The Rhythm Section

Posted: February 11, 2020 in Film reviews
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Directed by Reed Morano. Starring Blake Lively and Jude Law.

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Three years after her family died in a plane crash Stephanie Patrick (Lively) is a drug addicted prostitute in living in London. When journalist Keith Proctor (Spooks’ Raza Jaffrey) approaches her to say he has proof that the plane crash was no accident and was in fact caused by a terrorist bomb, initially Stephanie doesn’t believe him but eventually she goes back to his home where he shows her the evidence which points to a bomb maker named Rezza (Tawfeek Barhom) Stephanie gets a gun and tracks him down but can’t pull the trigger.

Desperate to try and get revenge for her family she locates Proctor’s contact, a former MI6 agent named Boyd living in the wilds of Scotland (Law). Initially Boyd ignores Stephanie but she convinces him to train her so she can take revenge, not only on Rezza, but on the radical terrorist who hired him, known only as U17.

Despite the training Boyd doesn’t expect Stephanie to succeed, but helps her assume the identity of a dead assassin named Petra Reuter. Stephanie heads out into the world to track down those responsible for her family’s deaths, but is she remotely ready?

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From the producers of the Bond films, the marketing yelled, and it’s true, EON is behind the film and Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson serve as exec producers, but it despite the spy thriller similarities this is a very different kind of film to Bond, and one that’s proven very unsuccessful, in fact many are claiming it’s effectively bombed. While I wouldn’t say it’s a great film by any stretch of the imagination, I think it has been somewhat unfairly treated and there is a lot to like here, though most of it centres around a great central performance.

The dialogue is clunky, with tired tropes such as “You were the best student at Oxford before you went off the rails”, and the plot isn’t any better. It’s a fairly generic revenge thriller. Yet somehow it held my attention, mainly because of Lively, both her performance and how the character of Stephanie is portrayed.

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Lively gets to run with a multitude of emotions, from a drug addicted woman who’s given up on life, to someone consumed by the need for revenge, and it’s interesting to see her go from twitchy addict who doesn’t know one end of a gun to the other, to an ultra-confident  assassin…except she doesn’t, which is  one of the film’s big strengths. When Boyd tells her she isn’t right for this kind of work, he’s right, and Stephanie succeeds through luck and determination rather than skill. An ass kicking super spy like Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde she is very much not. Her fights are grim and have the scent of realism about them, which makes you genuinely worry for her safety, and Lively helps by seeming utterly terrified during combat.

Law is decent, though you wish he had more to do, and the only other character of note is a shady former CIA agent turned information dealer named Marc Serra (Sterling K. Brown).

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Morano’s direction is interesting, in particular a car chase filmed entirely from the perspective of inside one of the cars is a nice trick, but the film does feel a little confused at times, and Stephanie seems to get from A to C without going anywhere near B so there are some logical leaps.

If this had been a low budget thriller boasting a star name it might have done better, but for all the things I liked about it, at the end of the day it had a biggish budget, the power of Bond behind it, and came from, apparently, decent source material, so it should have been way better than this, and it’s hard to know where it went wrong. Perhaps in the end it was just too much set up. Stephanie is far more interesting during her training and when she’s in the field, and you almost wish we’d dropped into the adventure later, with her epiphany handled in flashback.

I still firmly believe there’s room for a female led spy franchise out there. It’s a shame this won’t kick start one because Lively deserved better.

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Octopussy (1983)

Posted: February 10, 2020 in James Bond
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You’ll know by now that I’m a big fan of Roger Moore. In many ways he can do no wrong as 007, or at least he couldn’t. As we reach 1983—the year let us not forget that saw Sean Connery and Roger Moore in direct, Bondian competition as Never Say Never came out—Rog is in his mid-fifties and it’s starting to show. I mean maybe, it was showing before, but his boyish enthusiasm always kept it at bay. For a while there’d been a fine line between charm and smarm, and 1983 is the year that line was crossed. Not that we can wholly blame Moore for this.

