Goldfinger (1964)

May 13, 2009

Goldfinger

I genuinely think that this is one of the best films I’ve seen.  I go back to something that I often harp on about- a film must be judged against its aims and Goldfinger has lofty aims which it  exceeds.  The third Bond picture followed the excellent From Russia With Love and deliberately raised the stakes from that early high-spot.  The intention is to retain the levels of intrigue and to increase the wow factor with a bigger budget used wisely.

Connery returns again as Bond in a serious, steely mood- there is a spite behind his wisecracks throughout- and, for me, his third performance in the role is his best.  By his fifth he would have relaxed into sleepwalking through the films for cash.  And his iconic status here is assisted by the direction of Guy Hamilton (pipping Martin Campbell as the best of Bond’s directors) who achieves the double intention of making Bond credible as a thriller hero and yet incredible as an unflappable superman.

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The film- like The Great Escape which I watched a few weeks ago- is more than a mere film these days, it is a huge part of our cultural fabric.  And, with that in mind, it’s hard to ignore the significance of Oddjob, Pussy Galore, the Aston Martin DB5 and “no Mr Bond I expect you to die”.  But doing that and judging this solely on its own merits it still stands up.  It is fantastic entertainment; tightly scripted, well acted in the main with compelling memorable characters, hilarious dialogue- “shocking, positively shocking”, “no mister Bond, I expect you to die”, “I must have appealed to her maternal instincts”, “I have a slight inferiority complex” and a great interaction between Bond and his allies M, Q, Moneypenny and Felix Leiter.

I honestly love it. Everyone does don’t they? 10/10

Goldfinger 4


In Like Flint (1967)

February 24, 2009

I watched Our Man Flint recently and really enjoyed it and here we have the archetypal sequel: what it lacks in freshness and originality it tries to compensate for by lowering the bar.  The acting is hammier, the gags are more obvious, the storyline is more outré and the whole thing is dumbed down to ensure the broadest possible appeal.  And it is enjoyable, just a little regrettable.

One of my favourite things about the Flint films are the inventiveness of the writers in coming up with Flint’s abilities.  The best that we get here is when he is writing a dolphin dictionary- a feat which enables him to speak to a dolphin and gain its assistance in penetrating the enemy lair.  It is almost as if the concept is funny enough without the extra effort which made the first so special- the gadgets from last time (especially the hearing equipment in the shirt) are missed here and although the 73 function lighter- 74 if you include lighting a cigarette- survives its usefulness is downplayed.

Even James Coburn seems to have lowered his aims with this one, he played the first film straight- as all the best comedy is- but here he starts mugging for the camera.  It’s a real shame as Flint on the one hand and Harry Palmer on the other provided a really strong counterpoint to the Bond films and, in the absence of Coburn’s comic alternative, they were able to become ludicrous self-parodies themselves.

Another regrettable disappearance is the antagonism between Flint and Lee J. Cobb’s Lloyd Cramden.  Their spiky relationship in the first film was an interesting layer to the film however Cramden, who had found Flint’s abilities no compensation for his disdain for authority last time out, simply fawns over Flint this time.  The only interesting thing Cobb has to do this time is to wear a dress and shave off his moustache.  A waste.

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The storyline takes Flint to Death Valley, Moscow, the Virgin Islands and Outer Space (Bond would be 13 years behind him) but the sets are unconvincing and the whole thing has the naff cheapness of a budget sequel.  You can see the series heading down the Escape From The Planet of the Apes route and perhaps it’s for the best that this film wasn’t followed up.  The closing sequences see a battalion of nubile girls attacking a military colony on a flotilla of pedaloes- like the Dunkirk evacuation filmed by Russ Meyer- and the leaders of the female-only organisation who were trying for world domination conceding that it’s best to let men run the show.  Outdated that surely, even in 1967!

And so this is a disappointing sequel and the death knell of a series not yet out of infancy.  Entertaining, campy but crap.  3/10.  Mind you it was at least prescient- if only more Americans had shared Flint’s disdain for the notion of an actor as President.


Never Say Never Again (1983)

February 5, 2009

I can only think that the title is one of the smug selling points the producers made when pitching this bloody awful idea to Connery- “just think how funny it would be Sean!  Imagine Roger Moore’s face when he sees you’re back- that’ll raise a few eyebrows.  well, one…”.  That said, nothing should have persuaded him to get back in the toupee for this.  Nothing.  To coin a phrase- the world is not enough.

I’ve decided, in my wisdom, to watch all of the Bond’s that I’m pretty unfamiliar with and after this and The Man With The Golden Gun I’m beginning to think I should abandon the plan- clearly there’s a reason that I’m unfamiliar with them.

