Friday, November 30, 2012


Marc Forster, 2008
Starring: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Giancarlo Giannini, Mathieu Almaric, Judi Dench, Gemma Arterton

I realize a lot of people dislike Quantum of Solace. It certainly suffers from the sophomore blues and never would have been able to live up to the expectations established in Casino Royale. Regardless of its many problems, the fact remains that it is a Daniel Craig Bond film and for that reason alone is enjoyable and entertaining. Craig is a capable actor and is nearly able to carry this film on his own. The screenwriters must also be given an “A” for effort - they attempted the series’ only continuous film. Most Bonds are episodic, with occasional references to previous events, but Quantum of Solace is a direct sequel to Casino Royale. Unfortunately the plot is messy and complicated, but there are some lovely set pieces and action sequences. The story is not a Fleming original, but the title is taken from the short story collection For Your Eyes Only

Bond has captured the elusive Mr. White and is taking him for interrogation. On the way he gets into a fabulous car chase, where they put the poor Aston Martin through the ringer. Mr. White reveals there is a traitor in their midst, placed by the Quantum organization. It turns out to be M's private bodyguard and more gunfire and chasing ensues. Bond, spurned on by Vesper's death and M's near assassination, becomes obsessed with tracking down the Quantum organization. He is led to Dominic Greene (the fabulous Mathieu Almaric) who he tracks through the tropics, Switzerland, South America and the desert of Bolivia. He crosses paths with Camille (Olga Kurylenko), a Bolivian seeking revenge against the general who tortured and killed her family, leaving her for dead with her house burning down around her. Bond is forced to go renegade and convinces Matthis (Giancarlo Giannini) to join his crusade in South America. He also runs into CIA agent Felix Leiter. There are too many characters and sub-plots running around in the film, but everything comes together in a fiery showdown in the Bolivian desert.

The odd thing about Quantum of Solace, something that kind of works, but is never really aloud to stand on its own legs, is that there is a rape-revenge subplot. Bond is getting revenge for Vesper’s death (and later the deaths of others), but Camille is getting revenge for the rapes and murders of her mother and sister. Considering the double revenge plot, the absence of humor and lack of romance, the film is darker and more emotionally ambiguous than previous efforts. Gone is the fun, "shaken, not stirred" Bond; in Quantum of Solace he only drinks to him forget. The violence quotient has also increased. Bond leaves a trail of beaten, broken, shot and stabbed bodies in his wake, throwing caution, reason and rules to the wind. He gets several people killed and is utterly reckless in his pursuit of vengeance. Traditionally Bond is more of a strategist than a fighter, dodging blows and battles with gadgets and clever planning. This film solidifies the fact that  Daniel Craig's Bond owes more to Steve McQueen than Sean Connery.

Craig is just as good in the film as he was in Casino Royale. Also as with that film, the entire supporting cast is great. Kurylenko is appropriately fiery and I actually believed (briefly) that she's Bolivian and not Ukrainian. Her desperate independence and self-destructive revenge quest give this flawed film slightly more of an emotional backbone. Almaric is a surprising choice for a villain, but he pulls it off with plenty of charm and sleaze. And I will always love Giancarlo Giannini. The real problem with these roles is the script, which becomes a confused mess very rapidly. Dominic Green’s aims are silly. Similar to The World is Not Enough, he stages a coup in Bolivia so that he can monopolize the water supply (in the previous film it is oil). This overshadows Bond’s attempts to seek out Quantum to the film’s detriment. Like Le Chiffre in Casino Royale, Green is not a strong enough or memorable villain to carry the second half of the film on his shoulders, which he is essentially forced to do. 

Quantum is still worth watching, despite its flaws. The DVD I’m reviewing is the two-disc special edition. The second disc has a reasonable amount of special features, mostly interviews and featurettes about locations, action sequences, etc. It seemed a little paltry to actually require a second disc. There is also a single disc version available and a Blu-ray.

VAMPYR with a live score by Steven Severin

Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1932
Starring: Julian West, Sybille Schmitz, Maurice Schutz, Rena Mandel, Jan Hieronimko

Based loosely on Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu’s short story collection In a Glass Darkly (famous for the story, “Carmilla”), Dreyer’s powerful, if difficult film has taken a backseat to other vampire classics from the period, like Tod Browning’s Dracula and F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, but it is a completely different sort of animal. 

Allan Gray rents a room at an inn in the village of Courtempierre, but is awakened by an old man, who creeps into his room and leaves behind a small package with a note that it should be opened after his death. Gray finds his way to an old, possibly haunted castle and then a manor, where he witnesses, through a window, the old man being murdered. Servants let him into the house, but they are all too late to save the old man. Gray is invited to stay the night and meets Giséle, the man’s daughter. Her sister, Léone, is very ill, but they see her walking outside and find her unconscious and with bite wounds. During the night, Gray opens the package, which contains a book about vampires. He reads it and learns that Léone is probably a vampire’s victim. He suspects that her doctor is under the vampire’s thrall. When the doctor tries to poison Léone and kidnaps Giséle, Gray goes after him, back to the haunted castle, where he has some very disturbing visions. He rescues Giséle and he and an old servant find the grave of the vampire and drive a stake through her heart, and then kill the doctor. 

This French and German coproduction remained neglected for many years. Its initial release in Germany was marked by almost uniformly negative reactions, incredibly including a riot in Vienna. In later years it has fortunately been recognized as an important, evocative film, one that marks the triumph of style and technique over substance. The production underwent a number of challenges. This was Dreyer’s first sound film and had to be recorded in three languages, which resulted in the minimal dialogue and title cards. The cast is primarily non-professional, including lead actor Julian West, who bears an odd resemblance to H.P. Lovecraft. While West is not the most versatile actor, his dreamy, mesmerized performance suits the tone of the film. 

West is actually the screen name for Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg, a banker, socialite, magazine editor and fashion icon. Gunzberg had a fascinating life story and his involvement in Vampyr is simply another chapter of a long and interesting life. A French nobleman, Gunzburg was part of the scene in Paris in the 1920s and ‘30s, where he become known for his elaborate parties. Here he met Dreyer and helped finance and starred in Vampyr. In the ‘30s he sought refuge in New York City, where he found work as an editor at home and fashion magazines like Harper's Bazaar and Vogue, where he became senior fashion editor. His sense of style and inimitable personality influenced major designers like Oscar de la Renta and Calvin Klein. Another notable personality to appear in the film is troubled German actress Sybille Schmitz (Diary of a Lost Girl), whose life of drug and alcohol abuse, depression, suicide attempts and ultimately her suicide is the basis for Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Veronika Voss

With little dialogue, no strict narrative structure and purposefully washed out cinematography, this is one of Dreyer’s more subversive films and is one of the most original early attempts at horror. Everything works to make the film surreal, eerie and disorienting. There is little sex or violence, but Vampyr is one of the few films that still has the power to make me uneasy. The film is steeped in hysteria and many of its plot elements would still work if the vampire aspect was replaced with domestic abuse. Though Gray is the protagonist, the film has always been about the sisters for me. Léone is ill, but it is psychological as well as physical. She longs for death. Images of her face, before we think she is about to die, are similar to Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc. Léone’s suffering and endurance makes her pale, crazed face appear on the edge of martyrdom. Her sister, the depressed, anxious Giséle, is ultimately kidnapped and left tied up. Though the monster in this film is a female vampire (surprisingly aged), the real villain is the abusive, manipulative doctor. 

The real power of Vampyr is the power of suggestion. The film is mostly made up of dreams, visions and impressions. Both Gray and the audience are unsure what is happening, though the sense of dread is palpable. Gray’s vision of his own death and burial is one of the most claustrophobic, disturbing scenes in the film. It is also one of the most confusing and sums up why this film will be difficult for many viewers. Like the later works of Jean Rollin, Vampyr is concerned with mood rather than plot. Shadows, reflections and mirror images work to dizzy and confuse us. Gray, the protagonist we loosely identify with, is also oddly framed in the film, suggesting he is viewing another world. 