It’s evident from the pre-title sequence how things have changed. Just check out his leer when he’s trying to distract those two guards. And talking of them, who the hell wears a parachute as a matter of course? Not even paratroopers. Makes it handy for 007 to escape that’s all. It’s an oddly hollow pre-title sequence. Yes the little Aerojet is cool but it doesn’t do a lot, and where is he? Argentina? Could be, there’s the polo, and this was around the time of the Falklands War. Except he’s suddenly in a southern American state asking some old geezer to fill her up. Cuba? Unlikely given the polo/wealth on show. Mexico? Maybe its best to imagine it’s some imaginary country. The Republic of Isthmus perhaps? The best bit is probably Moore’s judo chop!

After the titles the film settles down a little and goes Cold War on us. First off there’s 009, dressed as a clown, being pursued to the British embassy by knife wielding goons. He makes it, but soon succumbs to his wounds, dropping a Faberge egg on the floor.

Back in London 007 arrives to find Moneypenny has a new assistant, Miss Penelope Smallbone, who’s sexually harassed by Bond right from the off, though clearly it’s mutual given her longing sigh. I mean Roger Moore is cool and all but he’s old enough to be her grandad. And the side-lining of Moneypenny isn’t great.

The auction scene is fun, though maybe surrounding Rog with antiques isn’t a great idea….

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“I’m sorry Steven, could you just ratchet it up a little more?”

We meet our first villain of the piece now. The always understated Steven Berkoff as General Orlov. Gotta love that Politburo war room set though.

Having switched the eggs at the auction Bond is off to India and things go even more off the rails. I mean this is probably as close to becoming a Carry On style parody as the franchise gets (unless A View to a Kill is somehow worse than I remember). Say what you like about Moonraker, it’s not as ridiculous as this.

Where to start? How about Bond recognising his own theme tune courtesy of former tennis star Vijay Amritraj disguised as a snake charmer (damn I missed him off my Bond/Trek list! He’s in Star Trek IV). Somehow having a camera with 007 on it doesn’t seem so bad.

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“It’s all in the wrist.” Are you sure you’re talking about backgammon Roger?

Next villain, the wonderfully suave Louis Jourdan as Kamal Khan. The backgammon game is presumably a nod to Goldfinger, complete with Bond showing off the egg the way Connery showed off the gold bar, and having Gobinda, Khan’s bodyguard, crush the dice the way Oddjob crushed a golf ball. Yet again Bond walks away with a bundle of cash, and unfortunately advises his Indian colleagues that it’ll keep them in curry for a few weeks. Oh 007…

The auto rikshaw chase should be fun, but turns out to just be an excuse to stick as many Indian stereotypes in one sequence as possible. Sword swallowers, fire jugglers and fire walkers and of course fakirs sleeping on beds of nails.

Then we’re into Q’s lab where the misogyny goes into overdrive. Q offloads Bond’s jacket to a woman to sew up, before Bond focuses a camera on a young woman’s cleavage to ‘hilarious’ comic effect. I’ll defend the franchise a lot, but this is a really poor show. He’s James Bond not Sid James!

Bond gets a shag next, and I suppose the best thing one can say is that Magda is only doing it to get the egg. Her escape from Bond’s room is fun, but why go to all that trouble when Gobinda is going to clock Bond anyway?

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“I was Dracula you know.”

Cue dinner at Kamal’s palace, complete with stuffed sheep’s eyes. Really, I’m surprised they didn’t get chilled money brains from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Despite his hospitality Khan is going to kill Bond so he makes his escape.

And what an escape. First he pretends to be a ghost (which did make me laugh against my better judgement) then he impersonates Barbara Woodhouse with a gag I imagine less than 1% of viewers these days will get. He tells a snake to hiss off and then throws in a Tarzan cry for good measure. I mean, Jim Dale might as well be 007 by this point.

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“Are you sure we haven’t met before? You look oddly familiar.”

