Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Fool's Views (8/16 - 8/31)

Gotta have a bite of the ninjabread man!

Greetings, lords and ladies!

Well, once again, I was surprised by the direction my viewing took in the latter half of August. I’m already halfway through my ongoing Bond saga (13 films in) with my faithful co-pilot Daniel Millhouse, but if you had told me that I’d also be doing a small animation festival coupled with a side of Western, I would have looked at you through narrowed eyes and wondered what you were drinking. But having wandered into the “Kids Section” of the Chicago Public Library and realizing that’s where they’d been hiding all of the animated films that I had forgotten about (because out of sight out of mind), I felt my course was clear. The following week, the Monte Hellman double feature of The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind popped up on the shelf next to the Magnificent Seven remake and Winchester ’73, the first teaming of James Stewart and Anthony Mann. I mean, what was I supposed to do?

On the scarier side of things, Arrow Video’s triple threat of forgotten chills surfaced in the form of The American Horror Project Vol. 2, as curated by Stephen Thrower, with slices of cheesy chomping and Hammer swinging as bookends. No complaints from here.

As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.



Scars of Dracula (1970) d. Baker, Roy Ward (UK) (4th viewing)


The VelociPastor (2018) d. Steere, Brendan (USA) (1st viewing)



The Child (1977) d. Voskanian, Robert (USA) (1st viewing)


Dark August (1976) d. Goldman, Martin (USA) (1st viewing)


Dream No Evil (1970) d. Hayes, John (USA) (1st viewing)



Becoming Bond (2017) d. Greenbaum, Josh (USA) (1st viewing)

Charming documentary of George Lazenby’s early years before he landed the role that made him famous and infamous, complete with interview segments featuring the genuine article and dramatic recreations that have Josh Lawson playing Lazenby in a variety of scenarios. Well worth checking out, even for non-Bond fans.

A Monster Calls (2016) Bayona, J. A. (UK/Spain) (1st viewing)

A tree monster emerges from a young boy’s vivid imagination in order to help him cope with his mother’s terminal illness. I was hoping for something a little more magical realism, along the lines of The Orphanage, and while the visuals are striking, it’s all a bit heavy-handed. That said, because I couldn’t handle listening to Sigourney Weaver’s faux Brit accent, about halfway through I switched the audio track over to Spanish with English subtitles which improved the film immeasurably.

Napoleon Dynamite (2004) d. Hess, Jared (USA) (5th viewing)

The femalien and I were in the mood for a little comfort viewing, and considering that our daily lives are already peppered with exclamations of “Eat the FOOD!” and “Lucky” and “I caught you a delicious bass,” this fit the bill. This is one of those perfect films so joyously weird and idiosyncratic that it’s equal parts unfortunate and understandable that Hess has never recaptured that same magic.

The Nightingale (2019) d. Kent, Jennifer (Australia/Canada/USA) (1st viewing)

Since her 2014 breakout debut smash The Babadook, the world has been hotly anticipating writer/director Jennifer Kent’s follow-up. But anyone expecting/hoping for Babadook II: Dook Harder will need to adjust your expectations big time. Choosing 1825 Tasmania as the backdrop for her examination of the “horrors of colonization,” the story follows young Irish convict Clare (Aisling Franciosi) whose commanding officer Lt. Hawkins (Sam Claflin) refuses to forward her release papers, keeping her as his personal prisoner and regularly visiting sexual assaults upon her. Outraged, her husband Aidan (Michael Sheasby) demands justice, sparking a tragic conflict that leads to Clare escaping the prison camp and pursuing Hawkins through the wilderness with the grudging aid of an Aboriginal orphan named Billy (Baykali Ganambarr).

Some people have referred to The Nightingale as a horror film, presumably due to Kent’s previous outing, making astute observations as to how she has upended rape/revenge genre tropes. I confess that while there are many scenes of real-life horror being played out before us, it never occurred to me to think of this as anything other than a historical drama serving as social commentary. But rather than quibbling over classification, I’d much rather discuss Kent’s unflinching presentation of violence against women, violence against native people, violence of minorities against other minorities, and the pervasiveness of white male privilege – she’s telling a story of long ago that feels like it could have happened yesterday and that’s the real horror.


I don’t know that I have a lot to say about any of these, except I made an effort to get samplings from different studios. To wit:

Brave (2012) d. Andrews, Mark / Chapman, Brenda (USA) (1st viewing)

(Pixar) I liked all the Scottish accents and female empowerment and how much comic mileage could be wrung from a giant bear-as-mom joke.

