Archive for November, 2019

Moonraker (1979)

Posted: November 28, 2019 in James Bond


Bond is back, but curiously not in For Your Eyes Only, instead, following on from the phenomenal success of Star Wars, the producers decide that a Bond film with more of a space flavour might be more successful, and since they have a book titled Moonraker that’s all about rockets, why not use that?

Of course, the novel of Moonraker bears little resemblance to the film. A former Nazi wanting to nuke London is chickenfeed compared to a lunatic who wants to wipe out humanity so he can repopulate the Earth.

Moonraker is a film that divides opinion. For some it’s the nadir of the series, the film that went too far, preposterous and terrible, for others it’s their favourite Bond film, fun and epic and exciting.

Of course, what you quickly realise about Moonraker is that it can be both these things simultaneously. Terrible and wonderful in equal measure. I mean it really is poor, yet it’s so much fun. If there’s one Bond film that’s a guilty pleasure, it’s surely this one.


Riffing on The Spy Who Loved Me, the film opens with a large bit of high-tech kit being nabbed, in this case a Moonraker shuttle. You could ask why the shuttle has fuel in its tanks, but I guess Drax could have planned that…

Once again 007 is seducing a woman who wants to kill him, seriously this happens around 50% of the time by now. James Mason appears to menace Bond, but only ends up donating his parachute. Not that Bond’s out of the woods yet as Jaws is also in the air. I mean, where was he hiding? Why was he hiding? Just in case James Mason couldn’t finish the job? Anyway, some dubious lookalikes and Jaws’ comedy arm flapping aside it’s a good pre title sequence.

M despatches Bond to California, but not before Q gives him a wrist activated dart gun, which in fairness 007 does manage to use several times, and as far as we can tell brings it back in one piece as well.

Anyway, California…or rather France, I mean that’s just ridiculous, you can see miles of forest all around Drax’s house.

This has to be one of the earliest meetings between Bond and the villain, and it seems odd that Drax should order his death, I mean that isn’t likely to throw MI6 off the scent is it? Still it’s hard to harbour any kind of grudge against the wonderful Michael Lonsdale who’s everything Stromberg wasn’t, and his delivery of lines like “Take care of Mr Bond, see that some harm comes to him,” or “You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season” are just wonderful. He really deserved to be the villain in a much better film.


Anyway, Bond’s off to meet Dr Goodhead (seriously?) who, SHOCK, turns out to be a woman. I mean in the last film 007 met a female spy who was his equal, should he really be so surprised that a woman could be an astronaut? Lois Chiles isn’t a terrible Bond girl, but for a while she’s kinda rubbish, her worst moment being trying and failing to help Bond fight Jaws on the cable car. Odd that by the time we hit the space station she can kick ass, take names and fly a space shuttle, it’s almost the reverse trajectory of XXX.  She does at least have the decency to be offended by Bond’s casual sexism.

So Roger Moore than take 12 Gs, apparently Connery could only take 10… have to love how shaken (but not stirred) Roger is afterwards

Its bad enough that Bond’s reputation precedes him everywhere now, but his equipment having 007 written all over it really is taking the piss.

Bond’s shooting scene with Drax is interesting, but again why try and kill him, you’re only going to make M suspicious, Drax!


And here we hit an odd moment, one of a few in the film, that’s completely at odds with the general tone. Corinne’s death, chased down through the forest by dogs, is genuinely horrifying. For a generally family friendly film it’s like something out of the fucking Omen (and again probably deserved to be in a better film).

The tone soon goes off the deep end again when Bond travels to Venice and has to utilise a gondola that turns into a speed boat and then a hovercraft, but then he is menaced by a man with a coffin’o’knives. Cue that drunk guy from The Spy Who Loved Me and a double taking pigeon. One sympathises…

Bond infiltrates a lab, inadvertently gets some scientists killed (but they were evil so we don’t care) before battling Chang with a vial of toxin in his shirt pocket. The fight’s all right, but Bond’s “Play it again San” isn’t a good look.


