised guns. The complication comes in that they need to remove the Russian General Pushkin (the new head of the KGB, because in real life the actor who had been playing General Gogol was in fact in poor health, and unable to act in such a substantial role) because Pushkin has realized that they are scam artists and wants Russia’s money back. The whole defection is a scam to get Bond to kill Pushkin (who is played wonderfully by a young John Rhys-Davies*) and therefore free up this goof troop of villains to go on with their dope deal. Bond sees right through all of this and fakes Pushkin’s death before being captured by the villains and taken to Afghanistan (note to super villains: if you are doing crime on the other side of the world, it is best NOT to bring James Bond with you.) Bond escapes the airbase, unites with the Mujahedeen, storms back to the villains, steals their airplane full of dope and eliminates their best henchmen. In what could be some of the best stunt work in the entire franchise, Bond and the henchman fight it out on the back of a cargo net full of dope that is hanging out the cargo door of an airborne AC130.
                This movie also contains two of my favorite scenes in the entire franchise. First, at Q branch headquarters we not only meet the New MoneyPenny (played by a very sexy-librarian-looking Caroline Bliss) but we also see a new device that Q “has been developing for the Americans…we call it a Ghetto Blaster.” The device is really a shoulder mounted rocket launcher disguised as a standard 1980’s boom box. The really interesting trivia about this scene (besides that I think “ghetto blaster” is a super awesome name) is that while filming this scene, Prince Charles happened to be touring EON studios that day, and was actually the person who fired the rocket we see whizzing across the lab.
While on the topic of Q branch, I would be remiss not to mention that James Bond is back behind the wheel of an Aston Martin.  This particular Aston Martin is the V8 Vantage, and it is definitely rapper Rick Ross’s favorite Aston, as it’s the one he features in his music video for his chart-topping hit “Aston Martin Music.” But this particular Aston could easily be one of my favorites too, as Q branch has it souped-up with such a wide and spectacular array of gizmos that the viewer almost wants to cry when Bond totals and then self-destructs the vehicle.
My other favorite scene in this movie actually comes only moments after the Aston explodes, as Bond and Kara Milovy (played, as mentioned above, by the very beautiful Maryam d’Abo) still need to escape from pursuing villains. Bond and Milovy escape from the villains by sledding across the border on the cello’s case, and telling the awestruck border guards that, “We have nothing to declare. Only a cello.” In real life, this scene almost didn’t happen as when director John Glen originally pitched the idea the producers thought it would be unfeasible and possibly stupid-looking. To prove them wrong, Glen himself found an empty cello case and actually showed the producers how feasible/cool-looking this stunt would be. Dalton and d’Abo both look great in this scene which both actors really performed themselves (i.e. without the assistance of stuntpersons). I should also take this moment to note that d’Abo was a fantastic casting in this film, as she and Bond’s escape from the Soviet Block is remarkably reminiscent of From Russia with Love, and d’Abo is a great and even better looking substitute for that film’s lead actress, the eternally lovely Daniella Bianchi.
                With this film the James Bond franchise managed to introduce yet another Bond to the Canon, which I feel is extremely important to the series as a whole, because James Bond is so epic that he is no longer any one actor, he’s a character who almost every living male actor wishes he could be. Further, while many complain of Timmy Dalton’s performance, I think his new “colder” Bond is great. It is interesting to note that this film was written with the silly suave of Roger Moore in mind, and as such does not “comply” with Dalton’s hard-nosed Bond as much as his other appearance as Bond. The film is certainly a quality entry into the series and definitely worth a viewing.
 *Another veteran of the Indiana Jones franchise (playing Sallah in Raiders and Last Crusade), further developing some kind of vague connection between the two. – JK

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A View to a Kill - Dir. John Glen (The Bond Project #14)