Flushed Away (2006) d. Bowers, David / Bell, Sam (UK/USA) (1st viewing)

(Aardman) Frantic and funny, but maybe a little too frantic. The biggest pleasure is listening to great big hambone Ian McKellan go even hammier than anyone thought ham could ham.

Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) d. Knight, Travis (USA) (1st viewing)

(Laika) So, here’s the thing. I really admire that they are doing all their effects with stop-motion animation (and it’s GORGEOUS), but when they are sweetening things with digital effects to the point that it no longer looks like stop-motion, what exactly is the point?

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga' Hoole (2010) d. Snyder, Zack (USA) (1st viewing)

(Warner Bros) I remember this getting a pretty mixed critical reception when it came out, but while Snyder recycles a lot of his 300 gambits, I still found it fairly engaging on both a dramatic and visual level, with lots of great Aussie voice performances.

Pinocchio (1940) d. Sharpsteen, Ben / Luske, Hamilton (USA) (3rd viewing)

(Walt Disney) Wow, this really does hold up, even 80 years later. So many great little moments (Gepetto’s workshop of clocks, Figaro the cat and Cleo the fish’s interactions) and the showcase ones (boys turning into donkeys, Monstro the whale). Clean and magical storytelling at its finest.

The Secret Life of Pets (2016) d. Renaud, Chris / Cheney, Yarrow (USA) (1st viewing)

(Illumination) It’s like someone took a bunch of animators and voice actors and stuck them in a room with nothing but Sugar Chocolate Bombs for a week and then turned them loose. Everything is delivered at “11” and physics and logic go right out the window in favor of YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH COMIN’ ATCHA. Exhausting.


The Magnificent Seven (2016) d. Fuqua, Antoine (USA) (1st viewing)

While it's never going to take the place of John Sturges’ 1960 original (or Kurosawa’s original original), this was a surprisingly enjoyable watch packed with oodles of big-time shoot-em-up action set-pieces, and I appreciated the myriad differences incorporated to keep it from being just a suped-up carbon copy.

Ride in the Whirlwind (1966) d. Hellman, Monte (USA) (1st viewing)

The Shooting (1966) d. Hellman, Monte (USA) (2nd viewing)

Breathtaking in their spare plot and character exposition while examining the pursuers and the pursued, these brazenly independent Westerns star Jack Nicholson (who wrote the script for Whirlwind and produced both with Hellman under Roger Corman’s umbrella) serve as wonderful companion pieces. (Criterion apparently agreed, since they are packaged together in a two-disc set.) Whirlwind features a pair of cowpokes (Nicholson, Cameron Mitchell) mistaken for horse rustlers and chased high and low, with most of the dramatic action occurring at a farmhouse where they hold a family (George Mitchell, Katherine Squire, Millie Perkins) hostage while they attempt to figure out a plan.

On the flip side, Carole Eastman’s script for The Shooting throws together a taciturn former bounty hunter (Warren Oates), his good-natured if simpleton sidekick (Will Hutchins), a mysterious and strong-willed female (Perkins), and her cold blooded assassin companion (Nicholson) and lets them fry together under the desert sun. The viewer’s curiosity and frustration is mirrored by Oates’, who accepts Perkins’ lucrative offer to lead her through the mountains to a distant town but answers and information prove continuously elusive and increasingly dangerous. Both films are absolutely worth tracking down.

Winchester ’73 (1950) d. Mann, Anthony (USA) (2nd viewing)

The first teaming of director Mann and star Jimmy Stewart was a landmark on numerous levels, reinvigorating Stewart’s slumping post-war screen career and launching him on a series of Westerns (including four more directed by Mann) and showcasing a flintier side to America’s favorite nice guy. (The star’s back-end deal for a share of the profits was also revolutionary and made him a very rich man.) Stewart’s determined lawman tracks down Stephen McNally’s down-n-dirty varmint with the titular rifle passing from hand to hand along their winding path. Dan Duryea is memorable as a smiling villain, Shelley Winters is charming and quirky as only she can be, and Rock Hudson (!) makes an early film appearance as Native American chief Young Bull. Oh, Hollywood.


The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) d. Hamilton, Guy (UK (1st viewing)

Much has been made of Roger Moore’s cruel streak displayed in his first two outings in the role (“He slapped Maud Adams? My pearls!”), but while it might seem out of character for the smug, eyebrow-twitching robo-charmer his Bond would eventually become, it seems perfectly in keeping with a secret-freaking-agent with a license-to-freaking-kill trying to get information. The franchise was not actively trying to be family-friendly at this point, keeping more in line with Fleming’s original intent, and for this viewer that was the better path to tread.