The Moore with no name?

Drax’s clean-up operation must be a world record, but why didn’t 007 give M the vial of toxin before they raided the lab? Anyway it’s off to Rio now, courtesy of Concorde, where we get the second horror movie moment as Jaws, dressed as a carnival clown, preys on poor Manuela who’s already had to fend off Roger Moore all afternoon. Again, it’s an unsettling scene at odds with the rest of the film as he lumbers down the alley towards her. You have to love Jaws’ initial annoyance at being dragged away from killing Bond morphing into ‘what the hell’ acceptance as he decides to party. But then this is a film that takes an unstoppable killing machine and turns him into an unstoppable killing machine, with a heart of gold. Love tames the beast, well love and self interest because even Jaws isn’t stupid enough to imagine he and his petite girlfriend have any future in Drax’s new Eden. Kiel is always good value, and I can see why they brought him back, but whilst it isn’t the debacle JW Pepper’s return was, you do have to wonder why they bothered? You also have to wonder why poor old Baron Samedi didn’t warrant a second appearance given how awesome he is.


Slight aside, if you’ve heard of the Mandela Effect (a shared false memory phenomenon) here’s a question, does Jaws’ girlfriend Dolly wear braces on her teeth?

You do have to love Jaws’ facial expressions, especially in the cable car and on the boat as it goes over the waterfall.

Bond infiltrates Drax’s jungle lair, and whilst his fight with a huge snake is ridiculous (Roger stop wrestling with the draught excluder!) we get another unsettling moment. The way Drax’s coterie of women stand around relishing Bond’s imminent death is a trifle disturbing.

Anyway, next stop space, and crikey whatever you think of the film you have to admire the miniature effects work of Derek Meddings and his team, the design work of Ken Adam and the music of John Barry for providing some stunning outer space footage. Who needs CGI!

The final battle in orbit is nuts, but is suitably epic, and Bond’s showdown with Drax is nicely handled. It isn’t over just yet however, and Holly and Bond’s pursuit of the nerve gas spheres is quite tense.


Pew! Pew! Pew!

We end with the now obligatory double entendre, after keeping the British end up last time, now 007 is attempting re-entry (Holly’s “Take me round the world one more time” line is far better.) You really would think M would know better by now. Sadly worse is to come, but we’ll get to that next time.

I’ve always been fairly relaxed when it comes to Bond, and I enjoy the grounded and the ridiculous films in equal measure even so Moonraker hits heights of ludicrousness that thankfully won’t be seen again until an invisible car turns up.

Yes it’s ridiculous, and no it isn’t a classic, but Moonraker is fun and diverting, and you know what else? It rattles along at a cracking pace and doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. I wish I could say the same about some of the more recent entries.

Next up the pendulum swings in the opposite direction, and following on from Roger Moore’s most ludicrous film, comes possibly his most grounded. See you in Corfu!


One Way

Posted: November 19, 2019 in Book reviews, science fiction

9781473222571-ukBy S. J. Morden

When a corporation hired by NASA to set up a base on Mars realises how expensive the endeavour will be, they hit on a novel solution. They send a group of convicts on a one-way mission to get everything ready for the real astronauts to arrive.

Frank Kittridge was an architect until he murdered the man dealing drugs to his son, now he’s a convict who’ll likely die in prison, so when offered the chance to travel to Mars, to use his skills once more and to do something meaningful, he jumps at the chance.

The training is harsh, and his fellow astronauts are a shady bunch, but they make it to Mars and begin building the base. Which is when they start to die. At first Frank thinks the deaths are accidental, but soon it becomes clear, one of them is a murderer, and with no way of escaping Mars, Frank must work out who it is before he becomes the next victim.

It really takes talent to take a premise such as this—’The Dirty Dozen’ meets ‘And Then There Were None’ meets ‘The Martian’—and make it so utterly dull, but Morden manages it. One presumes the book was sold on the back of the idea, and to be fair it is a doozy of an idea, and to cash in on the phenomenal success of The Martian. One hopes it wasn’t sold on the back of the plot, which is plodding and predictable, or the prose, which is clunky and lifeless.