After languishing in obscurity for years, there are finally two wonderful DVD releases. First and foremost is the excellent Criterion double-disc set. The restored print is still grainy and aged, but it is the best available so far and has new, improved English subtitles. There are also a ton of extras, including a commentary from film scholar Tony Rayns, a documentary, Carl Th. Dreyer, from Jørgen Roos, a visual essay from scholar Casper Tybjerg about Dreyer’s influences and a radio broadcast with Dreyer. An impressive booklet includes essays from Mark Le Fanu, writer Kim Newman, and print restorer Martin Koerber. There is also an interview with producer and star Nicolas de Gunzburg, a copy of Dreyer and Christen Jul’s original screenplay and a copy of Sheridan Le Fanu story “Carmilla.”

Eureka’s Masters of Cinema label also released a special edition DVD. The restored print is not as cleaned up as the Criterion, but this version includes new special features. In addition to the Tony Rayns commentary, there is one from director Guillermo del Toro, deleted scenes, and a documentary, The Baron, about Nicolas de Gunzburg. The Dreyer documentary from Jøgen Roos and Casper Tyberg’s visual essay are also included. The booklet contains a partial reproduction of the original Danish film program, an essay on Dreyer from Jean and Dale Drum, another essay from Tom Milne, and the restoration notes from Martin Koerber. 

I own the lovely Criterion set, but it is difficult to say which release is superior. The Criterion print is better, but the Eureka special features are more extensive. Collectors should buy both. 

I recently saw Vampyr screened in Philadelphia at PhilaMOCA, accompanied by a textured, brooding, synth-driven live score from Steven Severin. The subtle, occasionally droning score is a perfect accompaniment to Dreyer’s dreamy, disturbing film. It’s one of those scores that becomes part of the film and you simply forget that you’re listening to something composed well after the film’s production. There are lighter moments with reoccurring bells and jarring sections that reflect music being played or listened to by characters in the film. Severin also uses silence to his advantage, eschewing everything about the classically-driven original score meant to mimic the scores of silent horror films like Nosferatu. Severin has spent part of 2012 touring with his Vampyr score in the U.K. and the East and West coasts of the U.S. Check out the score here. 

Severin got his start as the bassist and co-founder of Siouxsie and the Banshees, but went on to work with The Cure’s Robert Smith in their side project The Glove, and also with Marc Almond, Lydia Lunch, The Tiger Lillies, etc. In recent years, he began his own label, RE, has produced a number of solo albums, and has been writing scores for a number of unusual films, including Visions of Ecstasy (Nigel Wingrove, 1989), London Voodoo (Robert Pratten, 2003), The Purifiers (Richard Jobson, 2004), Delphinium: A Childhood Portrait of Derek Jarman (Matthew Mishory, 2009), Blood of a Poet (Jean Cocteau, 1930), The Seashell and the Clergyman (Germaine Dulac, 1928, based on a script by Antonin Artaud) and more. Severin has also written a number of theatrical scores, such as Maldoror (for a Brazilian adaptation of Lautremont’s Les Chants de Maldoror) and Women in the Dunes (which features The Swans’ Jarboe). Visit his site to learn more. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Lee Tamahori, 2002
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Judi Dench, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rick Yune, Rosamund Pike

Oh, Die Another Day. Is it possible for a Bond film to be this bad? I would have said no, if we had not already been graced with Tomorrow Never Dies, which ranks as my least favorite Bond film of all time. Die Another Day is better, but only barely. Bond is sent to North Korea to infiltrate a military base where General Moon’s unruly son, Colonel Moon, is trading illegal African conflict diamonds for arms. Moon and his henchman Zao soon discover Bond is a British agent and a fight ensues, resulting in Zao’s disfiguration when diamonds are blown into his face by an explosion. Bond pursues Moon, who is fleeing on a hovercraft, and Moon is killed. Bond is taken prisoner for over a year and tortured. 

He is eventually traded for Zao, but M no longer trusts him and thinks he shared classified information while being tortured. Bond is convinced that someone inside MI6 betrayed him and goes rogue to track down information in Hong Kong. He follows Zao to Cuba, where he meets Jinx, an NSA agent also on the case. They discover a secret clinic practicing gene therapy that allows clients to change their appearances. (Gee, I wonder why this plot device is introduced?) Bond fights with Zao, who escapes, but leaves behind a case of African diamonds that belongs to Gustav Graves, a British billionaire. Bond tracks down Graves and they have a particularly tense fencing match, after which Graves invites Bond to Iceland where he introduces an orbital mirror satellite that can focus solar power. Bond soon realizes that Graves is really a post-surgery Colonel Moon, who faked his death and used gene therapy to alter his appearance. Bond and Jinx team up to stop Graves from using his satellite to destroy the world. Or at least the 38th Parallel. 

Thank god this is the last Brosnan film. A tired-looking Brosnan is clearly over it and, frankly, he should have signed on for GoldenEye only. The sad thing about this is that he was pushing for a darker, more serious Bond, which the decent opening sets him up for. His lengthy period of capture and torture by the North Koreans is politically relevant, scary stuff. He presumably would have come back changed and much could have been done with a revenge plot or at least with inner demons, tensions between he and M, etc. But the diamond-sprinkled shit hits the fan and any semblance of seriousness is blown out the window.

When you hire the director of xXx: State of the Union, you are absolutely going to get what you paid for. The gadgets are simply awful. Between the invisible car, the hovercraft, and the incredibly stupid mirror satellite, I’m not sure which is worse. The sickeningly overproduced, MTV-style editing and the terrible CGI are appalling. The ending scene with Graves’s airplane burning up is just offensive. And don’t forget about all 40 ice-related chase scenes, explosions, and fights galore. I love the snow more than most people and am dying to go to an ice hotel, but the scenes in Die Another Day are just redundant. I wish I could say there were good stunts to balance things out, but aside from an entertaining opening sequence, we are left with things like the ridiculous fencing scene between Bond and Graves. This scene, by the way, is introduced by Madonna, who randomly appears in the film after singing the frustrating opening theme. Why? 

Because this was the 40th anniversary of the franchise, the film is loaded with references to the Bond franchise. While this worked very well in Skyfall, here it is absolutely dreadful. I think the only exception is when Brosnan lands in Cuba and pretends to be an ornithologist, an amusing reference to his character's namesake. When the producers weren’t advertising other Bond films, they were just plain advertising. Die Another Day has the highest amount of product placement in any Bond film to date, so much so that film critics at the time were calling it Buy Another Day. Yikes. 

Though a lot of the acting is dreadful, there are a few exceptions. Brosnan gives it the old college try, but is hamstrung by a lousy script. Toby Stephens and Will Yun Lee both have a lot of fun with the raving Colonel Moon/Gustav Graves, though I wish Lee had more screen time. His father, General Moon, is played by a thankfully serious Kenneth Tsang. He is a respected Hong Kong actor who has appeared in a number of excellent John Woo films. Like Michelle Yeoh in Tomorrow Never Dies, there was nothing he could have done to save the film. Rick Yune is energetic as Zao, but this doesn’t resolve the fact that he’s a henchman with diamonds embedded in his face. Rosamund Pike gives a subdued, somewhat questionable performance as double agent Miranda Frost, but she looks like an absolutely genius next to Halle Berry.

If I had to pick a single worst thing about this film, and believe me, it’s difficult, it would have to be Halle Berry as NSA Agent Jinx. Words fail me. There have been some lousy Bond girls, but she absolutely takes the cake. (Though she might tie with Maryam d’Abo from The Living Daylights.) From her entrance aping Ursula Andress’s famous first scene in Dr. No to the final scene where she and Bond have sex on a pile of illegal diamonds, she is appallingly bad. 