A View to a Kill (1985)
Dir: John Glen

Pushing Sixty, Roger Moore Bond Makes Good, Ends on High Note
Jay Maronde

                 A View to a Kill could easily be one of the most underappreciated James Bond films in the entire canon. There have always been many complaints about Roger Moore’s ridiculous agedness, but even a geriatric Bond could not stop the cinematic genius provided in this well-paced, action-packed James Bond adventure. This would be Roger Moore’s seventh and final appearance as James Bond, and rumors have always swirled that he only made this film to overtake Sean Connery’s legacy as Bond. Connery, for his part, weighed in himself on Moore’s age, commenting that, “James Bond should be played by an actor 33-35 years old. I’m too old myself, but Roger is certainly too old.” Needless to say these slightly disparaging comments did nothing to help the film’s press, but as I’ve already said—even Moore’s age is completely outshined by the rest of this fantastic movie.
                The film centers around the evil industrialist and all-time great Bond villain Max Zorin, played classically, perfectly, and brilliantly by a young and delightfully evil Christopher Walken. Walken is at his absolute best. He’s easily one of the greatest, most evil Bond villains in the entire franchise. He’s fabulously wealthy, he lives in a striking French château that actually manages to put the home of Moonraker’s Villain Drax’s château to shame (the compound is so freaking amazingly nice that when Bond arrives he incorrectly assumes that the servants’ quarters are the stables), he lies and cheats at every turn, and he cackles maniacally as he murders his own henchmen. Walken with his weird Walken self could have been born to be a Bond Villain, but his casting as the genetically-engineered, psychopathic, defected KGB agent Zorin is film genius. Shockingly, the role was written specifically for David Bowie, who refused the role saying that he didn’t want to spend 5 months watching his stunt double get thrown off of cliffs.
                Speaking of stunt work AVTAK has numerous fantastic stunts right from the beginning of the film. As the movie opens, Bond is on a mountaintop supposedly in Siberia recovering a stolen microchip from the corpse of a dead 003. Enemies come, and Bond escapes in an expertly choreographed alpine skiing scene. The filming was done in Iceland and Roger Moore never actually went there because, aside from a few studio-shot close-ups, the entire opening scene is all fantastic skiing stunts. During this opening scene the James Bond franchise actually introduced the burgeoning sport of Snowboarding to the world as when Bond is eventually forced to use a single snow mobile ski to avoid capture and make his way down the mountain. The film also ends with a remarkable and memorable final sequence where Bond fights Zorin on the top of the tower for the Golden Gate Bridge in San Franscico. The real life suave of Roger Moore actually aided immensely during the San Francisco shooting as Moore was in real life very good friends with the current Mayor Dianne Feinstein.  Feinstein, being a huge Roger Moore Bond fan, was more than happy to expedite all the necessary filming permits, and the producers eventually felt that the city had provided so much for the production that this film is one of the very few Bond’s not to premiere in London, and the only one to premiere in San Francisco.
Another famous stunt in the movie involves a knocked-out, automobile-entrapped Bond being pushed into a lake by Zorin and his cohorts (the Rolls Royce used in the film is actually owned in real life by producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, even though a dummy car was used for the lake scene). After Bond is in the water, he needs to hide from the villains until they leave, and so cannot surface for air. Instead, Bond uses air from the tires to breathe underwater for a short period of time (this scene has had plentiful homage paid to it throughout cinematic history including a great scene in the Jason Statham classic The Transporter 3). Another scene which is quite notable for being ripped off is the fire truck chase through the streets of San Francisco, which was most notably ripped off for the end of the movie Con Air (it turns out that Moore actually drove the fire truck during filming as the stuntman was too short to reach the pedals, making it his only actual stunt work in the entire series).
                This Bond film is also notable for Bond’s amazing way with the ladies, as during this film he beds a series record of four different Bond girls. This film is filled with very beautiful and famous women including the two female leads Tanya Roberts and Grace Jones. Jones was incredibly famous all on her own and still has a very successful career even though I have quite a few (female) friends who all claim this to be their favorite Bond based exclusively on the revolutionary woman’s casting in it. Personally, and not to be at all offensive towards her, Jones is way too much man for me, as I prefer my women a little bit more feminine. However, when cast as the crazy Zorin’s also genetically-engineered and psychopathic lover/henchwoman MayDay, she absolutely lights up the screen. Luckily the film also has three other very feminine Bond Girls including Ms. Roberts (who would later become the neighbor mother Midge on TV’s That 70’s Show.) It also worth noting that Ms. Roberts’ grace and youthful beauty eventually became the reason that Roger Moore relinquished the role of Bond, as during filming he found out that he was older than her mother. 
                Another facet of the Bond magic that this movie doesn’t disappoint on is the music. As usual the score was done by the master John Barry, and it is high quality, classic, and very well done. However one of the biggest stars and biggest successes of this film is the song “A View to a Kill,” by none other than the 1980s pop-stars Duran Duran. The story behind how the group (who Barry hated and didn’t feel should be making a Bond song) got the gig is rather amusing. The group’s bassist John Taylor (who was a lifelong Bond Fan) happened to be drunk at party one night, and heard that Bond producer Cubby Broccoli was in attendance at the party. He stormed up to the great man and demanded to know, “When are you gonna get someone decent to do one of your theme songs?” Broccoli being Broccoli knew a good thing when he saw it and quickly signed Duran Duran to do the song, which was the first and only Bond song to chart #1 on the Billboard Top 100. It’s also notable that the group’s lead singer Simon Le Bon, shares the same last name with James Bond’s ancestors as explained during the genealogy section of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and as a result Le Bon can be heard at the end of the album version of the song saying “Le Bon, Simon Le Bon.”
                This film is fantastic. The settings, actors, plot and music are all top notch. I could easily go on all night about all the different parts that I really like, but I would rather go back to listening to Duran Duran rock out James Bond style and let you all enjoy this great movie for yourselves.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Octopussy - Dir. John Glen (The Bond Project # 13)