For starters it’s pretty obvious from the get-go who the murderer is. Maybe Morden is trying to pull a clever double bluff, but if he is it doesn’t work. That’s fine though, and if the rest of the book had been any good it might not have mattered, but it isn’t.

Plot wise things take an age to get going, and we’re well into the book before the cons get to Mars. Again this would be fine is the author had used the training scenes to introduce us to the characters, get us inside their heads, but he doesn’t, and that’s a major flaw with the book, very few characters stand out aside from maybe Zeus, the hulking former white supremacist covered in swastika tattoos who got religion and seems to have turned into a nice guy, but even here the author undercuts himself. We have Zeus, and then we have Zero, breaking the cardinal rule of not having characters with similar names. Most of the cast are little more than cardboard cut outs, chess pieces with no life of their own who exist only for Morden to move around the board, and one by one remove from the board.

They all sound the same, spouting cliched dialogue, or just plain dull dialogue. Morden’s prose is leaden and I’m sorry but surely an editor should have made improvements. “It’s Frank,” said Frank, being just one example of how clunky the prose is.

As a one off read it never got quite so bad that I wanted to toss it aside, but I’ve since found out there’s a sequel and I won’t be reading that one.

Great premise, lousy execution.

Directed by Tim Miller. Starring Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna.


Daniella “Dani” Ramos (Reyes) is a young woman living in Mexico and working at a car assembly plant. She thinks of herself as an ordinary young woman, until a Rev-9 Terminator (Luna) travels back from the future to kill her. Luckily Dani is protected by Grace (Davis) another time traveller, this time human, sent back to protect her. Grace has been enhanced with technology, but she still struggles to fight off the Terminator, until Sarah Connor (Hamilton, duh) arrives to intervene.

Sarah has been living an aimless existence since a tragedy that befell her several decades before, but she has found meaning in destroying the Terminators Skynet despatched through time, receiving cryptic messages warning her when one is due to arrive.

Sarah and Grace form an uneasy alliance to protect Dani, but it may take more than the two of them to destroy the Rev-9, it may take the assistance of a T-800 (Arnie obviously) who Sarah has every reason to hate.


It’s kinda scary to think we now have six Terminator films, especially considering T2 supposedly saved humanity from the Skynet dominated future, but then again if T2 didn’t really warrant a sequel, you could argue Terminator didn’t either, but a world without T2 doesn’t bear thinking about. It’s still hard to choose between them, in part because, much like Alien and Aliens, they’re vastly different films. What I think most everyone was sure about is that in terms of sequels it’s been a case of diminishing returns. T3 was a bland actioner partly redeemed by a heck of a twist at the end. Salvation was just terrible, committing the worst cinematic crime of being dull, and Genisys was an unholy mess, but at least it wasn’t boring.

The sheer potential of the franchise can’t be held back however, and has prompted another entry in the series. Cameron returning in a story and production capacity, and the hiring of Deadpool director Miller gave people hope that Dark Fate might be good.

I’ll be honest here, by ten minutes in I was seriously worried. The film’s opening is incredibly clunky, committing the cardinal sin of dropping us into the action rather than giving us time to get used to the characters. The Rev-9 is on Dani’s case within minutes, I appreciate it’s a more advanced model and all, but remember when Arnie had to go raid a gun shop and use the phone book to try and track Sarah Connor down?

But then Linda Hamilton turned up and things took an upward turn. The film settles down and things again shift in a positive direction. And then Arnie turns up and from here on it’s a roller coaster ride of a film, and an enjoyable one. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t in the same league as Terminator or T2, but it’s the third best film in the franchise by a country mile and that’s about the best we could have hoped for.