The only reason this is better than Tomorrow Never Dies is because that film is dreadfully boring.  Die Another Day is bigger, faster, and more ridiculous, with what must be the worst script in the entire series. If you’re going to borrow plot elements from any Connery-era Bond film, why Diamonds Are Forever? Aside from the diamond smuggling, there is also the horrible gene therapy subplot, where Colonel Moon has himself changed into a posh British man. This is reminiscent of Blofeld’s cloning plot and we all know how that worked out. Sadly, Graves never appears dressed as a women. I think the only thing that kept me watching the film until the end was the constant sense of “This surely cannot be happening right now.”

If you want to subject yourself to it, Die Another Day is available on a number of DVDs, such as the 2-disc Ultimate Edition, which I am reviewing. This is also included in the Ultimate Edition box set volume 2. Special features include a commentary track from director Lee Tamahori and producer Michael G. Wilson, a second commentary from Pierce Brosnan and Rosamund Pike, several featurettes, a making-of and two documentaries. There is also a Blu-ray

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Michael Apted, 1999
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Sophie Marceau, Robert Carlyle, Denise Richards, Robbie Coltrane, Judi Dench

Albert Broccoli once allegedly stated that he would never hire Remington Steele to play Bond. I wish he and his daughter Barbara had stuck to that statement. It's no secret that I can't stand Pierce Brosnan. Aside from GoldenEye, I have a blanket hatred for his Bond films, though I've watched them enough times over the years that I've developed a reluctant tolerance for The World is Not Enough.

This is not really a good film or even a moderately worthy Bond effort, though I'll begrudgingly admit that there are a few entertaining moments. None of those moments happen to fall during the opening credits, which are possibly the worst in any Bond film, including Casino Royale. They obviously tried to play on the political themes of the movie, using water, oil and tar in the design to a disastrous effect.

Bond hurries to Spain to retrieve a case with five million dollars from a shady Swiss banker. Things erupt in violence and Bond barely escapes with his life. The money is returned to Sir Robert King, though it is cleverly rigged with explosives and used to assassinate him. King was known for the extensive oil pipelines he built throughout Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Bond is then charged to protect Elektra, King's daughter, who already survived a traumatic kidnapping by Renard, a terrorist. Renard was almost killed by another 00 agent, but instead a bullet lodged in his brain, shortening his life expectancy, but making him nearly invincible and numb to physical sensation. Bond discovers Renard's plan to start a nuclear meltdown in the Middle East and seeks the aid of a sexy physicist to help him prevent disaster.

First of all, I don't think Denise Richards is remotely believable or enjoyable as Dr. Christmas Jones and she looks like a goddamned Pekingese. I won't go so far as to say she's the worst Bond girl in the franchise, but she's pretty bad. Holly Goodhead she is not. Fortunately she's balanced by the incredibly hot Sophie Marceau as Elektra King. Elektra actually has the potential to be an interesting character, mostly because of the obvious chemistry between she and Bond. Despite her Marceau’s flat acting, her character is meant to be a reflection of Bond in some ways and in others, she represented the consequences of his line of work. This provides some interesting tension and drama, but the film gets distracted from this at about the hour mark to its detriment.

SPOILER ALERT. I'm honestly not sure how I feel about the twist. I hate twists in general, though this is fortunately revealed about halfway through the film. Elektra has partnered with Renard to destroy much of the world’s oil supply so that her pipeline with become a monopoly. The premise is that when Renard kidnapped her and M refused her ransom, he tortured a sweet, naive girl and won her love with Stockholm Syndrome. And now they want to take over the world together. Unfortunately this doesn't explain how Elektra comes to be the dominant force in their partnership, nor does it explain why she has taken out a full scale vendetta against her father and M. As far as Bond girls go, she is interesting, but deeply flawed and, as a seducer and manipulator, brings up questions about Bond's own somewhat sociopathic tendency to manipulate women to whatever end. She needs to lose the ice cubes. 

Judi Dench as M is always a treat and I have a deep love for Desmond Llewellyn's Q. This is sadly his last film in that role and there is a joke in the film that John Cleese, possibly code-named R, is going to replace him. "Ah yes, the legendary double 007 wit. Or at least half of it." As a Python junkie I'm happy to see Cleese anywhere. Robbie Coltrane puts in a good, repeat performance as cartoonish, ex-KGB/Russian gangster Valentin Zukovsky, who is Bond’s reluctant ally. Robert Carlyle is charismatic, but really can't fight through the muck of his role as Renard. He's simply another scarred, disfigured villain with a foreign accent and some sort of inexplicable power. His inability to feel pain is hardly used at all, though it is talked about a lot. In a sympathetic twist, he is obviously in love with Elektra, which gives him a more human aspect than most Bond villains.  

While I think Michael Apted is a capable director (who didn't cry during Gorillas in the Mist?), I don't know if he's really up for the type of action a Bond film requires. He did a great job on HBO’s Rome, which requires some action scenes, but I really think he is too classy for the Brosnan Bond films. There are some good beginning sequences that descend into absurdity. How many times can we see a chase sequence on skis? The trademark humor is appalling and the effects are even worse. Between the x-ray glasses and the winter coat that turns into an inflatable life bubble, it's painful to watch. Even more crushing is the exclusion of my beloved Aston Martin for a BMW, which carries on throughout the Brosnan series. Why? Because they paid for it. 

On a final note, the title is a translation of the latin motto Orbis non sufficit, which is the Bond family motto as introduced in the novel On Her Majesty's Secret Service. It is also the epitaph of Alexander the Great. "A tomb now suffices for him, for whom the world was not enough."

If you want to suffer through it, there's a Special Edition DVD from MGM, though I'm reviewing the two-disc Ultimate Edition, which is also found in volume one of the Ultimate Edition box set. There are a lot of special featuring, including a making of, a documentary, featurettes and two commentary tracks. The first is by Michael Apted and the second is from Peter Lamont (production designer), Vic Armstrong (second unit director) and David Arnold (composer). There is also a Blu-ray

Monday, November 26, 2012


Roger Spottiswoode, 1997
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Judi Dench, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh, Teri Hatcher

After the decent GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies pretty much sums up the rest of the Brosnan Bond films. Attempts to make the plot and villains contemporary utterly fails and there are basically just an endless string of dull action sequences. We are also plagued with a series of bland, “strong” female characters meant to challenge the series' stereotype of sexy women defenseless before Bond’s prowess. 

Bond spies on terrorists selling arms at the Russian border and has to dramatically liberate Soviet nuclear torpedoes to prevent their explosion and the ensuing devastation. He is later sent to Germany to investigate media mogul Eliot Carver, who wants to instigate war between China and the United Kingdom in order to supplant the current Chinese government with one that would give him exclusive media rights. Bond was previously involved with Carver’s wife, Paris, and seduces her again, resulting in her death and Bond’s near assassination. He travels to the South China Sea, where he teams up with Chinese agent Wai Lin to further investigate Carver’s schemes and to locate his stealth ship, armed with missiles and aimed at China. 

I have little to say about this dull, disappointing film. This is the first Bond film with a title not taken from or inspired by Ian Fleming and the original story is the main offender. Brosnan is solid throughout his four film run, but if you dislike his Bond, it’s rough going. The normally wonderful Jonathan Pryce is miscast and forced to chew scenery in what surely must be the worst villain in any Bond film. His henchmen are also offensively bad - Götz Otto plays a big, angry, blonde German who is a preposterous cross between Dolph Lundgren and From Russia With Love’s Red Grant. Carver’s assassin-at-arms, Dr. Kaufman, is played by Vincent Schiavelli, whose quirks make what is already an absurd role even worse. Carver’s wife Paris is played by a bland, boring and miscast Teri Hatcher. Allegedly Monica Bellucci screen tested for the role, but insanely was not cast. Whoever made that decision should be drawn and quartered. 