Octopussy (1983)
Dir: John Glen
Bond Goes to India
By Jay Maronde
                 Director John Glen struck cinematic gold for the Bond Franchise in his second Bond film and it couldn’t have come at a more critical time. The movie easily has the best title of any film in the series as it’s the most blatantly sexualized Bond title that I think the censors could ever even tolerate. This could easily be one of my favorite Bond movies as right from the very beginning it’s action packed, full of great gadgets, and completely full of awesome plot twists.
                Let me start right with the pre-credits sequence as I personally feel that it could be one of the most entertaining of the entire series. Bond is in Cuba, posing as a Cuban General, and trying to blow up some sort of fighter jet. He gets captured, which is about typical for the old-ass Roger Moore Bond, but it doesn’t matter. As Bond is being transported as a prisoner, a lady-friend driving a super cool topless Range Rover towing a horse in a trailer distracts the guards. Bond escapes and takes care of his captors, but alas, mission failed….OR NOT. As more Cuban military personnel pursue him, Bond kisses the girl goodbye, and then hops into the horse trailer disconnecting it from the truck. The viewer is like geez, how confused has Roger Moore become in his old age? This isn’t a western—a horse isn’t going to help this situation. But Q branch and Bond have a plan. As Bond enters the trailer, the horse’s rear end is revealed to be a dummy meant only to conceal the real cargo: a mini jet. In true and perfect James Bond fashion, Bond lowers the retractable wings and accelerates directly towards the enemies. At the very last second he lifts off, scattering the hapless Cubans. Bond then continues to kick ass in the way only James Bond can, and flies back over the base he was supposed to destroy, and in a fantastic piece of cinematography, directly through the hangar that was the original target. Then, trailing the surface to the air missile, he destroys the hangar and all the planes and Cubans inside! MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! Then just to remain extra suave, Bond lands at a gas station and says, “Fill her up.”
                The movie then cuts away to the title sequence, again, as always, designed by Maurice Binder. The titles are some of the most interesting Bond titles yet, accompanied by the song “All Time High” by the classic Rita Coolidge. The song, while not one of my favorites, did spend almost a month in the number one spot on the adult contemporary charts, and looking back at this film it’s easy to realize why James Bond is at a new “all-time high.” Speaking of all time high, Roger Moore is at his all-time oldest. Granted he would be older in the next film A View to A Kill, but he’s definitely looking his age again in this film. In reality, Moore had wanted to stop playing Bond after For Your Eyes Only (that movie was so bad it would have made me want to quit the role too), and the producers conducted a very public search for a new Bond (there is a special feature on the Octopussy Ultimate Edition DVD  titled James Brolin: The Man Who would Be Bond, and features 3 of his screen tests). I would also like to comment right now that despite his agedness, Roger Moore puts in an excellent performance as Bond in this film, which was lucky, because 1983 also saw the release of Kevin McClory’s rival James Bond tale, Never Say Never Again, which was of major concern to the producers as McClory had secured the original James Bond, Sean Connery. This opposing casting in a very similar movie (actually a remake of Thunderball) is the reason the producers eventually decided to stay with Roger Moore as Bond as they felt it would be a big leap for an audience to also have to deal with a new actor playing Bond when Connery was busy in the next screen at the multiplex also playing an aged Bond.
                After the titles the story picks back up with a clown-suited 009 fleeing from some knife-throwing henchmen. He escapes and spends the last moments of his life delivering a spurious Faberge egg to the British Ambassador. It turns out that the non-counterfeit egg, which this fake is designed to replace, is actually on sale at Sotheby’s in London the very next day. Bond and nerdy type fellow attend the auction in an attempt to glean what the now departed 009 was willing to die for. Here we meet Kamel Kahn, the real evil villain of this film. Kahn is a fantastic villain, played exceptionally well by the actor Louis Jourdan—an exiled Afghan prince with a castle in India and a business association with the film’s title character, the world wide smuggler Octopussy. Apparently there is a Russian general, bent on U.S.S.R. domination of the world, who has been stealing and auctioning rare Russian treasures, and replacing them with fakes. Since this fake has been “misplaced,” the general must now retrieve the original at auction to avoid being caught by an ill-timed inventory. Bond seems to smell Kahn’s need to have the egg and proceeds to bid (with the Queen’s Money) on the egg and drive the cost to a half of a million pounds. In another moment of sheer Bond brilliance, Bond swaps the real egg for the fake right in the middle of the crowded auction, thereby allowing himself an out later when M angrily asks him what he would have done if he had won the auction. All of this is sheer writing and directorial genius as the viewer doesn’t even realize the swap has gone down until the later meeting with M and I had to go back to watch for Moore’s very quick hands.
                Following this new lead, Bond travels to India in pursuit of Kahn and the egg. The Bond producers had long wanted to film in India with its extreme scenic beauty, but it took until this film to find a province whose ruler would grant them permission. It’s well worth the wait as all of the scenes are filled with so much natural beauty and cultural history that the location is definitely one of the biggest stars of this film. There’s a wonderful homage to the film Goldfinger where Bond goes to the casino and beats the cheating Kahn using his own loaded dice. Here in India we also meet Bond’s Station I connection, Vijay, played sublimely by India’s first international tennis star Vijay Amritraj. Amritraj is a great actor, and there are numerous running jokes in the film about him being a tennis player, including a scene where he fights off henchman using a tennis racket. It turns out that the actor’s union had a huge problem with this “tennis star”  being a film actor, so Broccoli pulled some strings and got him a cameo on the television series The Love Boat so that he could earn his SAG card and alleviate the problems.
Bond has some troubles—being captured and escaping from Kahn—before finally meeting Octopussy, who, as it turns out, knows quite well of James Bond and is very excited to have him as her guest on her Floating Paradise full of only women. This is the perfect setting for the super suave Roger Moore and his senility actually works to the film’s advantage here as his age makes the beautiful Maud Adams look even more radiantly young and beautiful. Octopussy tells Bond that she is traveling to Germany for a business meeting with her circus, and so he follows.
                While in Germany, Bond realizes that this whole scheme has very little to do with stolen jewels, and everything to do with this crazy conquest-bound Russian general attempting to start WW3 (also in Germany, if the viewer looks very close they might catch a glimmer of a 16-year-old extra playing a soldier at Checkpoint Charlie, who would go on to make notoriously thorough award-winning documentaries: Ken Burns). Soon after there is a great chase scene where Bond must catch up with Octopussy’s circus train and stop the bomb from detonating in the middle of a US air base. Of course he’s successful, but in the process he defuses a bomb right in front of a circus audience and becomes the hero of the day. If it wasn’t enough that Bond saved the world from nuclear annihilation, he then travels back to India with Octopussy and her team and storms Kahn’s palace.  Desmond Llewelyn gets probably his largest amount of screen time from any film in the entire franchise when he appears with Bond in a union jack painted hot air balloon over the palace to provide air support and back up to Bond. Personally, I think these are fantastic scenes as the battle that is raging is wonderful and for Q to sail in to the rescue makes this already awesome movie even better. The scenes with the army of ninja girls are also Bond classics, and after Octopussy is captured, Bond chases the villains to their airplane where he jumps from a horse to the back of the plane at the very last second. Then, again in true super hero fashion, he grounds the plane from the outside by disabling a motor and then forcing the flaps down with his feet. He climbs into the plane, frees Octopussy, and the two dive to safety seconds before the plane plunges off a cliff. Bond is then shown “recovering” with Octopussy as the movie closes.
                This film has everything that we have come to expect in a Bond film. There is fantastically beautiful scenery, a big globetrotting plot that takes Bond all sorts of places and requires him to literally save the entire world, truly bent and evil villains, cadres of beautiful women, and enough action-packed scenes to keep everyone cheering. Also this film is the only one to be named after a Bond girl—and who could deny that Octopussy is truly deserving of that honor?