The casting helps, and at the centre of it all is Hamilton. Much like Jamie Lee Curtis in the Halloween sequel of last year Hamilton returns to perhaps her greatest role, and she’s a hoot. Grouchy, world weary, damaged yet strong …this might be my favourite of her Sarah Connor performance, Terminator Sarah was a touch too simpering, T2 Sarah too fanatical. Hamilton has fun, and yet again demonstrates why it’s a crime she hasn’t had more success as an actor than she’s had.

I’ve yet to see Mackenzie Davis give a poor performance in anything, and she’s great as Grace, driven and stubborn and desperate to protect Dani at all costs and she has great dynamics with both Hamilton and Reyes and she always convinces as a battle hardened warrior.

Reyes does a good job as the initially innocent Dani, and never seems overawed by the talent surrounding her.


Luna does a decent job as the all new Terminator, appearing threatening or friendly as his mission dictates. I’m still not entirely sure about the solid endoskeleton and liquid metal exoskeleton, and it seems like just a case of “What can we do different Terminator wise?” but it does make for some fun scenes, allowing a single Terminator to double team his opponents as required.

And then there’s Arnie.

imagesHis inclusion in this film is preposterous, but I don’t care because he’s great, he’ll never be the greatest actor in the world, but he has presence and comic timing many better actors would kill for. It’s hard to imagine the film without him and he gets many of the funniest lines, yet at the same time he never overshadows the female triumvirate at the heart of the film.

Plot wise the film undertakes some temporal contortions to contrive a new Terminator with a new target, but clearly a lot of work has gone into the story and for the most part it works. There’s one thing that happens early on that’s annoying—and I do hate the ‘kill a character off to make room for a new story’ trope, but it annoyed me less as I was swept up by the story. Kudos on the script front as well to the level of consistency, Grace’s enhancements take a toll on her body and she needs regular injections to counteract this, in a lesser film this would have been forgotten as the film progressed but not here.

The action scenes are frenetic and there’s obviously a lot of CGI. Maybe too many were showcased in the trailer, but this at least wasn’t the re-tread of T2 I was expecting it to be.


Whether I genuinely enjoyed this in its own right, or merely because it was so refreshing to see a competent Terminator film again is something only repeat viewings will clarify, and calling it the third best Terminator film may be damning it with faint praise but it’s funny, action packed and features engaging characters, and maybe it’s just not possible to make something as good as we got in 1984 and 1992. It’s just a shame Dark Fate seems to have done poorly at the box office, so will we see another semi-reboot eventually? I hope not, either continue with this new timeline or, and here’s a radical idea, just accept the franchise is never going to hit the heights of 1992 again.

For the record my current rankings of the Terminator franchise go something like this…

  • Terminator/T2
  • The Sarah Connor Chronicles
  • Dark Fate
  • T3
  • Genisys
  • Salvation


The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

Posted: November 12, 2019 in James Bond


Bond is back, after the (then) longest gap between Bond films, three years which seems kinda trivial since we’ll have almost five years between Spectre and No Time to Die. There’s another big change, as this is the first Bond film post Harry Saltzman selling up his stake in the franchise.

There’s something at once very familiar about this film, yet also something different. The plot is, on many levels, a reprise of You Only Live Twice, yet this is a very different beast. An epic, occasionally ludicrous film this is perhaps the first Bond film where Roger Moore gets to stamp his own mark on the franchise, a film that’s entered folklore, not least of which thanks to Alan Partridge’s ridiculous homage.

The pre-title sequence lays a lot of groundwork. Whilst Roger is actually present in the pre-title sequence this time, he still takes third billing. First off we get the attack on the British submarine, which thankfully chooses not to reveal what happens to the intrepid sub. Then we switch to a people’s rest of recuperation centre in the Soviet Union. General Gogol is summoning XXX, The USSR’s top agent. Presumably it’ll be that handsome chap in bed with the beautiful woman and…no way, XXX is the woman! Didn’t see that coming. I do wonder if this was actually shocking to audiences in 1977? Interesting point of note that XXX’s lover is played by Michael Billington, famous for UFO and the Onedin Line and a man who apparently screen tested to play Bond more than any other actor.


