Archive for February, 2020

A View to a Kill (1985)

Posted: February 20, 2020 in James Bond
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And so we reach the end of the Roger Moore era, until Daniel Craig the longest any actor will carry the PPK (and Rog still made more films). For a long time I’d have counted this as the worst Bond film, and while it isn’t far off I think I can now safely say it isn’t the bottom anymore. Bland and tired it may be, but at least it isn’t as offensive as Octopussy.

The film doesn’t open too badly. The location shooting in Iceland looks great, even if Roger does increasingly look like George Hamilton, and cue Moore’s first dodgy pair of sunglasses in the film. Still, finding 003’s body and retrieving the microchip (futuristic!) is intriguing, and Bond’s escape from the Russian soldiers is well handled…well at least until he starts snowboarding to the Beachboys (though you could argue this still isn’t the worst surfing related scene in the franchise, but we’re some distance from that at the moment.)

Is that a toy helicopter Bond blows up?

Soon he’s safe and sound in his crazy ice flow submarine/boat thingy. I can forgive the Union Jack on the underside of the hatch, but the bloody thing doesn’t look like an iceberg, and it moves far too fast! Seriously how short-sighted are those Russians?

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Not that Bond cares, he’s too busy seducing his latest young lady. I mean you’re practically in James Woods territory now 007! (and the ever so slightly porn soundtrack doesn’t help).

Post titles we find Moneypenny dressed for a day at Ascot and find Q has a new sophisticated robot dog, which frankly looks a bit like Big Trak. M talks about microchips and declares they’re off to the races, hence Moneypenny’s hat.

They’re paying close attention to Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) whose horses have a strange habit of winning races they shouldn’t and whose companion is Grace Jones’ May Day, and they do make a striking pair. Helping MI6 out is Patrick Macnee as Sir Godfrey Tibbett, a horse trainer. I can see what they were aiming for here, another Avengers connection after Blackman and Rigg (and Lumley though that was accidental) and a man older than Roger, and it’s true that Moore and Macnee make for a great pair, but oh what a misstep this was. Just look at Bond, Tibbett, M, Q and Moneypenny, then look at Walken and Jones, it just highlights how old the good guys are.

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Bond’s next step is a meeting with a man named Aubergine (I kid you not) who appears to have escaped from Allo Allo. He’s soon murdered by May Day using a (presumably) poisoned fishing hook and Bond sets off in hot pursuit, chasing May Day up the Eiffel Tower. She proceeds to parachute towards the Seine. Not to give up 007 makes it to ground level before commandeering a taxi from another ludicrous French stereotype. I mean the guy’s drinking red wine with his lunch!

The parachute jump is impressive, as is the car stunts that see it first shorn of its roof, then it’s rear end. Shame Roger’s stunt double isn’t very convincing. Bond almost catches May Day (ruining another wedding in the process—seriously what is it with 007 and weddings? Never let this guy anywhere near your big day) but she escapes with Zorin. Oh for CCTV coverage, eh?

Bond and Tibbett hotfoot it to Zorin’s chateau which is a lovely setting, shame about another set of dodgy sunglasses, not to mention Bond being uber creepy to Tanya Roberts’ Stacey Sutton. For God’s sake man, take a hint!

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Still this is a decent section of the film. Bond and Tibbett get to do some actual spying before Sir Godfrey is throttled by May Day and Bond’s almost drowned after surviving Zorin’s insane killer steeplechase which is original if nothing else. It’s a shame about Tibbett, he really is a fun character. Not sure if breathing from a tyre would actually work but it’s a clever idea.

Oops I almost skipped over Bond and Mayday’s incredibly uncomfortable love scene. I’m not sure which one I feel sorrier for, Jones or Moore. Gotta love Zorin’s “Go on, shag him” shrug though.

Nice to see General Gogol again, and yes that is Dolph Lundgren as a KGB agent, he was dating Jones at the time and they were short an extra, so he stood in.

No sooner as Zorin quit the KGB than he’s going all Goldfinger by explaining his nefarious plan to some shady businessmen aboard his blimp (so very eighties!) unfortunately one of them wants to drop out…literally. Cue a very familiar scream.

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Bond heads to San Francisco and meets up with Chuck Lee CIA agent. Nah you can’t fool me that’s David Yip the Chinese Detective, mate, who’s about as American as I am! Bond infiltrates one of Zorin’s operations, and is almost captured, instead a KGB agent takes the fall, but not before his partner, played by Fiona Fullerton, makes off with a recording of Zorin describing operation Grand Slam, er I mean Main Strike

Fullerton is great as Pola Ivanova, though it is a shame they couldn’t persuade Barbara to come Bach and play Anya again though. I suspect the hot tub scene was a trifle comedic even before Austin Powers spoofed it. I do love Pola and Gogol’s double take when they realise Bond’s tricked them though.

AVTAK.pngBond then breaks into Stacey’s house before surprising her in the shower (#metoo 007 stop being creepy!) luckily some of Zorin’s goons show up to prove 007’s a nice guy really, and after seeing them off, cooking dinner and fixing her telephone, Bond’s actually a gentleman for once and tucks her in.

They try and warn the earthquake geology guy but he’s in cahoots with Zorin! Rather than killing Bond like a normal person might, Zorin leaves he and Stacey in a burning building. Stacey’s “Don’t leave me, James!” are a bit annoying, thankfully Bond does come back for her. He tries to explain to a cop what’s happened, but they’ve found earthquake geology guy dead and Bond’s gun. The cop’s “And I’m Dick Tracy” line implies he’s heard of Bond. Who hasn’t right?

The fire truck chase is ok.

DXpqoA8WsAAcrNmThe finale in the mine is well handled, Zorin’s massacre of his own men is wonderfully cold blooded, but May Day’s heroic turn to the side of good is a trifle unearned. There’s some nice work with the airship, and Bond’s confrontation with Zorin atop the Golden Gate Bridge is good though probably should have been more iconic than it turns out to be.

Bond getting the Order of Lenin is funny, but why do they think he’s dead? And why does Q send his robot dog into Stacey’s house and, most important of all, how does it get upstairs!

So long Roger, you were great but you should have quit a couple of films before. A View to a Kill isn’t offensive, it’s just all very bland, and Moore’s age by this point is acting against him. I know Cruise is around the age Moore was here and still doing Mission Impossible films, but he’s aged better (or had better surgery). Moore is close to 60 here and it shows (fair play though bet I don’t look that good at 58).

Zorin’s plan is bonkers, but it’s a fun idea, shame Zorin isn’t. I mean Walken as a Bond villain should be amazing, and maybe if he’d got the gig later and gone up against Dalton or Brosnan it would have been, but he just doesn’t have enough to work with. Zorin’s only defining trait is that he’s insane, I mean aside from being a Boy from Brazil anyway. Maybe Bowie or Sting would have been better?

Jones has presence, but can’t act to save her life, but when’s that stopped anyone becoming an iconic henchman?

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Sutton is actually better than I remember her being, and aside from her whininess at times and her insane trusting of Bond after he breaks into her house then lies about his identity multiple times, she has some agency. Looks good too, but much like the film she’s a forgettable Bond Girl.

Best thing about A View to a Kill? The Duran Duran theme tune, it’s awesome and remains in my top 5 of Bond themes. The video’s hilarious too.

So long Roger, five great Bond films out of seven ain’t a bad record.

Who will replace him though? Maybe they’ll get Remington Steele….

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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!)