Presently I’m just short of an hour and a half in and I’ve paused it to write a few notes on here as an excuse not to watch any more.  When Connery jacked it in because he was too old it was already an overdue decision- he had sleepwalked through the last couple he made- and this was made twelve years after that.  There are concessions to that time-gap with Sean having a grey wig and a new stiff upper-lipped bureaucrat boss who has semi-retired him into teaching new recruits but it isn’t very convincingly done.  Anyway, M (Edward Fox- just how many of these Foxes are there?) sends Bond to convalesce in a Health Farm where he stumbles upon SPECTRE’s latest domination plot!  And so I’m thinking “this is fucking Thunderball isn’t it?” and sitting and gradually growing in fury that they’ve got Connery in to remake a film he made nearly twenty years earlier, but I resolve to stay calm and give it a chance.

Never Say Never Again / Octopussy - Battle of the Bonds

From memory this was brought out in direct competition with the ‘official’ release Octopussy.  Now the Roger Moore film was embarrassing because of the slapstick humour, the fact that Moore is too old and fat and the all-round low standards of everyone involved.  I think this is worse.  One of the great things about Bond is it’s fantasy- in Octopussy Moore got to fight a seven foot Sikh on the wings of a plane, Never Say Never Again‘s comparable moment was Connery fighting a bloke from Wolverhampton on the set of Dinnerladies.  This is a very watered-down attempt.  It isn’t low-budget and, as I said recently, I often prefer low-budget movies- the problem is that the vast majority of the budget seems to have been spent on getting Connery in and flying the crew to Barbados, the South of France and wherever else they fancied going.  Everything else is done shoddily and with disregard- the interiors are appalling for example.  The purpose of the movie appears to be to get people in, irrespective of what they’ll tell their friends when they leave.  This is not a film that could ever be a word-of-mouth success.  Even the dialogue- which is appalling- seems to have been designed with the trailer in mind- like this exchange between Bond and Q (not dear old Desmond Llewellyn, obviously):  Q- “Now you’re on this, I hope we’re going to have some gratuitous sex and violence“.  Bond- “I shertainly hope sho too“.  Speaking of Q- who Bond mysteriously keeps calling Algernon- there is a slapstick appearance by rubber-faced so-called comedian Rowan Atkinson as a bumbling bureaucrat called Small-Fawcett- for fuck’s sake!- who foresees John Cleese’s cringeworthy Q.  If this wasn’t warning enough, I don’t know what would have been.

But this could have worked.  The premise, as I said, has real potential and Connery was certainly capable of delivering in the role a wearied, ageing, vulnerable Bond- which he really doesn’t do here.  I’m thinking of something like McQueen in The Hunter which I watched recently.  It isn’t a great movie by any means, but McQueen’s “I’m getting too old for this shit” performance would have been a great example to follow.  Aside from that, you have a magnificent Blofeld in Max von Sydow- bizarrely asked to use a Dutch/Flemish accent and Kim Basinger as a lead Bond girl.  Both here, though, are wasted.  The attention instead is paid to Klaus Maria Brandauer’s appalling Maximilian Largo (a villain as sinister and threatening as a ball of wool) and Barbara Carrera’s hilariously bad SPECTRE number 12 Fatima Blush.  From water-ski-ing in a thong to throwing a hissy fit when Bond suggests he may have once had better sex with a girl in Philadelphia, she is hardly Rosa Kleb.  SPECTRE were clearly hard up for villains after years of good work by Bond.  The film also feature’s Hit Man‘s American Football-player turned slab of wood blaxploitation star Bernie Casey as Felix.  He is crap obviously.

So the film wastes the opportunities it has and instead focuses upon trying to out-Roger Moore Roger Moore.  Bond is variously shot in soft-focus during a saxophone-scored bedroom scene (they didn’t even bother covering Sean’s tattoo for that one), chased by radio-controlled sharks, plays a video game against the villain Largo and fails to catch a woman in stilettos driving a Renault 5 despite being on a gadget-laden motorbike designed by Q.

I said above that I’ve paused about three quarters of the way through.  I’ve decided that I’m not watching the rest- 1/10.  One mark for simply being a Bond film.


The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)

January 27, 2009

Aside from my multiple, varied and significant faults I do have a couple of decent characteristics not least of which is my loyalty.  If something brings me pleasure or pride or entertainment of knowledge, then I will support and defend and remain steadfast to it.  And so it is with James Bond- I loved James Bond as a child and the child is the father of the man.  On the downside, I do tend to take Bond seriously and as a result can become hostile and antagonistic to those who don’t.  That includes Roger Moore.

James Bond was forty-five when he began playing Bond- and not an especially youthful looking or acting forty-five at that.  Having neither Connery’s physique, virility nor gravitas, Moore took the films in the direction of comedy- a direction so disastrous that it took three relaunches to recover from.  Being Moore’s second Bond, this isn’t the worst example of that by any means- worse excesses were to follow- but the slapstick comedy, the comical characters of Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James) and the dizzy Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland) and the unfunny quips clearly signpost the direction.