I will never have anything bad to say about Michelle Yeoh, who is simply out of place here. Her scenes almost give the impression that we are in a different, better film, but alas. Joe Don Baker is back as the feisty CIA agent from GoldenEye, as are Judi Dench as M, Desmond Llewelyn as Q and the annoying Samantha Bond as Moneypenny. But no amount of solid supporting actors could turn this into a good film. It is simply too formulaic and feels like a tired update of The Spy Who Loved Me. There are some nice action sequences, though I really could have done without the self-driving BMW and the helicopter/motorcycle chase that seems to go on for an hour. Speaking of the BMW, if you thought GoldenEye was bad, there is even more product placement in this film. And please don’t forget that the primary villain wants to start a world war so that he can gain control of the news

I can’t recommend Tomorrow Never Dies, which takes the cake as my least favorite Bond film of all time. Somehow even Die Another Day manages to be better than this waste of 2+ hours, though only just barely. If you feel compelled to see it (or, like me, you just need to own every Bond film), there are a lot of DVD options. I’m review the 2-disc Ultimate Edition, which is also found in the Ultimate Edition box set volume 4. There are two commentaries, one of from time Bond director Roger Spottiswoode and a second from stunt coordinator and second unit director Vic Armstrong, accompanied by producer Michael Wilson. There are also extended scenes, a documentary and a lot of featurettes. It is also available on Blu-ray, though I don’t understand why that cover was chosen, but I hope whomever is responsible was fired. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012


Martin Campbell, 1995
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco, Famke Janssen, Judi Dench

GoldenEye is the first film to star Pierce Brosnan as Bond and the first to use a completely original plot, without any elements from Fleming’s stories. The title is a reference to Fleming's estate in Jamaica and a naval intelligence operation he was involved in during WWII. Agents 006, Alec Trevelyan, and 007 attempt to infiltrate a Soviet facility that produces chemical weapons. 006 is shot and killed by Colonel Ourumov, but Bond manages to escape. Almost a decade later, Bond crosses paths with the shadowy Russian crime syndicate, Janus. One of its members, the sexy Xenia Onatopp, kills a Canadian admiral and steals a new, prototype helicopter resistant to electromagnetic pulses. She murders the staff of a satellite base in Severnaya, Russia, and steals the control disk for a satellite weapons system, which she and General Ouromov use to destroy the bunker at Severnaya. Two of Severnaya programmer’s escape - Boris Grishenko, who is secretly working with Janus and Natalya Simonova, who has escaped, but is soon captured. M sends Bond to St. Petersburg to investigate the attack and track down the mysterious head of the Janus syndicate, who turns out to be none other than Alec Trevelyan. He faked his death to get revenge against the British government for their involvement in the deaths of his parents and other Cossacks during WWII. Bond teams up with Natalya and they follow Trevelyan to Cuba to try to stop him from using the satellite weapons system to destroy the British economy. 

I really dislike Pierce Brosnan. I’m sure he’s a delightful gentleman, but his appearance in two films in particular have made me forever cringe when I see him on screen. First, he starred in my least favorite film of all time, Nomads. The less said about that the better. Second, Dante’s Peak. I already hate disaster films (with animal disaster movies being the exception) and this sums up everything I loathe about them. Brosnan’s greatest role was undoubtedly in Mrs. Doubtfire (he’s also very good in The Ghost Writer, but that’s arguably a role that anyone with a permanently smug facial expression could have played). 

I’m not sure why I specifically dislike him as Bond. I think part of it has to do with the fact that he is incapable of exuding intelligence and his charm seems tired and forced. He can pull off action and espionage scenes, but most of his dialogue is pretty rough. Not his fault, I know, but a better actor could have made certain scenes more appealing. It’s also a strike against him that the other three films in his run as Bond - Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough and Die Another Die - are all terrible. While I really dislike Brosnan, I can’t deny that this is the finest entry in his run as Bond and is, overall, an excellent action film.

Even though it recycles elements from many other Bond films, I particularly enjoy the script. To a certain extent, GoldenEye attempts to deal with the changing world. This is the first Bond film after the fall of Soviet Russia and it does a reasonable job reflecting the political confusion that resulted from such a major change. It is also refreshing to finally see another 00 have a major role in a Bond film. Sean Bean’s Alec Trevelyan is absolutely the reason to see this film. In addition to being a very talented actor, he is given a plausible storyline and some of the best dialogue in the series. 

The worst thing about GoldenEye is that it feels more like a Hollywood action blockbuster than a Bond film. This is bolstered by a switch from Aston Martin to BMW, an ineffectual score from Eric Serra and a bad opening song written by Bono and The Edge, but sung by Tina Turner. “Goldfinger” it is not. Between these elements and the onslaught of product placement throughout the film, there is something very un-Bond about GoldenEye. This is probably due to a new writer (Licence to Kill was Richard Maibum’s last film of the series), a new Bond and a new director, Martin Campbell. Don’t get me wrong - there are some wonderful action sequences. The trustworthy visual effects supervisor, Chris Cobould, began work on the series in Moonraker (though he is uncredited) and his work shines throughout the latter half of the series. 

There is an annoying emphasis on female characters trying to prove their supremacy over Bond. I understand and agree with the need to refresh the series’ depictions of women, but here it is so ham-fisted that they might as well have put a disclaimer after the film like that annoying smoking warning at the end of The Living Daylights. Natalya (played by beautiful and competent Polish actress Izabella Scorupco) is self-reliant and smart; Bond would be unable to save the day without her help, but she is given some unfortunate dialogue about how he is not gentlemanly enough. M (Judi Dench) and Moneypenny (the aptly named Samantha Bond) are both irritatingly smug and self-congratulatory about their dismissals of Bond as sexist and out-dated. Yet they remain in the office. Judi Dench grew into her character and I think she is an excellent M, but here she is not quite there yet. The decision to cast M as a woman was supposedly inspired by Stella Rimington’s role as the first female head of MI5 (British military intelligence). 

Famke Janssen, on the other hand, is a major reason to watch this film. Her over-the-top villainess, Xenia Onatopp, is completely unhinged. Out of everyone in the film, her character most closely approaches a comic book feel, as she strangles men to death with her legs during sex and has orgasms when she kills people with a machine gun. She races cars, gambles, smokes cigars and wears sexy evening gowns as easily as a fighter pilot’s uniform. Onatopp represents the heart of the series and keeps GoldenEye from totally wading into Blockbuster Land. Unfortunately the female characters who followed her in the Brosnan run (and there a high number of female villains and henchmen compared to the series overall) would be unable to compete with her or Natalya. 

The side characters are played by accomplished actors, such as Robbie Coltrane’s Russian gangster Zukovsky and Alan Cumming’s arrogant computer programmer, Boris. Both actors enliven what are essentially flat, poorly written roles. Joe Don Baker is great in a small part as an unconcerned CIA agent. There is also a welcome return from Desmond Llewelyn as Q, who provides the film’s only real comic relief. 

Regardless of its flaws, GoldenEye comes highly recommended and is a high point in the later Bond films. It is available on a variety of DVD releases, though I’m reviewing the 2-disc Ultimate Edition, which is also included in the Ultimate Edition box set volume 3. As with the rest of the Ultimate series, there are a ton of extras, including a commentary from Michael G. Wilson and Martin Campbell, a documentary, The World of 007, and many more featurettes. Most of these extras are also included on the Blu-ray, which has the sexiest cover of any Bond film. Not that that’s really a challenge.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

House of Psychotic Women: Interview with Kier-La Janisse

This Wednesday, November 28th, Kier-La Janisse is coming to Philadelphia to introduce her new book, House of Psychotic Women, and to screen the Spanish horror film Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll. Presented by Joseph Gervasi (of Exhumed Films and Diabolik DVD), the event will be held at the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art, a great new space that has had a lot of exciting film, art and music events in the last year. Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll (Carlos Aured, 1974) stars Paul Naschy and concerns a serial killer and three very odd sisters. Its alternative title, House of Psychotic Women, inspired the title for Janisse’s book. Doors are at 7:30 pm and the event is $8.