Finally Bond heads for Octopussy’s island in a crocodile submarine (I mean why not right) and meets up with a familiar face as Maud Adam returns for her second outing as a Bond girl. Not the first woman to return as a different character, but the others were fairly minor, she’s the only woman to play two different top tier Bond girls as it were. On the plus side she’s only just young enough to be Roger’s daughter. On the downside she isn’t the greatest actress (I think she’s better as Andrea Anders) and the scene with Bond as they discuss her father should be great, given as it’s lifted from Fleming, yet feels dull.

Poor old Vijay is killed and Bond narrowly escapes being buzz-sawed in Octopussy’s bed.

The film them scoots off to Germany and oddly goes all spy thrillery as it becomes apparent that Orlov is using Octopussy’s circus to smuggle a nuclear bomb onto an American airbase where he plans to detonate it, blame the Americans and encourage nuclear disarmament across Europe, thus leaving the continent vulnerable to Soviet takeover. It’s a neat plan, one that probably deserves to be in a better film. In fact it’s so similar to The Fourth Protocol that I wonder if the Bond producers ever thought of suing Frederick Forsyth?

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After some hijinks aboard a train Bond breaks into the USAF airbase (ridiculously easily it must be said) and disguises himself as a clown (the jokes write themselves by this point) before trying to warn the Americans about the bomb. Surprisingly they think he’s joking but luckily Octopussy believes Bond and reveals the nuke, which James defuses while still dressed as a clown. To be honest I think the clown thing gets a lot of bad press, it actually works quite well and given he was disguised as a gorilla about ten minutes earlier, is it really that bad?

Cue a ridiculous circus inspired attack on Kamal Khan’s palace by Octopussy’s all girl circus, with Bond dropping in via a Union Jack hot air balloon piloted by Q…I mean by this point you have to wonder what the writers were smoking.

There’s time for a final confrontation atop Khan’s plane between Bond and Gobinda, worth it if only for the Sikh’s “Out there?” when Khan tells him to clamber outside the plane to kill Bond. Like much of the film it’s a set piece I remember liking a lot more when I was younger.

It isn’t a completely terrible film, almost but not quite. Most of the train scenes are good and I do genuinely like Bond defusing the bomb. Roger sliding down a bannister with an AK47 is really cool as well, but this feels tired and it feels tawdry. In many respects I wish For Your Eyes Only had been Roger’s final film (not that this is his final film but we’re into a law of diminishing returns now.)

Jourdan and Berkoff make for decent villains. Gobinda is a nice spin on the tough henchman, and while Adams isn’t great, Octopussy does have a bit of agency, and you have to like that they added several ideas from Fleming into the book (Major Dexter-Smythe, Property of a Lady etc) but overall this is a poor Bond film, and in fact might well be my least favourite so far. That it was still probably the best Bond film of 1983 is damning with faint praise. Still, it’s almost time for Tim, but first we have a View…to a kill!

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“What have I done?”

 

Fleabag: The Scriptures

Posted: February 4, 2020 in Book reviews
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9780593158272By Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Fleabag is a young woman with a wit as dry as the desert and a distinct lack of filter. She’s angry and grief ridden and she’s happy to lash out at anyone. She has a struggling business, and a best friend who committed suicide. She has a fractious relationship with her sister, Claire…and her brother in law, Martin, and with her father, and with her Godmother, and in fact with most people she meets. She has a voracious appetite for sex and a habit of breaking the fourth wall and talking to us as if we were her conscience, oh and she’s about to meet the man of her dreams, so what if he’s a celibate priest…

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There’s a light effortless to Waller-Bridge’s writing that tells you she’s agonised over every word, written and rewritten every line of dialogue over and over again until it was just right. And there’s an economy of language that says she isn’t afraid to kill her darlings and cut every ounce of fat she can to leave a lean, and often incredibly mean, fillet behind.

Basically she makes it look easy, which likely means it was incredibly hard. Whatever you may think of her, the woman is damn talented.

When I watched the first season the show was an indie hit, by the time of the second season Fleabag had gone mainstream and the hype had gone into orbit. Did it deserve it? Well I’m biased but all I can say is, yes, yes it did.