Friday, October 12, 2012

For Your Eyes Only - Dir. John Glen (The Bond Project #12)

For Your Eyes Only (1981)

Dir: John Glen

Atrocious Bond
 Jay Maronde
                This movie is atrocious. To be honest, it’s so fucking bad I had trouble viewing it and writing this review. In fact, I watched the next two movies just to psyche myself up for writing this, and I still almost submitted this review containing only the words, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.” Unlike The Man with The Golden Gun, this movie doesn’t just suffer from a bad plot, it suffers from bad vision—atrocious vision, in fact—and it doesn’t even have a midget to make things go down any easier.
                Let’s start at the very beginning, the very first scene. Bond is visiting his deceased wife at a cemetery. It’s sad, it’s stupid, and it’s only there because the writers/producers were unsure if Roger Moore could be enlisted to reprise his role as Bond and as such needed a scene to possibly introduce a new actor as Bond. Moore eventually capitulated, returning geriatric as ever—meaning that this scene has even less significance and seems even more tasteless. While Bond is at the cemetery, the office calls the priest and tells him to inform Bond that they are sending a chopper for him. Bond hops in the chopper, seemingly off to another highly important mission. Unfortunately, an unnamed, uncredited, bald wheelchair-bound cat-stroking villain shocks the pilot to death, and takes remote control of the helicopter with the intent of killing Bond. Clearly Bond isn’t going to die before the credits, so he pulls some pretty sweet maneuvers and eventually dispatches this villain. This “not-Blofeld” is here because the producers had just finished another extensive round of litigation with our old real life villain, Kevin McClory, and Albert R. Broccoli wanted to symbolize his success of finally being rid of both villains. Sadly this might be the most satisfying moment in the movie, as the rest just drags.
                The title credits feature a forgettable 1980’s anthem by Sheena Easton, which is only of note because Easton appears in the title sequence herself and is the first Bond songstress to do so. The song was actually quite successful and every Bond song since has had a tied in music video as a result of the song’s success. But not even a great song can justify the tripe that is the rest of the film.
                After the titles we are transported to an unknown locale in the Mediterranean where a covert British spy ship is quickly sunk by sea mine. The boat carries a transmitter to control the nuclear missiles on the British fleet of Polaris submarines. Clearly the MI6 needs this item back, so they contract fellow Britons the Havelocks to retrieve said item. The Havelocks are murdered on their research vessel right in front of their daughter Melina, played by the very passionate Carole Bouquet (who coincidentally is named Melina, the Greek word for Honey, in an Homage to Dr. No’s classic Bond Beauty Honey Ryder—another tragedy because Bouquet cannot compare to Ursula Andress). Bond is called in to find and interrogate the murder suspect, who is now relaxing at his villa, waiting to be paid by the villains who ordered the hit. Bond witnesses the payoff, and then is captured. Personally, I would have cut this whole divergence from the film as it really adds nothing but to introduce the silent henchman—then again I would have cut about ¾ of this film, or just made a completely different movie. Melina shoots the assassin with a crossbow, in a scene which I feel only adds to the anemic aged-ness of Roger Moore, as James Bond shouldn’t really need random revenge seeking women to help or save him. Bond and Melina escape, but Bond’s Lotus explodes after two low-level henchmen try to break into it (in a scene which was supposed to symbolize that this new Bond film would rely less heavily on gadgets, which was a huge error in the entire direction of the film because Bond’s super gadgets are a big part of the reason to view any Bond film). In truth the scene just makes Bond’s gear look craptacular, so Bond has to escape by driving the girl’s Citron, which again is shameful for the world’s best secret agent to be driving such a tin can.
                Next Bond travels to Italy, to a winter Olympic compound (added to the film to capitalize on the popularity of the recent winter Olympics in Lake Placid). Here in Italy, Bond again meets up with Melina and has a few assorted adventures dealing with henchmen of all sorts and eventually has a social meeting with the film’s real villain, who is at the time posing as an ally to Bond. The villain here is played actually quite wonderfully by the delightful Julian Glover. Glover’s performance is quality Bond Villain evil, but my major complaint is that he does a much better job playing a nefarious double agent villain almost a decade later in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade (coincidentally one of his co-stars in that film is former Bond Sean Connery). The whole Italian part of this film also adds nothing to the plot, as even though Bond and MI6 know almost exactly where the nuke transmitter is located (off the coast of Greece) for some reason Bond needs to wander around this ski resort town and have silly-ass adventures. I will note that two of Bond’s escapades in this part of the film contain very commendable women. First off while visiting the ski resort town, Bond dispatches several henchmen, including one whom he throws through the window of a flower shop. While the henchmen and the fight scene aren’t very memorable or classic, the girl in the flower shop is very notable for how she got the role. Robbin Young was actually the winner of Playboy Magazine’s, “Be a Bond Girl Contest,” and besides being rather pretty, launched her modeling career and was featured in a Playboy spread. The other notable woman is The Countess Lisl von Schlaf, played prettily, but again not memorably by the beautiful actress Cassandra Harris. While Harris’ performance isn’t spectacularly wonderful, what she did while off camera is the notable part, as she introduced her current husband (some little known actor fellow, Pierce Brosnan) to Broccoli, and clearly this would have some very long lasting implications for the franchise.
                Eventually Bond decides that actually getting in a mini-sub and recovering the artifact that the whole film revolves around will be a good plan. He goes to Greece, recovers the device, gets roughed up by some henchmen in an underwater battle, loses the device, fights some more henchmen, and eventually recovers and destroys the device. Now this seems like a great end to a Bond film as Bond vanquishes all the villains and does save the day, but again this falls short, as this sequence occupies approximately thirty minutes of the two hour plus film. I’m sorry but had I been alive in 1981 and gone to see this film, where only the last half hour of the movie had anything to do with the plot, I probably would have smashed my face into the wall of the building upset about the other 90 minutes of my life I had sacrificed to this complete drivel.
                I really wanted to write some sort of redeeming conclusion here, but I’ve got nothing for you, dear reader. What I can say, is that if you have a choice of watching any of the Bond films, this one would easily be at the bottom of my list.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Moonraker - Dir. Lewis Gilbert (The Bond Project #11)