Janisse is extensively involved in the North American horror community. She’s been a contributing writer for Rue Morgue, Fangoria, Filmmaker and others, and has already published one book with horror/cult publishers FAB Press, A Violent Professional: The Films of Luciano Rossi. She’s co-produced the documentary EUROCRIME! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the ‘70s and been the subject of the documentary Celluloid Horror. Janisse has programmed films at Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse and Fantastic Fest, at Canada’s CineMuerte horror film festival, etc. She edited Fantasia International Film Festival’s former online magazine Spectacular Optical and founded The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies. She also founded and curated the now-defunct Montreal film center, Blue Sunshine. Learn more about her at her personal site, Big Smash! Productions

House of Psychotic Women is an autobiographical study of female neurosis in horror and exploitation cinema. Probably the first book of its kind, House has been getting rave reviews and I’m very excited to read and review it myself. On Wednesday, Janisse will bring copies of her book to sell and will answer questions about it and Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll

Janisse was kind enough to answer some questions about her book, recent film screenings and future projects. 

Satanic Pandemonium: How are you choosing films for your recent book tour/appearances? I believe all the screenings so far are covered in your book, but do you follow any other criteria?

Kier-La Janisse: So far all the films are things that are covered in the book, but there is some talk about doing it at some festivals tied in to new films that fit the theme, which I've discovered people are a lot more interested in than I had anticipated. A lot of times when I select the films, or give programmers a selection to choose from (it mostly tends to be a collaboration with the programmers for those venues, more so than me just being an outside curator), I'm looking for films that I feel don't get enough play on the big screen or that are representative of some of the major themes in the book: destructive familial/pseudo-familial relationships, overcoming childhood trauma, and the externalization of that trauma as a physical being or force. Or else, as in the case of The Entity, which I've selected for a few events, it relates directly to my retelling of a personal story in the book. Of course you also have to think about the draw of the film, so sometimes I don't pick certain films that are major entries in the book (Antichrist, Possession, The Piano Teacher) because they get frequent bookings for the big screen already, or have had their theatrical release too recently, which isn't as interesting for programmers as playing something rare.

SP: What are a few of your favorite films that you wrote about in House of Psychotic Women?

KJ: Well, The Piano Teacher for sure. Frighteningly, the character of Erica Kohut is one I can relate to a lot, and thinking about her keeps me in check. Obviously if I was just like her I wouldn't have written this book, but I do sometimes relate to the characters that are the most exaggerated reflections of my own issues. The Brood, Antichrist and Possession I think of as a triptych: they're really all the same film, and I love them all. I love The Haunting of Julia and Marnie. Marnie is totally fucked up, but very fun to write about. And Rebecca - actually one of my big regrets about the book is that I didn't cover more of the paranoid woman films from the ‘40s, but I just hadn't seen enough of them at the time. Films that have less to do with psychotic women but were in the book because of how they were important to me at a key age, like Born Innocent, Streetwise, Christiane F. and Out of the Blue, are also some of my favourites. And Toys Are Not For Children is completely disturbing and not very well known, so I'm programming that for an upcoming event at SF Indie. 

SP: As a fellow horror fan with a traumatic childhood, there were a few films that I saw at a relatively early age and really related to on that level. Many of them certainly fall within territory covered in your book, like The Stendhal Syndrome. Are there are films like this that affected you at an early age

KJ: Stendhal Syndrome came out when you were at an early age? Ha ha. I feel so old now. Well, Carrie was a big one. It's funny because although I talk in the book about relating to Carrie White, her mother is really the psychotic woman of the film. So the film's inclusion in the book is kid of two-fold. I read Carrie over and over again as a kid, I remember doing my book report on it multiple times throughout my schooling, all the way up to my graduating year! The Watcher in the Woods I found very scary, especially since it dealt with a missing girl named Karen, and that was the name of my sister who had run away from home. 

SP: You’ve become a pretty recognizable/well-known figure as a horror fan, writer and festival programmer. Can you talk a little about your overall experience being a woman within the mostly male-dominated horror genre?

KJ: I have?? Tell that to the distributors who don't call me back when I try to book films! Ha ha. Actually as far as my experience as a woman in the genre, the only time it ever even came up was one year at Fantastic Fest I had to be on the international team for their annual Fantastic Feud, and Paul McEvoy from Frightfest announced into the microphone in front of 300 people that our team had lost "because we have a girl on our team." I know now that he's not as bad as all that, but at the time I was furious. But other than that, I've never felt that anyone treated me differently. If anything, most of the male genre fans seem stoked when women accomplish things in the genre world.

SP: I’ve heard nothing but good things about your book so far. What kind of feedback have you been getting from horror fans?

KJ: I've only read a handful of reviews, which luckily have been good, but other than that, I sometimes see people recommending it on Facebook. Very few people have talked to me directly about it though - maybe it makes them uncomfortable. Some of my friends have told me they liked it, but I haven't heard much at all from people I don't know other than this handful of reviews I mentioned. BUT - Tim Lucas, who I don't really know personally but who's a genre legend from Video Watchdog and of course his mammoth Mario Bava book, raved about it on Facebook the day he got it in the mail, and that was stunning to me. That was a huge compliment to have Tim Lucas plug my book. Of course I'm still waiting for all the bad reviews from people who will think it's a self-indulgent pity-party, but I tried really hard to have some levity in the book so that it wouldn't come off that way. I definitely don't think my life has been as tough as some reviewers have made it out to be, but people adapt to different things I guess, it all depends on what you're used to. So it's been weird reading some reviews where people characterize my stepfather as a monster, but perhaps that's a failing in my writing that I don't convey enough how important he was to me. I would not be working in the genre now if it wasn't for him; despite our turbulent relationship he was the one who really made genre films a staple of my childhood. 

SP: What are your plans for the future, especially in terms of writing projects?

KJ: I have a few things I'm working on for other people's books - an essay on kids' horror films and children's spectatorship in the 1940s for a book called Fragments of the Monster: Recovering Forties Horror (being edited by Mario DeGiglio-Bellemare, Kristopher Woofter and Charlie Ellbe); working on some reviews and an essay for a book about Made-for-Television films that is being put out by Headpress, and I wrote an essay on Nelvana's The Devil and Daniel Mouse and Rock and Rule for a prospective Carlton University textbook which should come out next year. Aside from that, my own next book project will be called A Song From the Heart Beats the Devil Every Time (a line from The Devil and Daniel Mouse) about the effects of the counterculture era on children's programming, with a focus on the immediate post-counterculture years of the ‘70s, and going up through the ‘80s a bit. Basically just an excuse to spend the next few years watching fucked-up kids shows like Chocky

SP: I understand your small film venue, Blue Sunshine, was closed semi-recently. Do you miss it? And do you have any plans to do something similar in the future?

KJ: Well I loved Blue Sunshine, it was probably my best exercise in independent exhibition in terms of both personal fulfillment and community impact. Ultimately our overhead - rent and electricity - was too stifling; even when we went through months where almost every show was sold out we still somehow ended up in debt. But we were locked into a two-year lease, and so the cash flow just became more and more dire, and my partner and I were literally starving and selling our personal belongings just to make it through to the end of the lease. Once the lease was up, we were out of there - I think we could have made it work in a less expensive venue - we took on an expensive place for the central location and the fact that it was really well-maintained - but after the two years we were so burnt out form being broke that we needed time to recover. I don't know if I'll do it again - I do think it can work, but I've been doing it too long and put too much of my money into exhibition, now I want to just be one of the people that pays $5 to get in. Other people who aren't as jaded can take over where I left off, and in fact one of our former programmers and volunteers has started up something of his own called The Noah, so now I get to just go watch movies and not have to be the one putting it on.