There’s a palpable anger behind Fleabag, and also a profound, aching loneliness. Cursed by an inability  to not speak her mind she lashes out at everyone, and sometimes they deserve it. Her dithering father, her uptight sister, her supercilious godmother, her sleezy brother in law all do her wrong, yet she often does them wrong as well, and it’s testament to Waller-Bridge’s economy of words that she can tell us so much with so little, and as an aspiring script writer—ok, someone who’s considering trying his hand at it—there is much to learn about how brevity isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Not only do you get the scripts, you also get a few potted biographies of some of the people who brought Fleabag to life, written by Waller-Bridge, as well as some of the history behind the show, and a piece of music that was composed for the second season by her sister. Oh and did I mention it looks gorgeous?

A treat for fans, or anyone interested in good scriptwriting. Just watch out for the fox…

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The City

Posted: February 2, 2020 in Book reviews
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51pEc6O8-4L._SX342_BO1,204,203,200_By Dean Koontz

Jonah Kirk is a young African American boy growing up in New York in the 1960s. He thinks he’s ordinary but he’s anything but. For starters he has a prodigious talent for music, especially the piano, just as well given he has a whole heap of middle names taken from famous jazz musicians. He also seems to have been chosen for something special by a kindly woman who claims to be the embodiment of the city made flesh. It’s just as well Jonah has friends in high places, because his path’s about to cross with some very dangerous people, including his own estranged father, and danger and tragedy are about to strike the young boy’s life, and things are never going to be the same again.

I’ve been a fan of Dean Koontz for a long time, enjoying his high concept thrillers that usually contained an element of horror, science fiction, or often both. Sure, he’s the master of a great set up whose finales don’t always follow through, and there have been the odd book I haven’t got on with, but on the whole I’ve enjoyed the vast majority of his books, and he, along with James Herbert, has always been a writer to aspire to, and many of the novels I’ve written have followed a similar thriller/high concept route.

When I picked this up I expected something similar but it’s actually very different. At first I wasn’t sure I was going to like it but soon it had me hooked. It’s a relatively simple tale, recounted in the first person by the adult Jonah, describing his life as a small boy in the 1960s. There’s an element of magical realism with regard to the mysterious woman who seems to be watching over Jonah, and his own precognitive dreams, but on the whole it’s quite grounded.

It’s a long book, and I suppose some may argue that nothing much happens for much of it’s page count, yet I found even Jonah’s everyday life utterly fascinating, Koontz’s prose is on the whole very good and Jonah felt like a fully realised character. Yes he seems a little too wise beyond his years at times, but given we’re hearing the story from an adult’s recollections I can let that slide. The cast of characters are excellent, from a truly scary woman who moves into Jonah’s building, to a dangerous psychopath with delusions of being some kind of counter culture freedom fighter, to the gawky boy who lives across the street from Jonah’s grandfather and a Japanese man with a tragic past who becomes Jonah’s greatest ally.

There’s more than a hint of Stephen King here (a smidgen of magic, real world horror and a coming of age/ loss of innocence tale) as well. Yes, things get wrapped up quite neatly in the end, especially given all the foreshadowing we get, but all I can say is that, despite this, I was enraptured by Jonah’s story. Highly recommended (rubbish title though!)

Jojo Rabbit

Posted: January 25, 2020 in Film reviews
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Directed by Taika Waititi. Starring Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell and Scarlett Johansson.

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In the latter stages of World War 2, Jojo (Griffin Davis) is a ten-year-old boy living in Nazi Germany. Indoctrinated by propaganda, and egged on by his imaginary friend, a childish version of Hitler (Waititi), he firmly believes that Jews are monsters and the Nazi party is completely in the right.

When he refuses to kill a rabbit at Hitler Youth camp he earns the nickname Jojo Rabbit, and while trying to reclaim some dignity he’s wounded by a grenade and as such he’s forced to spend more time at home which leads him to uncover a young Jewish girl (McKenzie) hiding upstairs, and to notice that his mother (Johansson), who is opposed to the war, is leaving notes all over town.