We’ll soon see Billington again of course, as he’s in charge of the group trying to eliminate Bond in Austria. And it’s here where the pre-title sequence really takes off—quite literally—Bond being summoned in the middle of seduction via tickertape coming out of his digital watch, his suggestion that he’ll enlarge his lover’s vocabulary, his preposterous yellow jumpsuit and union jack parachute, not to mention the obvious rear projection as Roger pretends to ski downhill. Yet it works, helping to create sequence that’s funny and thrilling, with just a hint of foreshadowing when we see 007 ice Major Amasova’s lover. There are multiple reasons why I cited it as the best pre-title sequence.

There are more joys to come after the titles (and the title track from Carley Simon is perfect). Roger Moore’s Bond in navel uniform, always good to see, and sadly so far something we’ve only seen with Connery, Moore and Brosnan. Despatched to Egypt Bond makes contact with an old university chum, and here comes the only bit of the film that grates. Bond as a player is one thing, Bond effectively taking a woman offered to him as a gift is a rare low note in this film. Of course, made up for perhaps by Bond on a camel…

In Egypt Bond first crosses paths with both Amasova and Jaws.


As Jaws Kiel is wonderful, he says nothing, yet he’s incredibly malevolent, and wonderfully indestructible. You can see why they’ll bring him back, and also see why the producers tried to pull the same trick with Dave Bautista’s Mr Hinx (casting as a mute assassin a man who has great comic timing and delivery is miscasting that’s  on par with hiring Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool the first time!) Jaws has been told to kill everyone who comes into contact with the microfilm, and he takes his job very seriously.

As Anya Amasova Barbara Bach is a joy, utterly competent and very much portrayed as Bond’s equal, at least to begin with. She has Bond’s number and gets the drop on him several times, and the fact that she stole the plans to the submersible Lotus is a lovely touch (though it does make you wonder why she seemed so scared when they drove into the sea?). Bach and Moore have great chemistry, both before and after she finds out Bond killed her lover. It’s just a shame it all goes off the rails somewhat in the final third, where she’s relegated to damsel in distress. How cool would it have been to see her with a submachinegun fighting alongside Bond in the tanker? Still, she’s one of the best Bond girls of the franchise, and certainly sits with Tracy and Fiona in the top three of the franchise so far.

And never tell me Roger Moore can’t act, just watch his face when Anya brings up Tracy.

Special mention on the casting front to Shane Rimmer (the voice of Scott Tracy) who finally gets credited in a Bond film after appearing in You Only Live Twice, Diamonds are Forever and (possibly) as a voice in Live and Let Die. Here his US sub captain makes for a great ally to Bond.


On the casting front the only damp squib (sorry) is Curt Jurgens as Stromberg. A good actor, here he’s wasted with a wafer-thin characterisation and without even much in the way of affectations to rise him above being one of the most generic Bond villains. Even the fact he has webbed fingers isn’t really made anything of.

There are the obligatory M, Moneypenny and Q bits, and we get Robert Brown pre becoming M after Bernard Lee dies, and the first sighting of General Gogol, and the scene where Bond enters MI6’s base to find Gogol behind M’s desk is wonderfully surreal.

And yes that is Charles Gray’s voice over the pyramids.

The cinematography is wonderful, both above and below the waves, and in particular Egypt adds a grandeur to the franchise. The sets are great all round, in particular the tanker set—built in the new 007 set at Pinewood—is fantastic.

MV5BMDQyYzk3NTgtOTQ0OC00NDIzLTkzOGYtM2JmYTg5NGY4NmNjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjUwNzk3NDc@._V1_The action is a little variable. Bond’s fight on the rooftop is actually far better than I remember it, and you have to love killing the guy with a flick of his tie, but too often Moore relies on judo chops and kicks that seem a trifle silly, stick a gun in his hand and put him in uniform and crikey he looks the part though!