Thanks so much, Kier-La! See you Wednesday. 


John Glen, 1989
Starring: Timothy Dalton, Carey Lowell, Robert Davi, Talisa Soto, Benicio del Toro

Timothy Dalton’s second and final film as Bond is his best and makes me wish he had continued with the series. Though he signed on for three films, six years of legal battles over the control of the series delayed filming and caused Dalton to leave. Licence to Kill marks more than just his departure and signifies a major change in the series. This is director John Glen’s fifth and final Bond film, along with actor Robert Brown who appeared as M in five films after Bernard Lee’s death, writer Richard Maibaum who helped write every Bond film up to this point and title designer Maurice Binder who made the Bond opening sequence so famous. This is also producer Albert Broccoli’s last full contribution. 

Bond and Felix Leiter are heading to Felix’s wedding when they are interrupted to help capture drug lord Franz Sanchez. They make it back to Felix’s wedding just in time, but Sanchez escapes by bribing a DEA agent and returns to torture Leiter by half-feeding him to a shark and arranges to have his wife raped and killed. Bond swears revenge and when M tries to assign him elsewhere, he resignes from MI6 and goes rogue. Bond enlists the help of Pam Bouvier, an ex-CIA pilot who worked with Leiter and is next on Sanchez’s list. A very worried Moneypenny secretly gets Q to fly to the Republic of Isthmus (a stand-in for Panama) to help Bond. Ultimately, Bond wins Sanchez’s trust and infiltrates his organization, determined to ruin Sanchez’s life and business before killing him. 

Though seriously flawed, this violent revenge film is much better than The Living Daylights and deserves to be remembered as an uncharacteristic, yet strong entry in the series. Dalton plays a much more brutal Bond and is excited to kill as many henchmen as possible and the even crueler prospect of manipulating Sanchez into killing those loyal to him. This humorless, nearly sexless film is very bleak and we get the sense that a psychotic Bond is moving inexorably toward the end, where he seems determined to get himself killed once his job is done. Dalton harkens back to the literary Bond, a dark, troubled character who is haunted by the fact that he psychologically resembles his enemies. The references to Bond exorcizing his own demons over the death of his wife have been hinted at throughout the series, but never fully realized until now. 

This is the first film not to use the title of a Fleming story, though it combines elements from a novel and other stories. The plot is mostly influenced by ‘80s action movies and Japanese Ronin films. Revenge is not a new theme for a Bond film and Licence to Kill essentially succeeds where For Your Eyes Only failed, but the attempts to commercialize the series with references to Lethal Weapon, Miami Vice and other ‘80s action films from the period is too cliched. With a decent score from Lethal Weapon’s Michael Kamen and solely American and Mexican locations, it seems like the producers were trying to take this as far from the Bond series as possible. Fortunately the appearance of the beloved Desmond Llewelyn as Q helps to humanize the film and brings some much needed warmth and humor.

Though the film has a rapid pace, the action scenes feel like someone was checking off a list in order to make sure they met the Bond standard. The murky plot and bad dialogue are not helped by a series of weak supporting performances. Carey Lowell has some great scenes as the tough, resourceful Pam Bouvier, but she is unfortunately reduced to jealous squabbling over who Bond is and is not sleeping with. This draws attention to the larger issue of sex and monogamy that plagues the two Dalton films. He is nearly celibate in The Living Daylights, but here he is fortunately rescued by the lovely Talisa Soto, who plays Sanchez’s unfaithful girlfriend Lupe. 

Drug lord Franz Sanchez, played by Robert Davi, is one of the elements that really dates this film. Davi does as good of a job as he is able with the role, but the fact remains that he is stuck playing one of many ‘80s drug lords. His henchmen are mostly given awful dialogue and terrible personalities, with the exception of the quiet, sinister Dario, played by a young Benicio del Toro. Also keep your eyes peeled for Ed Killifer (Big Ed from Twin Peaks), a double-crossing DEA agent and for Wayne Newton, a TV evangelist who works for Sanchez. Newton provides some brief, but much needed comic relief and is a welcome inclusion. There's also a nice performance from the sinister looking Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Mortal Kombat) and Christopher Neame as an undercover team also attempting to bring down Sanchez. 

Though Licence to Kill did not fare well critically or in the box office, it should be judged on its own merits and not alongside From Russia With Love or Goldfinger and certainly not the Roger Moore films. This comes highly recommended to fans of ‘80s action flicks or revenge films. It is available in a wide range of DVD releases, though I’m reviewing the MGM two-disc Ultimate Edition, which is also included in the Ultimate Edition box set volume two. Special features include two commentary tracks - one from director Glen and various actors, the other from producer Michael G. Wilson and various crew members - a nice documentary, Inside Licence to Kill, narrated by the wonderful Patrick Macnee and a slew of other featurettes. License is also availabe on Bu-ray

Friday, November 23, 2012


John Glen, 1987
Starring: Timothy Dalton, John Rhys-Davies, Maryam d'Abo, Jeroen Krabbe, Art Malik

While I have a lot of love for Timothy Dalton's Bond, I have to admit that The Living Daylights is one of my least favorite films in the franchise. The fifteenth Bond film and the first starring Dalton as 007 is clearly an attempt to revitalize the series and bring back a serious, action-oriented focus, which is a success in some ways, but as a Bond film, The Living Daylights is deeply flawed.

Koskov, a Soviet general, defects and requests Bond's protection. Bond stops an attractive blonde sniper and cellist from assassinating Koskov, also realizing she is not a professional and something is suspicious. While under the protection of the British government, Koskov discloses a KGB plan to kill as many British and American agents as possible, supposedly headed by KGB boss General Pushkin. Koskov then disappears, allegedly recaptured or killed by KGB assassins. Bond goes back to Czechoslovakia (remember when it was still called that?) for the cellist, Kara, who is actually Koskov's naive girlfriend. The two follow his increasingly dangerous trail across Europe and into the Middle East, which leads them to a confrontation with an arms dealer in Afghanistan.

The direction is reasonably solid, as this was helmed by the trustworthy John Glen, who has the distinction of being the most prolific Bond director to date. The title and basic plot is taken from the Fleming story of the same name, but unfortunately diverges from some of the normal Bond traits. Maryam d'Abo as Kara all but ruins the film. She is the only significant female character, but is unmistakably not a Bond girl. She's naive, irritating and, despite being beautiful, is utterly sexless. Much like the rest of the film. There's an amazing intro where Bond falls from the sky via parachute and lands on the boat of a bored woman in a bikini, but this is the only hint of sexual conquest in the entire film.

There is also a sad lack of humor. We get a few one-liners from Dalton, but his serious, sensitive Bond seems uncomfortable with the normal zingers delivered with aplomb by Connery or Moore. Saunders, an M16 agent assisting Bond, provides a little comic relief with his obvious intolerance for Bond's shenanigans, but is underused. There are some nice appearances from the standard, reoccurring characters like M, Q (pointing out an in-development ghetto blaster), Moneypenny and even Felix Leiter, who kidnaps Bond through the clever use of party girls in a convertible, but it feels like these supporting characters are rushed through the film as quickly as possible.

While there are some excellent action sequences, the inevitable car chase scene is one of the most ridiculous things I've ever seen and ends with Bond and Kara using a cello case to sled down a mountain and over the Austrian border. The beautiful Aston Martin V8 Vantage Volante is unfortunately out of place and Bond seems to grimace every time he uses the special features.

Last in my list of major complaints is that there is no focused villain. The alleged KGB defector Koskov is lazy, gluttonous and would rather lounge by the pool making out with babes than pursue any real scheme. The American arms dealer is equally annoying and has maybe one full minute of screen time. The main henchman is a blonde Russian named Necros who moonlights as a revolutionary. The only blonde Russian I want to see kicking ass is Red Grant.