Soon Jojo finds himself having to confront the fact that everything he’s been taught is a lie.

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Taika Waititi’s follow up to the insanely enjoyable Thor: Ragnarök is a very different film, at once more intimate and political, yet also displaying the distinctive flourish of a very accomplished director. It’s funny and heart-breaking, and I enjoyed it a lot, and yet…I can’t help feeling it’s perhaps not as good as many people, including the Academy where it’s up for best picture, think it is.

The thing is that satire is difficult to pull off, a tightrope walk, especially when you’re dealing with such an emotive real life subject as Nazism. Marrying horror and humour is never easy, and whilst Jojo Rabbit contains both, for the most part they’re kept separate, meaning the film’s tone dips and rises as it swings between comedy and tragedy and I wish there’d been more instances where we got both together. Compare this with a film like Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin which manages to horrify and amuse simultaneously. There are moments, but Jojo Rabbit never quite manages that level of satirical consistency.

The cast are superb, in particular young Roman Griffin Davis is marvellous (where’s his Oscar nom, eh?). As the central focus of the film he’s in practically every scene yet never seems overawed, either by the subject matter or company of more experienced actors, and in particular he has wonderful chemistry with both McKenzie and Johansson. His journey from fanatic to realisation isn’t sugar coated, and nor is it quick or easy making it all the more believable.

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Johansson gives a nuanced, and somewhat unexpected performance. Rosie isn’t the woman you expect her to be, by turns joyous and quirky, she’s tortured, and her heartbreak at what’s happening to her country, and her son, are clear in every look Johannsson gives, and she’s far from the perfect movie mom, at times she’s downright mean to Jojo, if only for his own good, but is never less than loving.

McKenzie is also good, similarly she isn’t a shrinking violet, despite being in hiding. Elsa is a girl who has nothing left to lose except her life, and isn’t above threatening a small boy. McKenzie does her best with the material she’s given, even if at times she feels more like a plot device to educate Jojo rather than a character in her own right.

I could watch Sam Rockwell read the phone book, so of course he’s great, even if his noble German officer is something of a cliché, but he’s not alone there. When Stephen Merchant turns up as a Gestapo agent he seems to be channelling multiple comedy Nazi’s we’ve seen before, from Allo Allo’s Herr Flick to Ronald Lacey in Raiders, but thankfully it’s a cameo appearance so doesn’t detract too much.

Rebel Wilson as brutish Hitler Youth trainer is funny, but perhaps a little too broad at times.

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This leaves the director himself as Hitler, or rather the imaginary Fuhrer friend Jojo has conjured for himself. He’s childish, impulsive and of course in no way like the actual Adolf. It’s a trick that could have easily fallen on its face, and maybe for the odd moment it does, but for the most part it makes for some of the funniest moments of the film, especially as he keeps offering Jojo cigarettes. I can see how people took against this, but it’s important to remember that it’s a small boy’s fantasy of Hitler, and Waititi I very funny. I wonder as well if this helped to get such a wonderful performance out of Griffin Davis.

His direction is very assured, in particular the opening titles where we get footage of Hitler arriving to give a speech overlaid with the soundtrack of the Beatles in concert is exceptional, and the film looks gorgeous, with the town looking almost idyllic, until you see the bodies hanging in the town square.

The script is very funny, and obviously a film highlighting the ease with which fanatical political ideas can grab hold, even of supposedly civilised people, is especially relevant in the current climate, but the plot is a little pedestrian, and aside from one heart-breaking rug pull in the middle of the film it rarely goes anywhere truly unexpected, and though mentioned, for the most part the Holocaust is out of sight and out of mind.

Well-acted and directed, funny and heart-breaking there’s a lot to love about Jojo Rabbit, and I feel slightly guilty for not liking it more than I did, I just can’t shake the feeling that it could have been something truly special if Waititi had been just a little more daring. That moment aside it feels like it plays things a little too safe.

Still lots to enjoy and well worth seeing!

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Little Women

Posted: January 19, 2020 in Film reviews
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Directed by Greta Gerwig. Starring Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlan, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet and Meryl Streep.