That said, the producers couldn’t resist bringing back Live and Let Die’s racist Southern sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James) for a wildly gratuitous comic-relief guest spot. (Seriously, can you even imagine the conversation around the Pepper dining table where the idea of vacationing in Thailand got floated? Me either.) They also decide to submarine the wow factor of one of the franchise’s most impressive physical stunts – the 360-degree corkscrew bridge jump – with a slide whistle sound effect. And then you’ve got poor Britt Ekland as the world’s worst British secret service agent Mary Goodnight, who spends the entire film being locked in closets and car trunks and bumping her bum up against laser cannon ignition switches while wearing as little as possible.

As three-nippled assassin Francisco Scaramanga, Christopher Lee switches off the dark menace he had made his stock in trade, rendering possibly the most pleasant incarnation of a Bond villain to that point. I mean, yes, he’ll gun you down in his funhouse maze, but only after a gourmet meal and scintillating dinner conversation. And I suppose some mention should be made of Herve Villachaize’s general dogsbody Nick Nack, but outside of his inherent diminutive stature and distinctive vocal delivery, he doesn’t really do anything memorable.

Having dabbled in the blaxploitation waters for Moore’s initial outing in the tuxedo, the decision to introduce some chop-socky martial arts elements feels especially trendy this time around, with decidedly lesser success since nobody actually looks like they know what the hell they’re doing. Also, the notion of the main villain refusing to simply kill Bond in the most expedient manner is given full flower here – why capture, murder, and conveniently dispose of the body somewhere when you can take the time to transport him to a remote martial arts school and set up some bizarre death-match tournament that he can escape from?

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) d. Gilbert, Lewis (UK) (1st viewing)

Considered by many to be the jewel in the crown of ’70s Bond, which it may well be. Yes, this is where Roger Moore settles into the role and makes it completely his own (for better or worse) and yes, there is that amazing opening teaser sequence with the ski jump/parachute and yes, we’ve got helicopter-flying henchwoman Caroline Munro wielding a bikini and a smile, and yes, we have the metal-mouthed wrecking machine known as Jaws (played by 7’2 Richard Kiel) who, while still cartoony, is not allowed to take over the film. (See: Moonraker.)

But that doesn’t necessarily mean it doesn’t have its flaws. Curd Jurgens’ web-handed Stromberg is one of the glummest and unappealing villains to roll along and while Barbara Bach’s face and physique are undeniably fetching to behold… she’s not the greatest actress, n’est-ce pas? The plot is interesting and complex, with Russian and British espionage organizations uniting to combat a mutual foe, complicated by the fact that Bond has murdered Agent XXX’s lover in the line of duty, making for a rather dicey working relationship. Wouldn’t it have been a good idea to cast someone based on their ability to juggle all those juicy character tics as opposed to how they filled out a jumpsuit? (According to the IMDb trivia page, Bach was cast only four days before principal photography commenced, leading one to believe that perhaps she was not the filmmakers’ first choice.)

However, there are some amazing sequences that will forever show up on the “Best Bond Moments” clip reels until the end of time. The aforementioned ski jump, performed by Rick Sylvester atop Canada’s Asgard Peak, took weeks to prepare as Gilbert and his crew divined (and then waited for) the ideal weather conditions for the one-time-only shot. (It brought the crowd to its feet during its London premiere, so clearly it was worth the trouble.) There’s the pleasingly silly amphibious Lotus Esprit, complete with Moore dropping a fish out of the window upon landing on the beach, and 007’s various scrapes with Mr. Tinseltooth, including the one where he shoves the business end of a shattered light socket into his assailant’s gaping maw.

Production designer Ken Adam, back in the mix for the first time since Diamonds are Forever, has a field day with Stromberg’s underwater lair, which includes a ocean-themed dining room that would turn Captain Nemo green with envy. And then there’s the opening titles montage accompanying Carly Simon’s soft-rock smash “Nobody Does It Better,” designed as usual by Maurice Binder, which were getting progressively more daring in terms of showcasing nude females in form and function.

Moonraker (1979) d. Gilbert, Lewis (UK/France) (2nd viewing)

Bond-as-Cartoon reaches its saturation point with this supremely goofy entry that kicks off with a stunning opening teaser featuring 007 in free-fall combat with multiple henchman (including a returning Richard Kiel as Jaws) that elicits as many groans as it does wows. And that’s kind of the pattern for the next two hours as Bond finds himself embroiled in a scheme involving kidnapped space shuttles and the complete annihilation of Earth’s human populace. (Wait, didn’t we already see this movie back when it was called The Spy Who Loved Me and the bad guy was abducting nuclear submarines? Wait, wasn’t that the one just before this one? Okay, just checking.)