There are some reasons to see the film, though. As I said, The Living Daylights attempted to take the series in a new direction, exploring realism and more serious themes like espionage and Cold War politics that have mostly been ignored since From Russia with Love. The script is not afraid to present a sympathetic Bond, who can instantly turn into the icy, sociopathic spy, but also has a softer, romantic side. There is a likable, honorable KGB director, played by the sassy John Rhys-Davies. My favorite sequences in the film are shot in Afghanistan and involve some very lively Mujahideen rebels. Art Malik's Kamran Shah is one of the best characters in the film and I wish he had been introduced earlier than the final quarter.

The Living Daylights is available as a single disc Special Edition DVD from MGM, though I am reviewing the two disc Ultimate Edition, which is also included in volume one of the Ultimate Edition box set. The extensive special features include two documentaries and an audio commentary from John Glen and various cast and crew members. There’s also a Blu-ray

And don't forget: СМЕРть Шпионам.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Irvin Kershner, 1983
Starring: Sean Connery, Kim Basinger, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Barbara Carrera, Max von Sydow, Rowan Atkinson

I am going to strongly resist the urge to make any bad puns about never watching this ever again throughout the course of this review. Because really, there are two solid reasons to watch this utterly pointless, non-Eon remake of Thunderball. The first is Sir Sean Connery. Though older and perhaps a bit slower moving, he’s still the Bond we know and love and his assured handling of the role almost saves the film. The title is actually a reference to the fact that he said he would never play Bond again. (The fact that they couldn’t come up with a better title should tell you something.) The second reason is Klaus Maria Brandauer, one of my favorite German actors, who co-stars as Largo. I have nothing against Adolfo Celi or his eyepatch, but Brandauer simply blows him out of the water. He is the most human villain in any Bond film and thus one of the most believable. He also hops on board the crazy train about midway through the film and refuses to get off.

Never Say Never Again has essentially the same plot as Thunderball with a few slight alterations and some allowances for Connery’s advanced age. M, who wants to drive all the 00s into retirement, sends Bond to a spa to recuperate from training and to get back in shape. He discovers a bandaged man being beaten by his nurse, Fatima Blush, and later witnesses the man using a retinal scan machine. The man is Jack Petachi, a U.S. Air Force pilot in the employ of Largo and SPECTRE. Petachi has gotten a retinal implant so that he can imitate the President of the United States in order to steal a few nuclear missiles for SPECTRE. The evil organization plans to either bribe NATO or begin destroying the world. Fatima disposes of Petachi, but Bond follows her to the Bahamas to try to make contact with Domino, Petachi’s sister and Largo’s beloved mistress. Under Largo’s orders, Fatima attempts to kill Bond on several occasions, but he escapes, mostly unscathed, and makes contact with Domino. He follows Domino and Largo to the south of France, where he Largo face off via a video game and Bond finally disposes of the insane Fatima. He tells Domino that Largo killed her brother and he has to convince her to help him find the missiles before it’s too late. 

Kevin McClory is responsible for the creation of this bloated, mostly boring film. McClory, Ian Fleming and Jack Whittingham began the Thunderball script together back in the '60s. When early plans of a film were cancelled, Fleming went ahead and converted it to a novel. McClory, in turn, sued, and was given some of the filming rights, allowing him partial credit on the Eon production and giving him the license to make this remake. Apparently he has been trying to make a third version in recent years, which is one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard. 

Never Say Never Again is not actually a terrible film. It would be hard to argue, for example, that it is worse than A View to a Kill, but it is incredibly frustrating, mostly because its existence is utterly pointless. As I mentioned earlier, it's a much better swan song for Connery than Diamonds Are Forever and all of Brandauer’s scenes are quite good. Everything else is either outright bad, frustrating or boring. Max von Sydow, one of my favorite actors of all time, is wasted as a cartoonish Blofeld. Barbara Carrera has some good scenes as the insane Fatima, but she pales in comparison to Thunderball’s Fiona Vulpe. Kim Basinger’s has a sort of idiotic charm, but she is completely miscast as the main Bond girl and completely out of her league in terms of acting ability. Edward Fox is a terrible, snotty M and Rowan Atkinson is wasted as the bumbling comic relief. 

Director Irvin Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back) makes the most of the material, providing some solid action scenes, but the running time is entirely too long, making the second half drag on into eternity. He can’t fix a lousy script, which starts off reasonably well, but gets worse as it moves toward the lackluster conclusion. I really need to stress that my problem with Never Say Never Again is mostly that I’m outraged it was made in the first place. I don’t have any problems with the much earlier, non-Eon Casino Royale, but the fact that McClory attempted to one up Eon this late in the game is both offensive and utterly foolish. I honestly don’t know what he was expecting. Only owning partial rights to Thunderball meant that he had no chance of restarting the series on his own, so what was the point? The ‘80s was a troubling decade for the Bond franchise and this is no exception. Like several other ‘80s Bond films, Never feels incredibly dated between the anticlimactic video game challenge, the jazzercise workouts and the horrifically bad score. 

I only recommend this film to serious Bond fans. You will find at least a few things to enjoy, namely Connery and Brandauer’s strong, charismatic performances. The Blu-ray is the best option and includes some special features, such as a commentary with Kershner and a number of featurettes. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012


John Glen, 1983
Starring: Roger Moore, Maud Adams, Louis Jourdan, Steven Berkoff, Desmond Llewelyn

Bond is sent to investigate the death of 009, who was found in East Berlin carrying a fake Fabergé egg. The real egg turns up at an auction house in London, where Bond instigates the buyer, Afghan prince Kamal Khan, and switches the real with the fake. Bond follows Khan to India and is introduced to his lady friend, Magda, who has an unusual octopus tattoo. She seduces him and steals the original egg, which Q has implanted with a tracking device. Bond is captured by Khan and his bodyguard Gobinda, but escapes and learns that Khan is secretly working with Soviet General Orlov. Bond finds his way to the floating place of Octopussy, the wealthy, beautiful owner of several businesses and the leader of a smuggling ring. Her carefully guarded palace is solely outfitted with dangerous, attractive women, all of whom belong to her octopus cult and are marked with peculiar tattoos. Octopussy, Khan and Orlov plan to rendezvous for a jewelry smuggling operation in East Germany during a performance of Octopussy’s circus troupe, but Orlov has other plans. He intends to set off a nuclear warhead at a performance in a US Air Force base, either instigating a war or an opportunity for the Soviets to invade. It is up to Bond and Octopussy to stop him. 

I’m happy to say that though Octopussy isn’t the highest point in Moore’s career, it maintains some of the seriousness found in For Your Eyes Only, while including some of the humor and over the top action sequences from in previous entries. Though the title is taken from a Fleming story, the plot is mostly original, but borrows from Fleming’s “The Property of a Lady.” The fun action sequences and exotic locales rank as the top two reasons to see this film. Though not attempting to go to quite as big as Moonraker, Octopussy ranks high on the spectacle scale and includes an Indian jungle hunting scene, a rickshaw chase and elaborate fight scene in an Indian marketplace, and quite a lot a lot of airplane shenanigans (airborne adventures in general, if you take the hot air balloon into consideration). There are some perplexing, slightly ludicrous scenes that take place in the circus, but if you’ve ever longed to see Bond dress up as a clown, here’s your chance. The film also greatly benefits from the beautiful, colorful central location in Udaipur, India, where the locals were apparently completely supportive of the production and exciting by the idea of Bond in their midst. There is also the very fortunate return of John Barry as the composer, which makes this film seem much less dated than either For Your Eyes Only or A View to a Kill.