That said, ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’ is a relatively interesting Bond movie, for a Moore Bond, as it shows the progression to full-on campy slapstick as a work in progress.  But it isn’t all bad.  First and foremost amongst the positives, Bond is opposed (via a ludicrously contrived plot) with an formidable villain in Christopher Lee’s Francisco Scaramanga.  Being a ruthless and skilled assassin who can be debonair and attractive, he is set up as Bond’s equal and this works well thanks- in the main- to Lee’s performance.  It was an inspired piece of casting and Lee carries the film admirably from his supporting role.  What is most interesting about his character, however, is that it is he who possesses the gadgets- a golden gun constructed from a pen, cigarette box and lighter and a car which quickly transforms into an aeroplane (Bond wouldn’t have a car to better that until he got the invisible one in ‘Die Another Day’ in 2002).  The nearest thing Bond has to a gadget in the entire film is a stick-on third nipple.  A minor digression, I genuinely have a third nipple and can confirm that neither Bond’s fake nipple nor Scaramanga’s is placed correctly on the ‘milk line’ from armpit to groin.

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So, Bond versus his equal minus gadgets but with comedy.  The storyline is roughly split into two halves, the opening piece is a roughly effective detective story which ends with Bond being captured by Hai Fat and the second is a less effective protracted cat and mouse duel with Scaramanga ending in an actual duel on Scaramanga’s island.  In between the two is a brief interval which features some Kung Fu (Bond films have always exploited what’s current) and then a chase which includes one of the all-time great movie stunts being ruined by the addition of a slide whistle sound effect.  How the movie shifts from Kung Fu to car chase is one of the great gaping plot holes in the series- Bond’s police ally Lieutenant Hip and his two nieces appear from nowhere to fight off twenty? thirty? Kung Fu assailants and rescue Bond and then unaccountably drive away leaving him to run from the recovering assailants.  Hip then disappears from the film.

Another point about this film is the sub-plot regarding Scaramanga’s attempt to monopolise the supply of the world’s solar power from his secret island hideaway (an almost carbon copy of the earlier James Bond spoof ‘Our Man Flint‘) which was introduced because there was a crisis in British energy supply at the time and the three-day-week made the storyline current for the viewing audience.  Personally, I don’t think a multi-million pound solar machine which suddenly grinds to a halt when the sun disappears behind a cloud as this one does is worth the money but these were desperate times!

Bond, in this film, looks increasingly like a ridiculously effete caricature with his Safari suits and a hideously garish plaid sports jacket and slacks combination- another step away from Fleming’s Bond- and acts like one of those men you avoid at parties because they’re nowhere near as funny as they think.  It’s a dull and confused movie saved from total mediocrity by Christopher Lee and warrants 4/10.


Our Man Flint (1966)

January 21, 2009

I love Bond and I do take Bond far more seriously than it deserves.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the genre being spoofed- if it is done well.  The original Casino Royale (Niven, Sellers, Allen, Welles, Belmondo et al) was a huge disappointment given the talent involved, but this- from the year before- is far more impressive.

Following 1965’s Thunderball, this clever spoof doesn’t stretch the joke too far.  Super-suave spy Derek Flint (James Coburn) is assigned the task of stopping a shadowy group who are holding the world to ransom from their secret hideaway inside a volcano- by the way, the inside of the volcano may as well have been the inside of a shed in comparison to Ken Adam’s Thunderball set.  There is none of the clumsiness of Austin Powers or the Get Smart series, Flint is an extension of the Bond persona and his sole gadget- a lighter with 82 functions (83 if you include lighting a cigar)- is far less outlandish than the Bond gadgets that were to follow.

This is fun and disposable- Lee J. Cobb was wheeled in front of the camera and given lines to yell as a senior US Official and Devon Miles from Knight Rider appears as a nutty villain.  It’s well worth enjoying and better than all but a couple of Roger Moore’s Bond films 6/10.


Defiance (2009)

January 11, 2009

I didn’t expect much of this.  I went along to see it because my wife fancied a trip to the cinema and because I’m a big James Bond fan (I know, I know).  But it’s a good movie.

There are some good performances in this.  Craig is believable as the stoic, reluctant leader as is Liev Schreiber as his combustible brother, but the best turn is by Jamie Bell as a younger brother who comes of age over the course of the film.  The location work is excellent and there is an atmosphere of believable fear throughout.  I also liked the lack of stereotyping which usually acts as shorthand in war-based films, this film is more intelligent than to do that.

That said, the film is a little overlong and drags in patches.  I’d recommend watching it, I wouldn’t necessarilly buy it. 6/10.