Anyway, this time the bad guy’s name is Drax and he’s played in blandly defiant one-note fashion by Michael Lonsdale who has even made the effort to grow a villainous beard. Good show, Mike. His counterpart is the brilliant NASA scientist Holly Goodhead (sigh), and she’s played in blandly defiant one-note fashion by Lois Chiles (who genre fans will remember as the unfortunate driver in the Creepshow 2 episode, “The Hitchhiker.” Yep, “Thanks for the ride, Lady!”) There’s a bevy of silliness on hand, with a gondola that turns into a parade float (provoking a triple-take from an Italian pigeon), Moore’s centrifuge-induced facial flapping, an extended scuffle in a glass museum (reportedly the most breakaway sugar-glass ever produced for a motion picture), and Zero-G weightlessness galore for the space station battle royale (essentially Thunderball in Space, complete with color-coordinated outfits). Even the title song sung by Shirley Bassey (her third) is pretty weak sauce.

But it’s the Jaws Comedy Hour that most offends, with our once-menacing superhenchman transformed into a loveable lumbering lunkhead foiled every which way, essentially the Wile E. Coyote to Bond’s Road Runner, complete with confused and/or dismayed takes to the camera every time something goes awry. It’s clear that the creative team was invested in Jaws’ fate, right down to giving him a diminutive Swiss Maid girlfriend named Dolly (Blanche Ravalec), making him into a good guy in the final reel, inexplicably giving him a line of dialogue (“Well, here’s to us.”) after presenting him as mute for essentially two films, and EVEN ALLOWING HIM TO SURVIVE A SPACE STATION EXPLOSION TO LIVE HAPPILY EVER AFTER. For my money, this was absolutely the wrong tack, but this one was clearly for the kiddies, so whatcha gonna do.

This was also Bernard Lee’s final turn as M, having appeared in all 11 official Eon 007 productions to that point. Geoffrey Keen stepped in as Bond’s superior, Sir Frederick Gray aka the British Minister of Defence (first introduced in The Spy Who Loved Me), for the next film, with Robert Brown introduced as the new “M” in 1983 for Octopussy. Brown (who had appeared as Admiral Hargreaves in The Spy who Loved Me) would play the role, with Keen often appearing in the same scenes as a unified front, until 1995 when Judi Dench took over with Goldeneye.

For Your Eyes Only (1981) d. Glen, John (UK) (1st viewing)

After serving as editor and/or second-unit director for the previous three Bond films, John Glen seized the reins and held them for the entirety of the decade, shepherding the remainder of Roger Moore’s tenure and all of Timothy Dalton’s. However, there was also talk of a new Bond, since Moore was already 52 at the time and a desire was expressed to return the franchise to its more serious and less sensational roots. As a result, even though Moore remained for this and two more installments, the opening teaser makes reference to several previous Bond films, including his beloved deceased Tracy and an unnamed bald-headed, wheelchair-bound, cat-stroking bad guy (who we can’t call Blofeld because legal issues). This opening sequence, especially for a film intended to restore some grit, is pretty darn silly, but it’s the exception rather than the rule and the rest of the proceedings are relatively subdued by comparison.

The plot? Well, it seems that the latest in Brit technology, the ATAC (Automatic Targeting and Attack Communicator) has fallen into enemy hands and it’s up to Bond to track it down. This leads him to cross paths with the lovely Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet) who is also hunting down the ATAC thieves who murdered her parents, with all signs pointing toward either businessman Aristotle Kristatos (Julian Glover) or drug lord Milos Columbo (Topol). Well, technically all signs point toward Columbo, but it’s all red-herring material; Kristatos is clearly the bad guy since a) he’s played by Julian Glover and b) he has a young and fetching ward in the form of biathlete Bibi (Lynn Holly-Johnson of Ice Castles fame). Eventually Columbo joins forces with Bond and they lead a mountaintop assault against Kristatos and his goons.

In attempting to bring Bond back to ground, Glen and his cohorts eschew much of the gadgetry and try to deliver a more realistic product, but it’s wildly uneven. Moore is less sure-footed when playing it straight, Bouquet is trapped within her vengeful furrowed-brow fetters, Glover is all oily charm, and Johnson is just straight-up terrible. With his unique dipthong pronunciations and constant pistachio cracking, Topol is delightful even if seems like he’s in a different movie than everyone else; I often found myself wishing I was watching that one. There are a number of intriguing action sequences (the opening helicopter business, the skiing/toboggan run, Bond’s cliffside ascent to St. Cyril’s), but the overall swing back from fantasyland lost a bit of the thrill in the process.

2019 Totals to Date: 309 films, 159 1st time views, 159 horror, 28 cinema


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