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It’s several years after the Civil War, and Jo March (Ronan) is teaching in New York, though she’s also following her dream of becoming a writer. Back home are her sisters Meg (Watson) and Beth (Scanlen) while her fourth sister Amy (Pugh) is in Paris, learning to paint and providing companionship to Aunt March (Streep). When one of her sisters becomes unwell Jo decides to return home, convinced she’ll never make it as an author.

The story flashes back to 1861, when the girls are all living at home with their mother (Dern), and their father (Better Call Saul’s Bob Odenkirk) is away at war. The girls have dreams of a better life, and are intrigued by their neighbour Laurie (Chalamet) but he may only have eyes for Jo.

As the story flits between childhood and adulthood, the past and the present, the girls will face adversity and tragedy, but also joy and fulfilment, but can even Jo find happiness?

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Fair disclosure I’ve never read the book, and haven’t seen any of the other adaptations, which isn’t to say I came to this completely fresh, I understood the rough narrative, and knew of the major tragedy that affected the sisters. As such I can’t speak to how many people who are fans will feel about this adaptation (though on the whole the prevailing wisdom appears to be extremely positive) I can only say how I felt about it, well aware that I’m not exactly the target demographic.

I thought it was wonderful.

Which does make you wonder about whether I’m the target demographic after all. Maybe my demographic is just well directed, well written, well-acted films? Who knew?

While I liked Lady Bird, I never quite understood why it was so well regarded, but in the case of Gerwig’s second solo directorial effort I have no such issues. This is an incredibly well directed film, sumptuous in its staging and costumes, which is all the more impressive when you realise it’s relatively small budget, and it’s well deserving of its recent best picture nomination, as is Gerwig for her best adapted screenplay nomination. It somewhat beggars’ belief that Gerwig didn’t get a nomination for directing, but chalk that up to yet another glaring Oscar omission. Her screenplay is exceptional, and by all accounts she hasn’t played with the text very much at all, so any accusations of turning Little Women into a modern feminist film are, I believe, entirely incorrect. Everything Gerwig needed was already in the text.

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She’s used it to make a film demonstrating how little autonomy women had in the past. As both Jo and Amy make clear, women have few ways to gain wealth, and even if they do it becomes the property of their husband upon marriage. And yet despite this Gerwig shows all sides of the equation, one sister is more than happy to get married, and late on Ronan has a phenomenally strident monologue that balances her need to have agency with a deep and painful loneliness. It’s incredible.

Ah, Ronan. I know she can act, have known it since Atonement all those years ago, yet still she surprises me. She’s truly incredible here, and as Jo is the heart of the book, so Ronan is the beating heart of the film. It may not be this year (though I hope it is) but sooner or later Saoirse will win an Oscar, and I doubt it will be her last.

Close behind her in the acting stakes is Pugh, an actress who demonstrates ability far beyond her years. I may have been lukewarm about Midsommar, but Pugh was phenomenal in that, and is again here, and in some ways with a harder part as Amy isn’t as inherently likeable as Jo, yet Pugh and Gerwig make her empathetic, even when she’s being a spoilt brat.

Watson is a good actress, but she does fade a little into the background, in part because of how good Ronan and Pugh are, but also by nature of the character she has to play, still she’s quietly effective and the film would be lessened without her. Similarly Scanlan, who shines despite having the least to do of the four sisters.

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But then as both writer and director Gerwig gives each member of her ensemble their moment to shine. Dern is wonderful, and the moment when she tells Jo that she’s angry every day is understated yet powerful.

Chalamet, much like Pugh, has to raise the character of Laurie above just being a drippy, spoilt brat, and for the most part is successful, and Chris Cooper as Laurie’s grandfather gets one of the best moments of the film, showcasing his grief without saying a word as he sits on the stairs and listens to Beth playing the piano. Meryl Street is of course very good.