Moonraker (1979)
Dir: Lewis Gilbert

By Jay Maronde
               Sometime after the release of The Spy Who Loved Me, Bond producer Albert Broccoli said to himself, “This Star Wars movie is crazy popular, I should do a Bond in space flick.” Luckily for him Ian Fleming had already written a Bond in space book called Moonraker, which, while bearing almost zero resemblance to what would become the finished film, was originally written to be produced into a movie. Director Lewis Gilbert was contacted, set designer Ken Adams was brought on board, and even though he had originally only signed on for three films, the most recent Bond, Sir Roger Moore was re-signed, and work began on Moonraker. Round about this same time the British Government levied a huge new tax on film productions, so production was quickly relocated to Paris, under the condition that the production team could literally occupy every single soundstage and production facility in the whole city. This greatly irritated numerous French filmmakers, but in the end, money talks. The result of all this is yet another fantastic globe-trotting (and orbiting) James Bond adventure which quite a few of my cohorts claim to be their favorite Bond.
                The plot of this movie is quite simple, even though most of the first half of the film is spent on Bond investigating what is going on. Drax is an evil villain of tremendous character played superbly by the perfectly-cast Michael Lonsdale. Lonsdale exudes a very particular Hitler-like evil: he is almost always seen entertaining not one, but two, extremely lovely and much younger women, he keeps Dobermans almost exclusively to “release” them and torture/murder his perceived enemies, and most revolting of all, he is planning to exterminate the human race and re-populate the earth from his space station with his uber-society of “perfect” people.  Drax is also super mega rich, (as all good villains should be) lives in a French château which has been imported to southern California, and has facilities all over the world (which leads Bond to a few delightfully beautiful filming locations).
Drax is literally crazy evil. He’s not ransoming anyone; he’s just bent on “wiping the slate clean.” Drax also has two extremely notable henchmen: Jaws (with Richard Kiel reprising his role as the near-immortal, monstrously-sized, metal-mouthed assassin) and the-always-kimono-wearing Chang. Chang is notable because during his Kung Fu fight with Bond in Venice, the two literally destroy an entire glass museum.  This scene, which Gilbert had originally planned for TSWLM, turns out to be record breaking (pun intended); as to this day, it is the single most amount of breakaway glass used in any movie ever.
                The character of Jaws is far more notable in this film. The previous film had featured Jaws extensively and the audience had loved him so much that the producers decided to bring him back. In fact, the director received so much fan mail from small children asking him why Jaws had to play a “baddie” instead of a “goodie” that he was eventually inspired to re-work the end of the film so that Bond and Jaws become allies to save the world. Further, Bond’s line towards the end of the film as Jaws is falling back to earth in a shard of the crippled space station of, “Don’t worry, Jaws will be alright, it’s only 100 or so miles back to the earth,” was directly intended to imply Jaws’ survival, and while he doesn’t re-appear in any Bond films, he does make several appearances in the James Bond video games over the years including a prominent role in 007: Everything or Nothing,  which happens to be one of my favorite Bond games.
                Roger Moore finally deserves more than a cursory glance from me in this review as he really seems to have grown into the character of Bond. His suave is unmatched, he’s not going for the rough-and-tumble Bond, but more of a smooth-sophisto-Bond. He only fires one bullet in the entire movie, and he looks, well, a lot less old. It’s apparent that he had some work done in-between this film and last, as his face looks so tight you could bounce a quarter on it.
Next to Bond are cast three very beautiful Bond Girls. First while touring Drax’s compound, Bond is escorted by the lovely Corrine Dufour. The French production location caused the management to choose a French actress/model, the radiant Corrine Clery. Corrine has the distinction of being the only Bond girl ever to have the same name as the actress playing the role. Speaking of names I’m always extremely pleased when the Bond girls’ names are rife with double entendre and this movie might take the all-time cake with Dr. Holly Goodhead. Goodhead is an undercover CIA agent who teams up with Bond to stop Drax. She is played magically by the renowned actress Lois Chiles, who was originally offered the role of Agent XXX in TSWLM but refused, having declared a retirement. Luckily, her retirement was short-lived and by her good luck she happened to be seated next to director Lewis Gilbert on a plane, and he decided that she was perfect for an undercover CIA agent. Also worth a brief mention is Bond’s south American contact, the very beautiful Manuela, played by the gorgeous Emily Bolton, who, while only appearing briefly, is too ravishing to not acknowledge.
                Again however the real stars of this film are Ken Adams’ incredible sets. As I’ve mentioned before most of this film was shot in France or on various other locations to avoid new British taxes. France is not necessarily known for its filmmaking industry so to this day the Moonraker sets are still the largest sets ever built in France. Initially there were tremendous problems with the French set builders union, as the foreman informed Adams and Gilbert that the French do not work overtime in the production of films. After extensive negotiations, the production team managed to convince the workers of the magnitude and importance of the task and hand and the workers relented (for more money of course) and agreed to work on the weekends, under the condition that they were allowed to bring their families to work so as not to miss their weekend family time. In the end the final space station set required more than 200,000 man hours, two tons of nails, over 10,000 feet of steel construction work, and a staff of more than 220 builders.
Attention should also be paid to the special effects coordinator, Derek Meddings, who was nominated for an Academy award for his work on this film. Much like the sets, the effects in this film are otherworldly. To this day the film Moonraker holds the record for most actors in weightlessness (on wires) ever, used during the massive outer space battle at the end of the film. The effects weren’t just limited to outer space, the beginning of the film features an extremely famous scene where Bond is pushed from an airplane with no parachute, he free falls, and then manages to wrangle a chute off the back of a henchman. This particular shot took over 80 skydives to complete as they could only film for a few seconds and the way down, and in fact the actor from whom Bond removes the parachute from was cast to look like the stunt man who had to perform the aerial work. Also of note is that the stunt man was almost killed when he lost his footing on top of the real cable car in Rio while the cameras were rolling.
                Lewis Gilbert delivers a classic in his final Bond entry, and his work is only enhanced by a wonderful cast of actors and an amazing production staff. Moonraker, while suffering from some initial critical complaints about being too “outlandish,” would go on to make more than $210 million dollars, which made it the most profitable Bond until 1995’s Goldeneye.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Spy Who Loved Me - Dir. Lewis Gilbert (The Bond Project #10)

