This Week in Geek (5-11/11/12)

Buys

Got myself Sean Howe's Marvel Comics: The Untold Story and immediately started reading it. A few DVDs too, including the Muppet Christmas Carol, Mad Men Season 5, Red vs. Blue Season 10, and for the Kung Fu Friday shelf, two Ringo Lam movies, The Viral Factor and Vampire Effect.

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: The Bond-a-thon continues... These are all from the Bond 50 boxed set, with minimal extras compared to its Blu-ray brother (essentially just the commentary tracks). We got through 5 more this week, starting with On Her Majesty's Secret Service which, as it turns out, is one of my favorite Bond films ever. Yes, the one with George Lazenby. But look at this thing. The iconic ski sequence, Diana Rigg as Bond's wife, Telly Savalas with real presence as Blofeld, that genius bobsleigh chase (one of my favorite action scenes in anything ever), and the ending is shocking and incredibly touching. TOUCHING! How many Bond films can we say that about? And Lazenby isn't a problem for me because you know what? I don't think I would have believed Connery's Bond falling in love. That guy was such a bastard with women that I would have always assumed it was some kind of trick. What's distracting about the actor changes (yes, plural) is how to place OHMSS in continuity. They rather stress the fact that it's the same Bond as Connery's in the teaser, the opening sequence, and a scene featuring "souvenirs" from the other movies. But then, he and Blofeld don't recognize each other despite having come face to face in You Only Live Twice! Well, afterwards, I put my mind to it and decided OHMSS takes place between Thunderball and YOLT, as there's no souvenir for the latter movie. SOLVED! NEXT! The two commentary tracks (from the Laserdisc) are a montage of interviews and expert commentary, good but for some reason avoid telling Lazenby's story. And yet, you'd think the tale of a no-name building a fake CV and snowing the producers into casting him would be an interesting series of anecdotes, Ah well. The Internet provides (as does the Blu-ray).

After the box office disappointment of OHMSS, Connery was convinced to return to the role in Diamonds Are Forever. So does director Guy Hamilton, for better or worse. Mostly for worse. Hamilton's big on using U.S. locations which lack the glamor of more exotic locales. Las Vegas at this point isn't that glam, folks. The movie's also big on crazy vehicles, going way overboard with it - a moon rover? Day of the Daleks trikes? a floating ball? - which isn't helped by Hamilton's dull approach to such action. Throw in a lame Blofeld, a pair of gay sociopath assassins whose motivations really aren't clear, and the worst Bond girl yet (Jill St.John's character turns into an idiot for no reason in the second half of the movie), and you've got phoned-in silliness (another giant laser plot?), and a poor film for Connery's Bond to go out on. Again, the two commentaries avoid talking about Lazenby or how Connery's return figures into the franchise. Odd, but you'll note that these "Fleming Institute" montages are very skittish about criticizing the films. That may have something to do with it.

 Live and Let Die is Roger Moore's first, and strangely, they don't do the same kind of reveal in the teaser like they did with Lazenby and then Connery. He's not in the teaser at all! LALD isn't well regarded, and I understand why - tone-deaf to racial politics, a very silly death for the main villain, a slow-paced boat race (Hamilton again), and oh Lord, Sheriff Pepper, the spawn of Satan himself - but I still have a lot of affection for it. Moore makes a good Bond right out of the gate, playing the pun-rich dialog for laughs where Connery would have thrown it away (it's a lot more sexually suggestive too, which is good for lots of chuckles and groans). He's a Bond who doesn't take himself too seriously, less dangerous in some ways, but badass in his nonchalance. Then there's my favorite Bond song of all time, though I admit, its various movements don't all fit the opening sequence very well. Quarrel Jr., who gets to survive where his dad didn't. Jane Seymour as the luscious Solitaire (turning her into a nympho is another case of tone deafness, probably). Lots of neat, gimmicky villains. And I mostly like the idea that Bond is slumming it in other genres, in this case, Hammer Horror voodoo stuff (there isn't another Bond with outright MAGIC in it, is there?) and blaxploitation films (with a couple of Black Belt Jones stars - man, Jim Kelly should have been Felix Leiter in this, absence of acting ability be damned!). This is Bond as icon. Like Doctor Who, like Godzilla, we can throw every other genre at him (SF, Kung Fu, and in the Spy Who Loved Me novel, pure romance) and he survives. Not perfect by any means, but it still holds my attention, and it's possibly the Bond film I've seen the most often, by chance and by design both. From this point on, Roger Moore provides one of the commentaries, charmingly so. This DVD also includes the usual Institute montage commentary (excellent), and an interesting writer's commentary.

With The Man With the Golden Gun, the franchise goes in the wrong direction, but it's one dictated by Hamilton's other hits. We're now in the same universe as Batman's campy 60s series. The villains are cartoony, they play around with death traps, funhouse mirrors and gimmick weapons. The middle of the movie is just a bunch of irrelevant set pieces like a martial arts school where the statues turn out to be real live sumo wrestlers, one of the most iconic car stunts ever filmed is accompanied by slide whistle music, and that cartoon of a man, Sheriff Pepper, returns for "comedy relief". It's also the one where the Bond girl turns on yet another giant laser by accident with her bikinied butt. And that all might work as a send-up if not for the fact that there are some darker turns in it too. Scaramanga, the eponymous villain, keeps his own girl, played by Maud Adams, on whom he liked to rub his gun after he kills. She's a desperate victim, abused by Bond and Scaramanga, and killed by Nick Nack. It's a bit icky in among the silliness of the rest. The poor scripting means Christopher Lee is essentially wasted in his role, and so is Thailand as a location. Moore and the Fleming Institute still manage to offer some good commentary tracks, of course.