The decision to show the story in a nonlinear way is a good one, and this might not have been as enjoyable if it had followed a more traditional path. For the most part Gerwig keeps the timelines easy to tell apart, although at times they do seem to merge, intentionally in one case in relation to tragedy, which just adds to the heartbreak.

If I had one issue it’s with the character of Friedrich, Louis Garrel is very good but I wish we’d seen a little more of him early on. He seems to appear out of nowhere at the end (but I hear this is the same in the book). Similarly more on the courtship of Meg and John Brooke (James Norton) might have been nice. Then again it might have made the film feel bloated, and it didn’t detract from my enjoyment.

Exceptionally well written and directed, gorgeous to look at and featuring stellar performances, this could have been mawkish and over sentimental but Gerwig never lets it veer even close to that. Twenty-year-old me probably would have hated it. Almost fifty-year-old me really, really enjoyed it.

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For Your Eyes Only (1981)

Posted: January 17, 2020 in James Bond
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And so we follow Roger Moore’s most ludicrous film with perhaps his most grounded. No world threatening supervillains with diabolical schemes here, instead we get a gritty cold war thriller. It’s amazing to think Moonraker and For Your Eyes Only are part of the same series, but then that’s part of the franchise’s charm in my opinion.

There was a time, maybe not even that long ago, when if asked FYEO would have sat in my worst Bond list. It doesn’t anymore. To be honest the reappraisal was prompted by a holiday in Corfu which made me watch it again. And I realised there’s a lot to like about it. I don’t mind the ridiculous, but it’s nice that Roger got something akin to From Russia with Love—it’s nowhere near as good obviously but after Moonraker they had to dial down the ridiculousness, and they’ll do this again of course, with Casino Royale following Die Another Day. And again, to be clear FYEO isn’t as good as Casino Royale.

The changes are obvious from the beginning. The pre-title sequence is somewhat lowkey, but I like it. The reference to Tracy is welcome, and Moore gets to look mournful and weary in a way he’s rarely allowed. His little comment of “It usually is” when told there’s an emergency feels almost Dalton’esque. Of course, while it’s clear Blofeld is the CEO of remote-control airways, he’s never credited as such due to copyright issues with Kevin McClory that would plague Eon for years. We all know it’s Ernst Stavro though, and 007 finally gets revenge for Tracy by dropping him down a chimney.

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Cue titles and Sheena Easton (still the only time the singer’s been seen in the titles) before we get to the meat of the plot. After an accident (or is it?) sinks a British spy ship, the Royal navy’s ATAC device (used to communicate with and coordinate Polaris submarines) is at risk. The British hire Sir Timothy Havelock, a marine archaeologist, to find it but he’s murdered before he can by Hector Gonzales, a Cuban hitman. Bond is despatched to Spain to spy on Gonzales but gets caught, luckily before he can be killed Gonzales is killed by Havelock’s daughter Melina and the two make their escape, though after Bond’s Lotus self-destructs (worst anti-theft device ever, Q!) they have to use Melina’s 2CV.

This leads to a great little car chase, which could have been played strictly for laughs but is genuinely exciting, one of many top-notch set pieces in this film.

Bond’s off to Cortina in Italy next, to meet Julian Glover’s Kristatos, who promises to help Bond find out who hired Gonzales but suggests it’s probably his former friend turned nemesis, the dastardly Columbo, who given he’s played by Topol is of course really a good guy, while the man who’s played smooth talking villains in everything from Doctor Who to Game of Thrones by way of Star Wars is, of course, the bad guy.

Cortina features some more good set pieces. Bond’s encounter with a couple of motorbikes when Melina shows up, and his ice hockey fight aren’t great, but between them is a stunning sequence where Bond is hunted by the villains, and proceeds to elude/fight them using a variety of winter sports, from biathlon to ski jumping to the franchise’s second bobsleigh outing. It’s a wonderful sequence and you do halfway believe Roger Moore is doing all those stunts…well, maybe a quarter way.

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Then it’s off to Corfu, and a night at the casino (filmed at the luscious Achilleion Palace—been there!) before Bond seduces Columbo’s girlfriend, the accent slipping Countess (Cassandra Harris, the first wife of Pierce Brosnan who sadly died in 1991) When they’re menaced on the beach the countess is killed, and Bond is about to die when rescued by…shock! Columbo’s men.