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Dir: Lewis Gilbert

Back on Track
By Jay Maronde

                Director Lewis Gilbert and Set Designer Ken Adams teamed back up again—and after extensive delays, seemed to re-work their “You Only Live Twice-magic” into the Blockbuster smash The Spy Who Loved Me—and saved the entire James Bond Franchise. This film is widely regarded as Roger Moore’s best Bond work (not necessarily by me), and he is more than adequate in this film in which James Bond’s ability to seduce women literally ends up saving his life while dealing with a Soviet spy. But the real star of this film is Ken Adams’ completely insane sets (which earned him on Oscar nomination) and the brilliance of Gilbert’s special effects team.
                First though, let’s start with the problems, which were once again legal, and once again caused by the Franchise’s early dealings with one Kevin McClory. Litigation is nothing new in Hollywood. People sue other people all the time—in fact, the producers had to buy at least one other litigant’s film treatment to avoid being sued by him—but Kevin McClory takes the all-time cake. From my research it seems as though McClory  sued the James Bond Franchise for almost 50 years. He even went to so far as to produce a non-authorized Bond in the 1980’s. I personally feel that he got his what for during the production of this film.
The Spy Who Loved Me was, and forever will be, the only Bond Film that occurred in the same order as the book from which it drew its title: the 10th book became the 10th film. Coincidentally, and partially because of McClory, the film draws almost nothing from the book besides the title and part of the inspiration for its uber-famous henchman: Jaws (played famously by Richard Kiel). TSWLM was supposed to be another film in which Ernst Stavro Blofeld and SPECTRE were the villains. McClory had already won the rights to Blofeld and SPECTRE in earlier litigation, so when he heard this new film would include Blofeld, he sued again.  The producers had his number this time and almost immediately rewrote the entire script to no longer include any mention of BLofeld or SPECTRE, and instead created a villain extremely similar to Blofeld, except named Stromberg. AHHH HAHAHAHAHAHA Kevin McClory had to learn the expensive way that he didn’t have the exclusive monopoly on fictional villains.  (Sorry, I just like it when Bond’s enemies get theirs).
                Anyways legal problems aside, Gilbert (who had actually been chosen after Steven Spielberg refused, having just completed Jaws and stating that he “wanted to see how these fish movies turn out”) began work on a Bond to really outperform the others, and in this effort went to some amazing extremes.
First off, over 1 million dollars of this production’s budget went directly towards the building of an all-new world’s-largest-ever-soundstage built at Pinewood Studios and named the 007 stage. The first job for this stage was the interior of Stromberg’s super-evil nuclear-submarine-swallowing super tanker The Liparus (the water tank inside the stage actually held more than one million gallons of water to enable this footage). The new stage was so incredibly large that a super-secret consultant was brought in to aid with the lighting: Stanley Kubrick. A Shell corporation executive and golfing buddy of Producer Albert Broccoli had volunteered a real Shell supertanker for the film, but the production team had been forced to pass as the insurance which would have been required would have been outrageously prohibitive.  The outside shots of the supertanker were filmed with an almost 70 foot long model.
Another favorite special effect is Bond’s white Lotus Espirit turbo coupe which converted to a submarine when driven into water. This car is easily one of my favorites throughout the series, because it is super cool, which is exactly why after the film’s release the waiting list for a new Lotus suddenly grew to over three years. Another aquatic effect in this film is Bond’s use of the world’s first jet ski. The “water motorcycle” (as it was at the time called) ridden by Bond during the latter part of the film as he assaults the evil villains lair, literally sprouted an entirely new watersport.
                Gilbert’s two other smashing successes with this film came from two shockingly different angles. First there was Jaws, cast perfectly with the actor Richard Kiel, who in real life is actually over 7 feet tall, and still works with the Bond Franchise doing Bond events and promotions. Jaws was immediately popular with Broccoli—so popular, in fact, that Broccoli had the script rewritten so that Jaws could live and escape and therefore possibly reappear in a later Bond adventure. Screener audiences loved Jaws so much that they gave the film a standing ovation when Jaws escaped. Over the years, Jaws has become one of the most recognizable and beloved Bond villains.
                Gilbert’s other success was even more important: he singlehandedly re-envisioned the entire humor of the franchise. Gone were the slapstick shtick and vaudevillian humor; gone were silly southern sheriffs and stunts corrupted by penny whistles. This new Bond was smooth as ice, and when he does make a joke it’s in an extremely pithy, very British, overly-sexualized-and-yet-not-quite-skeevy manner. My favorite Bond zinger comes at the very end of the film after Bond has escaped from the villain’s destroyed fortress in an escape pod with the lovely Soviet Agent XXX (played well, but not too memorably, by the very pretty Barbara Bach, who is actually currently married to none other than Ringo Starr). The two have escaped, and the girl is about to make good on her oath to kill Bond once the mission is over. Bond then seduces her in a scene which couldn’t have been more perfectly written for Roger Moore. As Moore handles Bond’s favorite business, the escape pod is recovered by the British and when M (again played by the classic Bernard Lee) asks Bond what he’s doing, Bond replies: “Keeping the British end up, sir!”
                This movie was wildly popular and easily made up for the lackluster financial performance of The Man with the Golden Gun. The theme song “Nobody Does it Better” went gold, even though it was the first Bond theme song not to be titled the same as the film, and has been covered by numerous artists over the years since it was first recorded by the ethereal Carly Simon. On a strange note: this film ends with the classic “James Bond will return…in For Your Eyes Only.” Moonraker would actually be the next Bond film to be produced as the management team would seek to capitalize off other space movies such as Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but also to parlay the audience’s love of the character Jaws by having him reappear in the successive film. It is of little concern though, as Gilbert had saved the longest running film franchise.  Were it not for his excellent direction of this film and re- direction of the entire series, one truly wonders if we would all so eagerly be awaiting next month’s Skyfall.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

BELT - Disquietude

Before I officially begin this review, I would like to take a moment to note the difficulty inherent in critiquing a work of art that a friend has submitted to me for consideration.  I have only previously done this once, in January 2010, here http://flyinghouses.blogspot.com/2010/01/justyn-with-y-swansong.html.  This album received a positive review in spite of the fact that I generally do not like to listen to "folk" music.  The genre of that album was arguably "folk +" but I found it interesting, and I enjoyed the production: being recorded in a natural setting, the mostly quiet acoustic strumming gave the album a warm feel.

Now I move onto BELT.  BELT is the band of a friend of a friend--or I might say is the band of a friend.  I went to the singer's birthday party at his house.  That was fun.  However I do not think we would hang out but for my friend that invited me to that party.  Ironically, however, this singer was also part of another band previously referenced on Flying Houses here http://flyinghouses.blogspot.com/2010/07/wolf-parade-expo-86.html.  That band was Mercury Landing.  Wolf Parade has nothing to do with Mercury Landing but the song "Yulia" seemed to be related to that band for reasons (another side project of that band?) that I cannot recall.