Set piece wise there are a lot of highlights. For starters the Lotus car chase, complete with Caroline Munro as the world’s sexiest killer chopper pilot (and you have to love her and Roger flirting even as she’s trying to kill him) and an unexpected underwater dénouement. Then there’s the huge gun battle inside the tanker, which manages to be even more exciting than the similar volcano scene in YOLT. I miss these climactic battles.

And of course, let’s not forget that ski jump in the pre-title sequence, it still makes me hold my breath, and the parachute still takes an age to deploy.

The Spy Who Loved Me really is Roger Moore’s finest hour as Bond, pretty much flawless, in my opinion obviously, it manages to stay just the right side of ludicrous yet is still a whole lot of fun. It has a great Bond girl and an iconic henchman, if not an iconic villain, and with the ski jump, the submersible car and the action-packed finale it contains some of the franchises most iconic aspects, and features a groovily great score from Marvin Hamlisch.

It’s fair to say nobody does it better, and Roger certainly keeps the British end up.

But how to top this? I mean they can’t, they’d have to, I don’t know, go into space or something…


Directed by Ruben Fleischer. Starring Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin.


It’s ten years since the zombie outbreak, and ten years since a bunch of disparate survivors, Tallahassee (Harrelson) Columbus (Eisenberg) Wichita (Stone) and Little Rock (Breslin) came together as a messed up post-apocalyptic family. They’ve recently been holed up in the Whitehouse, but no longer a child, Little Rock is eager to meet other people and is tired of Tallahassee treating her like a kid. When Columbus proposes to Wichita, the sisters make their excuses and head back on the road, leaving Tallahassee and Columbus to decide, do they go on the road again themselves, and if they do, is it time to break up their partnership?

With the group divided, and a new breed of near indestructible super zombies on the rampage, life in Zombieland has never been so precarious!


When Zombieland came out in 2009 it was a huge hit, and almost right away there was talk of a sequel. I don’t think anyone expected it would take ten years for a sequel to reach the screen, and given the success some of the cast have had in the intervening time (cough Emma Stone cough) I think the more time that passed the less likely a follow up seemed.

Yet here we are.

I enjoyed it, but I suspect it would have been a far better film if it’d arrived in 2011 rather than 2019.

The biggest flaw is that whilst ten years have passed, the characters (with one exception) haven’t changed. It’s like they’ve been preserved in amber. They dress the same, they act the same, they snipe at each other in exactly the same way…watching a film set in a zombie apocalypse requires a certain suspension of disbelief, but believing that people haven’t changed their look in ten years is pushing it. It’s like no one has grown or developed in any way, as an example Wichita and Columbus have been a couple for ten years, yet she chooses now to get cold feet and he jumps into bed with someone else almost immediately? It’s incredibly jarring.

Oddly the one character who has changed is Little Rock, if for no other reason than the fact that Breslin isn’t a child anymore, yet oddly she’s the one of the four least well served by the script, which doesn’t always seem to know how to use her, and so dumps her in a lazy romantic subplot that in the end goes nowhere.


I suppose you can understand why they’ve kept the characters the same, and one of the films saving grace is the interplay between the characters, in particular Harrelson and Eisenberg, though Stone’s increasing frustration with the two men is a hoot as well. Eisenberg plays the geeky Columbus to a tee, but as before Harrelson seems to be having the most fun as Tallahassee.

This time he gets some romance with Rosario Dawson’s Nevada, who kicks some serious butt, and there’s amusement to be had from Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch as Albuquerque and Flagstaff, but the standout new character has to be Zoey Deutch as blonde bimbo Madison. Deutch’s comic timing and delivery is spot on and frankly she’s a hoot.


While some set pieces fall a little flat, there’s still a lot of fun to be had—and please stay for the end credits, sadly the surprise was spoiled for me but trust me, it’s worth it—even if it does feel like a warmed over rehash of the first film. It doesn’t need to exist, and in truth it’s a trifle forgettable, but it’s enjoyable enough while you’re watching it.

Rule #74 Maybe don’t make Zombieland 3!