There’s a lovely scene between Bond and Columbo, and Topol easily fits into the retinue of larger than life allies alongside Kerim Bey and Tiger Tanaka. Columbo lets Bond in on a raid of Kristatos’s operation in Albania (actually filmed below the old venetian fortress in Corfu Town—been there!) which is another great set piece.

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Bond and Melina reconnect and locate the St Georges. They find the ATAC but are attacked, first by a man in a metal diving suit, then by another henchmen in a minisub. They defeat both but back on the surface Kristatos is waiting and he takes the ATAC and attempts to keelhaul Bond and Melina. This is a great scene, lifted from Fleming, and their escape is even realistic, at least realistic for Bond.

Then we’re off to our finale, an assault on the mountaintop monastery of St Cyril’s. Yes Bond’s mountain climbing goes on a bit, but it’s still a great end to the film;  Kristatos is foiled and when General Gogol arrives 007 deprives him of his prize by tossing the ATAC off the cliff. “That’s detente comrade. I don’t have it. You don’t have it.”

Wonderful.

What a shame the end of the film is ruined by the ridiculous Janet Brown/Margaret Thatcher moment. Seriously, what were they thinking?

maxresdefaultMoore is great here, and yes he is starting to look a bit older but at least he’s portrayed as slightly less sleazy than he has been elsewhere. His relationship with Melina takes time to grow, and while he hops into bed with the countess he is technically “on the job” and Harris is at least only young enough to be his daughter rather than his granddaughter! And then there’s Bibi, who Bond fends off.

Fun fact, though obviously playing younger than her years, Lynn Holly Johnson is actually only a year younger than Carole Bouquet, but then this film’s got some mixed up ideas about age. Bibi tells  Kristatos he’s too old for her, but Glover is almost eight years younger than Roger Moore who Bibi is desperate to shag!

Back to Roger, he gets to be brutal and be a proper spy, and yes by all accounts he wasn’t too happy kicking that guy off the cliff, but like a trouper he did it and it’s a great scene. You almost wish this had been his send off.

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Carole Bouquet’s Melina is a great Bond girl. I mean, she has actual agency. Yes she falls for Bond, well duh, and yes she does seem to give up a little easily in Cortina, and yes Bond does divesplain to a woman who’s probably done more diving than he has…but, she’s engaged in the story, makes her own decisions and saves 007’s life, she also kicks butt with that crossbow. In a way I’m sorry she isn’t the one to kill Kristatos but you can’t have everything. Her comparisons with Elektra are also good. Definitely one of the better Bond girls.

Talking of Kristatis, Glover is wonderful in the role, charming and dangerous in equal measure, especially once his cover’s blown and we know he’s the bad guy. Topol is similarly engaging as Columbo, another one of those characters you kinda wish had come back. Perhaps a shame that we have a French woman, and English and Israeli men playing Greeks but they all play their parts well at least.

The henchmen are less memorable. Gonzales isn’t around long enough to get much of a personality, Locque’s defining trait is his glasses, and Erich Kriegler is just another generic monosyllabic Aryan blonde (see also Stamper, Hans, Necros etc etc) Interesting to note Charles Dance in one of his earliest roles.

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While Moneypenny is on hand to flirt, and Q aids Bond with the ludicrous indentigraph, there’s no M as sadly Bernard Lee died before he could film his scenes. As a mark of respect the role wasn’t recast and Bond is briefed by others.

Never been a huge fan of Easton’s title track, but the wacka wacka soundtrack is very cool.

I can see why people don’t like it because it’s the atypical Moore Bond film, but it grows on me with each viewing, a taut little cold war thriller with some great set pieces and an underrated gem methinks, though that Thatcher scene belongs in the same bin they should put the penny whistle from The Man With the Golden Gun in.

Have no fear fans of the silly, I’m sure Roger will be clowning around again soon…

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