Mercury Landing was a "funk" band.  Much like "folk," I do not care much for "funk."  However, I would go to shows (when convenient) in order to show my support and also because other friend's bands would generally be on the bill as well.

Thus when I first put BELT onto my iPod and played it, I was expecting "funk" but got something else entirely, which is very hard to pin down.

Some notes from BELT's press materials may illustrate this: they have been an "underground" band in Brooklyn for 10 years.  This might give rise to the presumption that they play music like, oh, say, the Dirty Projectors, TV on the Radio, Liars, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Black Dice, !!!, Fiery Furnaces, LCD Soundsystem, and Oneida--either all mish-mashed together into one sound, or like one band specifically.

However, they sound like neither.  Associating themselves with Brooklyn is therefore misleading, but one cannot say that just because one happens to be a musician that lives in a city heavily associated with a particular "scene" that has a particular "sound"  (but also, to be sure, is quite populous) one has to sound like one's peers (or heroes, as the case may be for "amateurs").  It is not fair to say to someone, "you should move to Omaha because you sound like you belong on Saddle Creek."

BELT doesn't sound like they belong on Saddle Creek, but it does inch more closely to their sound.  Perhaps this is all beating around the bush and I should just get to the point--is the album worth hearing?

I do have to say that it makes me more comfortable, as a critic, to be able to pin down a band's sound.  But the short answer is yes (if you like the bands I will be comparing them to shortly).

Unfortunately when I try to pin BELT down, the comparisons I draw will probably prove distasteful to everyone.  There is one comparison I can make with which few would complain: Wavves.  BELT sounds like Wavves to the extent that weed is amongst the primary lyrical subject matter.  This is no more apparent than on "Priorities" (the second track) and "Maria Juana" (the third), and particularly the latter, which is arguably the most professional sounding song on the album - though also the most juvenile.  Some bands (apart from Wavves) have built entire careers around writing songs about weed (the Grateful Dead and their progeny and Phish come to mind).  However I do not think it is easy to make a really great album with this template.  BELT does not attempt to do that, but at times flirts with the idea.

It is impossible to avoid mentioning the comparisons which will draw complaints, and it is easiest, unfortunately, to focus on the singer's voice to pin them down: Barenaked Ladies and Blues Traveler.

Now, it is important to put this in context.  Few Generation Y'ers will find much to like about these two bands.  They were popular when we were young.  I distinctly remember "One Week" being popular on MTV (before reality shows became de rigeur) and thinking it was a quirky, fun, creative song at first but made me want to puke by about the fifth time I heard it on the radio.  The video added more to the song I guess, though the song itself did demonstrate lyrical skill and melodic savvy.

Blues Traveler is harder for me to remember.  I remember John Popper being fat, and apparently he is no longer fat (according to my older brother, who met him a few years ago), and I am sorry to say this but I think his band is only going to be popular if he gets fat again.

Now.  My two oldest siblings are Generation X'ers (presently 42 and 39) and both liked Blues Traveler and Barenaked Ladies--and the latter way before anyone else did.  This may be going far afield but my point is that Generation X can appreciate those bands, but Generation Y generally has a negative attitude towards them, from what I can tell.

So if I say BELT sounds like those bands it's going to piss everyone off, and they'll say, we don't sound like that, and if I say, "they're a band whose time has already passed," it's going to sound like they've missed their opportunity to explode.  But it's the opposite.  If there is anytime they are primed to explode it is now.

BELT will play on Friday, October 19th, at 9 PM at Wicked Willy's as part of the CMJ Music Marathon.

Let me take a little tangent and say that I used to manage a band and I know what it is like to "produce" an "amateur" album.  I "managed" two records, or 8 songs between two bands.  Two EPs, or "demos" or whatever you want to call them.  The first one cost a few hundred bucks and seemed like it had a professional sound, recorded at a studio on North 8th St. in Williamsburg.  The second was recorded for free at NYU music studios by a friend who later joined the band after I left NYC and could not continue on as manager.  The second arguably sounds better than the first.

The point is this: sometimes when you try to sound "professional" you end up sounding more amateur than if you actually recorded it in an amateur fashion (see also, Wavves).

Disquietude was released on April 22, 2011 and is almost 18 months old. It was apparently recorded during a turbulent time and some of the songs on the album are actually a bit dark. One imagines that their sound has changed, particularly since, in the press materials, they state that their new album (which is untitled as of yet so far as I can tell) is "grittier."  Disquietude is considered to have a "pristine" sound.  Now, my stereo speakers have deteriorated quite a bit, but when I played my bands (Plastic Faces and Phosphates) through my iPod on them, or BELT through my iPod on them, both sounded extremely distorted.  This may be because the albums--all 3--are recorded loudly.  The volume is just high on the album automatically (unlike, say, My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, which is considered one of the loudest records of all time, but which is actually recorded very quietly--you really need to turn the volume up to hear it).

Getting to play a CMJ Showcase is a big deal, and I hope that BELT finds a bigger audience through it.

The album goes through many different emotions, but what remains most memorable about the band is their sense of humor.  However there is also a sense of sarcasm and darkness and pessimism about it.  It's a disquieting effect (!) and leads me to the conclusion that BELT is a "singles band" and not an "album band."  Some of the songs on the album are clearly more "worked-over" than others, and it can show.

Also, this may be a technical problem, but the song "God on the Couch" is silent, at least from the zip file I downloaded.  I do not think this is intentional.  But if it is I fail to see the point other than to make an "actual" secret song--which the last track clearly sounds like.

The last track is the best track on the album.  The ending of the first track on the album is one of its best moments, but it is a pretty standard "noise jam breakdown."  I do like the song "Are You Gonna Be OK" when it gets to the heavy part.  And I do find the lyrics across the entire album generally interesting.

The last track is three minutes long and extremely strange.  It is almost what the "Brooklyn sound" might be for this band.  It is just weird noise and feedback.  However I found it more interesting than anything else on the album because it comes out of left field: you are not expecting BELT to have an experimental side.