The Spy Who Loved Me is Moore's first incontestably good Bond film, in large part because of its Greatest Hits selection of set pieces, none of them going on too long (except for the tedious explosions in the climax) as they might have under Young or Hamilton. Lewis Gilbert runs a tighter ship, but not a wholly original one. There's a ski sequence (On Her Majesty's Secret Service) with an amazing stunt, an underwater mini-sub battle (Thunderball) with an awesome vehicle (that Lotus sub was one of the few toy cars I had as a kid), an off-shore HQ for the villain (Dr. No, but am I the only one who thinks it looks like the Legion of Doom's?), a giant exploding set (You Ony Live Twice), a love affair with a KGB agent (From Russian with Love) that includes a fight aboard a train (same, and Live and Let Die), and a monstrous henchman (like Oddjob and Tee-Hee) in Jaws. It's everything you like about Bond films distilled into one. So it's a bit by the numbers - the mad villain trying to create Atlantis is particularly thinly sketched, and the Bond girl is an example of the Soviet Robot who can't emote, if I'm being kind to Barbara Bach's performance - but it's one that works. Good pace, a light touch punctuated by moments of seriousness (triple-X mentions Bond's wife - oh no you didn't!), and some great locations (Egypt is particularly well-used and memorable). I'm also happy to see the USSR get back in the game, detente or not. In my mind, I thought the Cold War featured more heavily in the Bond stories, and I'm more than glad to get away from the inherent silliness of SPECTRE. A complete entertainment. In the commentaries department, a bit of a disappointment. Moore does his usual good job (it's his favorite of his films, after all), but instead of an interview montage on the second track, we get a moderated discussion between various members of the crew who often dry up, while the moderator fails to spark their memories.

The Bond-a-Thon will return with... Moonraker (oh cripes).

In honor of Remembrance Day weekend, our Asian cinema selection this week was The Front Line, a Korean film about their civil war's last days, and South Korea's official entry in 2012's Academy Awards. The fact that it didn't make the short list takes nothing away from this powerful and very human war film. The look and feel is not unlike Band of Brothers, which is high praise from my perspective. The plot revolves around a hill that is taken and re-taken by both armies on a regular basis, and the investigation into a possible mole smuggling things from one side to the other. In the process, we get to know a number of characters in Alligator Company quite well, and naturally feel for them in their final(?) moments. There's a great, tragic twist (from History) near the end. Does it bring something new to the war film genre? I think it does, even if it doesn't need to. Specific stories are worth telling to pay tribute to those who lived through them (though I believe the characters are fictional), and invariably show us war as a universal experience. What it adds is, first, a non-American perspective we're not used to, about a war that's not cinema's favorite, and second, a lyricism and sweetness connected to brother fighting brother in such a war. Aerok Hill, the setting, is also wonderfully presented and unusual. Never a boring moment with this one, whether we're talking action or character building. The extras feature a couple trailers, a very short (but informative) making-of, and an odd assemblage of "highlights", basically just scenes from the movie without comment. Not sure what we're supposed to do with that.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.iv. The Closet Scene - Zeffirelli '90

Your Daily Splash Page this week features a splash from every DC title, alphabetically, from Catwoman to Checkmate!

6 comments:

snell said...

The Bond novels were much more heavily Cold War focused. S.P.E.C.T.R.E. only showed up in Thunderball, while most the earlier books were SMERSH plots (yes, Live And Let Die featured a Soviet plot to destroy the US with free drugs...)

Siskoid said...

Right. I understand why movies would want to be relatively apolitical, but were the Bond films that popular in Communist countries that Eon didn't want to represent Russia as an enemy?

De said...

Not sure if you've had a chance to listen to the unauthorized Criterion laserdisc commentaries for Dr. No, The Spy Who Loved Me, and Goldfinger. They're interesting artifacts that are downright libelous in places (hence Albert Broccoli's demand to Criterion that they be pulled from the market and repressed).

You can listen to them at this site:

http://www.listentoamovie.com/media/index.php?folder=MS4gTW92aWVzLyhDb21tZW50YXJpZXMp

Siskoid said...

Thanks for the link, De! Sounds interesting. I understand why people in charge would want to suppress dissenting opinion, but I'd much rather people were honest. The classic Doctor Who DVDs are a good example of this.

Matthew Turnage said...

I'm currently (slowly) watching through the films with my wife, who hasn't seen most of these, and we watched Live and Let Die this past week. (Of course, given that From Russia With Love is the only one she stayed awake for the whole film, I guess she still hasn't seen many of them! We'll blame our two-year old for wearing her out.)

OHMSS is my favorite of the series, and I agree that I have a hard time seeing Connery sell the love story. For all those who slag Lazenby's acting, I submit we wouldn't care about that relationship and especially her death if his acting didn't sell it. I think he was a very good Bond, although there were better.

As far as the timeline of the films, OHMSS was the most faithful film-to-novel translation, which creates some hiccups since the order of OHMSS and YOLT was swapped for the films. However, when we watched OHMSS a few weeks ago, it occurred to me there is enough subtlety in Savalas' performance that could suggest Blofeld did in fact recognize Bond straight off, but decided to play along to suit his own purposes. Either way, I'm glad they stuck to the book instead of trying to make it fit with the YOLT film.

Siskoid said...

Lazenby not being any good seems to me a kind of received geek wisdom, something people say without really checking if it's true. Anyone who's seen OHMSS and then written about it immediately has been a lot more forgiving, and even, sincerely enthusiastic about the film.

 

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