In conclusion, I come to no conclusion regarding BELT.  I cannot say that I will play Disquietude every single day for the next two or three weeks (as I did with, oh, Centipede Hz. (Brooklyn again!) or This is Happening) but I would be interested in seeing them live.  They would seem to be a fun live band, and though many may find the comparisons I've made to be odious ones, those bands also built their reputation on being "fun live bands."  Sometimes it takes a while to put out the album (or the single) that catapults them into stardom.  For BELT it has been 10 years.  But as far as I know, the gestation period for a band like them to hit it big is very close to 10 years (see also, The Hold Steady).

There.  You have a comparison that most people won't complain about.  Terrence B. sounds nothing like Craig Finn, and their subject matter is only arguably related, but they are both Brooklyn bands that unabashedly do not sound like Brooklyn bands.  It took a while for Craig Finn to get known, but once he did he ran with it, and while I personally may feel that The Hold Steady has declined since the departure of Franz Nicolay, they are still a band that I will pay attention to and try to see live--if they're not charging too much.

It's entirely possible that BELT's forthcoming album will be their Almost Killed Me and their album after that will be their Separation Sunday and come summer of 2014 they will be asked to play the Pitchfork Festival.  Entirely possible.

But the music industry, like most industries, is a cold one.  It is a long and harrowing climb to the top, and few can make it.  I wouldn't exactly put my money on BELT to playing Pitchfork in a couple years, but while it would certainly surprise me, it would not shock me.  They have the skill; it is only a matter of execution now.

The Man with the Golden Gun - Dir. Guy Hamilton (The Bond Project #9)

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
Dir: Guy Hamilton

What Happened?
By Jay Maronde

                Let me start this review by admitting this: film critics love to be critical of movies. I personally try to write about the good parts, and I also happen to really like James Bond (which I why I signed up for this task). But every once in a while you need to get a little crazy and go on and on about how wrong things really are. This being said, I do mean to keep it relatively short, because to be honest, you know a movie is pretty effin bad when the midget is the best part about it.
                Let’s start right there. The midget is the best part about this film.  Herve Villechaize is usually pretty awesome in whatever he appears in, but here, Guy Hamilton cast him perfectly as “the midget Oddjob”, referring to Harold Sakata’s role in Hamilton’s earliest Bond Film, the 1964 Blockbuster Goldfinger. “Nick Nack,” as he’s credited, has some of the most memorable roles in the film* and is the first Bond henchman to be captured. Another great casting in this film is Sir Christopher Lee as Francisco Scaramanga, the super villain million-dollar-a-hit assassin who is Bond’s arch-nemesis in the film. Scaramanga is almost always referred to as one of the best-acted Bond Villains and indeed Lee was asked to reprise the role and do the voicing for Scaramanga in the James Bond video game Rouge Agent. The rest of this film seems to spoil itself.
                Britt Ekland stars as James Bond’s personal assistant Mary Goodnight, and is possibly the dopiest secret agent ever. Ekland had wanted to be a Bond girl since she saw Dr. No, and personally I think that the producers should have cast her about a decade earlier, and then maybe she wouldn’t look so past her prime. Roger Moore is obviously also past his prime, but there’s a lot of stuntman fights to attempt to convince the public otherwise. Worse yet, the production team added parts where Bond throws a child off a boat and threatens to break Maud Adams’s arm in a very weird attempt to make Roger Moore seem like a more “rough-and-tumble” Bond. Moore claims to have hated filming these parts of the movie because he didn’t like what those actions implied upon the character of Bond and would have preferred to charm the woman instead. Maud Adams is more than delightful in this film but drastically under-cast; so under-cast, in fact, that she stars in the later James Bond film Octopussy as Octopussy herself. The only other women in the film are two hideous kung-fu-fighting sisters who save the elderly Bond during a Kung Fu Fighting scene (added in a poor attempt to capitalize on the Kung Fu movie craze at the time) and another actress playing a belly dancer who I also believe was “cast elderly” in an attempt to make Moore look younger.
                The stunt sequences were another good thing that was ruined by supposedly “genius” ideas. This film features the famous car barrel roll jump, preformed in one take only by the famous stunt man “Bumps” Willard. The stunt was also the first film stunt ever to be calculated by computer, as it had been designed at Cornell University years before as a calculation problem for a vehicle physics simulator. The stunt had been being performed for years as part of the American Motors Corporation traveling Thrill Show, but the producers went on to copyright and patent the trick so that it could never appear in another film. Now, this seems like it would be awesome right?  A James Bond car chase with a Barrel Roll, right? Well, you’d be wrong—because the music department decided to add a ridiculous whistle sound during the barrel roll, and the production team put Sheriff J.W. Pepper (who was actually an extremely popular part of Live and Let Die) in the passenger seat with James Bond for comic relief.  Even the title song is goofy as shit, a real toe-tapper, but has been described as “one long stream of smut.” The producers had originally spoken with Alice Cooper about a rock song to have the same title, and in fact his version appears on his “Muscle of Love” album, but the producers chose to use the slightly more “upbeat” version featured here and performed by LuLu.
                The real problem with this movie is the plot. James Bond is removed from duty and asked to resign because a super villain wants to kill him. Why should James Bond worry about a super villain, even if he is the world’s most expensive hitman? Bond deals with villains all the time, that’s his job—he’s James Bond. And this super villain—why, if you are the world’s best paid super villain, with your own private island, and the answer to the worlds energy crisis (this is actually the last Bond Film until Quantum Of Solace to deal with an environmental plot), and a midget to attend to your every need, why would you pay other hit men to attempt to assassinate you?
                The Production of The Man with the Golden Gun was rushed to the market to capitalize on numerous factors present in the era when it was produced: the energy crisis, the rising popularity of Kung Fu, and the popularity of the other films in the franchise. As a result, the film seems like a mish-mash of garbage strung together without much forethought. This resulted in poor ticket sales and almost a three year production delay until the next James Bond film, along with director Guy Hamilton’s dismissal from the franchise. Furthermore, the resulting financial crisis caused longtime producer Harry Saltzman to be forced to sell his half of the James Bond Franchise to United Artists pictures.

*It is unclear to me whether “Nick Nack” plays many roles or one, and so I have left the original language unedited.  - JK