Moore is obviously aging, but is still on good form here and is willing to put up with a number of indignities, including wearing a bear suit, dressing up as a clown and swinging through the jungle on a vine, giving a Tarzan-like yell. Bernard Lee is finally replaced as M with the unmemorable but inoffensive Robert Brown. It is particularly nice to see Q (played by beloved long time Bond regular Desmond Llewelyn) so much in this film. He travels to India with 007 and even involves himself in the violent conclusion. Maud Adams is quite appealing as Octopussy and it’s nice to see a Bond girl closer to Roger Moore’s age. While she doesn’t do a whole lot, she’s an intriguing character and is mostly placed on equal standing with Bond. Her subordinate Magda is also very lovely and her scenes seducing and stealing from Bond are a fine early point in the film. 

Like For Your Eyes Only, there is no strong central villain. This actually hurts the film, though the charming Louis Jordan as Khan does his best, as does Steven Berkoff as General Orlov. They have a number of compelling, if predictable henchmen, including Gobinda, who is basically the Indian version of Odjobb, a troupe of scary gentlemen with some exotic bladed weapons, and a pair of Russian, knife-throwing twins. Octopussy is certainly flawed, mostly by its inane plot, long running time and ineffectual villains, though these are all things we have come to expect from the series at this point. Despite these elements, it is a delightful, fun entry and comes highly recommended. It is certainly Moore’s last good Bond film, which is remarkable, considering he intended to retire after The Spy Who Loved Me, but was convinced to stick around for four more films. It is also certainly better than the non-Eon Bond film released the same year, Never Say Never Again, Sean Connery’s bizarre final appearance in the series. 

Octopussy is available on a number of DVDs, including the Ultimate Edition two-disc, which is also part of the Ultimate Edition box set volume four. As usual, this release is loaded with special features, including a commentary track from director John Glen, a documentary, Inside Octopussy, narred by Patrick Macnee, and a short feature about Peter Lamont’s design work on the Bond series. Octopussy is also available on Blu-ray

Friday, November 16, 2012


Lewis Gilbert, 1979
Starring: Roger Moore, Lois Chiles, Richard Kiel

“Bollinger? If it’s ’69 you were expecting me.”

Though Moonraker is frequently lambasted and is listed as one of the worst in the Bond series, I absolutely adore it. This frivolous, cartoonish film is a prime example of Bond at his most entertaining, so it should only be avoided by people who hate fun. The ridiculous plot is almost an exact copy of The Spy Who Loved Me, except to cash in on the recent success of Star Wars, Bond moves from under the sea to outer space, where another megalomaniacal villain wants to destroy the earth and begin his own civilization. 

After surviving a high-altitude assassination attempt by Jaws, Bond is sent to California to investigate the hijacking of a Drax Industries Moonraker space shuttle. He meets Drax Industries owner Hugo Drax, his henchman Chang, his personal pilot, Corinne Dufour, and astronaut Dr. Holly Goodhead. Bond survives several more assassination attempts and steals blueprints from Drax’s personal safe with Corinne’s aid. Drax later has her attacked and killed by his hunting dogs. Bond travels to Venice, escapes Drax’s henchmen yet again, and discovers a hidden lab with glass tubes full of toxic nerve gas. He discovers that Drax is relocating to Brazil and follows him there, where he also reunites with Dr. Goodhead, who is actually a CIA agent. They agree to team up, but are soon captured by Jaws and witness Drax’s Moonraker shuttles taking off. They follow Drax into space and hope to stop his diabolical plan to wipeout humanity on Earth and begin his own Nazi-eqsue civilization on a secret space station. 

Director Lewis Gilbert is in good form during his final Bond outing. Though this lags in the overly long second act, Gilbert and set designer Ken Adams went all out for scenes that range from mountain tops, airplanes, space, a shuttle assembly plant, the jungle, and the canals of Venice. The ridiculous, non-stop action set pieces are the real reason to watch this film. Beginning with a tremendous opening scene, one of my favorites in the film, Bond is pushed out of a plane by Jaws, but Bond gets the parachute (not a Union Jack design) and Jaws inexplicably lands on a circus tent, transitioning into a nice credits sequence with an unfortunately lackluster song by the returning Shirley Bassey. There are a litany of absurd gadgets and a number of unbelievable action sequences including a fight to the death in a glass museum, a gondola chase in the Venice canals and Bond’s near strangulation by the biggest, most fake looking python seen until Anaconda. All this is, of course, topped by Bond’s nonsensical mission to space and the destruction of Drax’s space station. 

Moore is clearly a little past his prime here, but is not afraid to have fun with the role and dishes out one-liners at every opportunity. Lois Chiles is icy, lovely and somewhat believable as the astronaut-turned-CIA-agent Dr. Goodhead, though her transition to willing love interest in the second half is a bit too abrupt. Like Barbara Bach’s XXX in The Spy Who Loved Me, she is (almost) a match for Bond and fortunately more than just eye candy.  It’s a shame Denise Richards’s abominable physicist character in The World is Not Enough didn’t take more cues from her. The lovely Corinne Cléry gives a satisfying, though brief performance as Drax’s pilot and Bond’s first conquest. Her death is one of the few dark, suspenseful moments in the film. Unfortunately Michael Lonsdale is wasted as a very boring Hugo Drax and his random Japanese henchman Chang (given a Chinese/Korean name for no apparent reason) is given no characterization whatsoever. 

The real star of this film is Richard Kiel as Jaws, returning after a menacing performance in The Spy Who Loved Me. Here Jaws becomes absolutely cartoonish, the coyote to Bond’s roadrunner. In a baffling, though enjoyable move, the studio has him side with Bond at the end of the film, presumably because he has fallen in love with a tiny, blonde pigtailed woman. He also has a great, terrifying scene during Carnival where he appears in an ally and nearly chomps the head off of Bond’s sultry ally (Emily Bolton). 

Though there are some difficult, plodding moments in the second hour of the film, the pace is generally nonstop. As one of the most fun Bond films ever made, I can’t help but recommend Moonraker, which anyone with a well-developed sense of whimsy will surely enjoy. Moonraker is available on a variety of DVDs, including the double-disc Ultimate Edition, also part of the Ultimate Edition box set volume 4. There are a lot of extras, including two commentaries, one from Roger Moore and the second from Lewis Gilbert and various cast and crew members. Also included are two documentaries, “Inside Moonraker,” narrated by Patrick McNee, and “The Men Behind the Mayhem,” which focuses on special effects. Most of these extras are also included on the Blu-ray.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Lewis Gilbert, 1977
Starring: Roger Moore, Barbara Bach, Curd Jürgens, Richard Kiel

The Spy Who Loved Me is undoubtedly Moore’s best Bond film. The first with an original story, this plays to Moore’s strengths and allows for moments of welcome silliness, balanced by some incredible, large-scale action scenes. This is also the first Bond film since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service to have any emotional depth, due to Bond’s complicated relationship with KGB agent XXX. Bond is called in to investigate the disappearance of British and Soviet ballistic-missile submarines and heads to Egypt to locate plans for a submarine tracking system. He meets Major Anya Amasova aka KGB Agent XXX, who also wants to steal the plans. M and KGB head General Gogol decide the two agents should team up and agree on a temporary truce. They recover the plans, but barely escape a fight with Jaws, a giant man with lethal, steel teeth who works for millionaire-scientist Karl Stromberg. As 007 and XXX grow closer, they realize Stromberg intends to use his new supertanker and a secret, underground base for nefarious purposes - to destroy the world’s major cities and begin a new, Atlantean civilization deep in the ocean. 

This film introduces some new elements into the series: a memorable henchman who would survive to reappear in the next film, cooperation between the U.K and the Soviet Union and a strong female lead/love interest. Barbara Bach has received some criticism for her semi-weak portrayal of XXX, but her character represents the leaps and strides Bond girls have made throughout the series. Though she occasionally has to be rescued, there are plenty of moments where she gets the best of Bond. There’s also a welcome appearance from the absolutely beautiful Caroline Munro, who regularly appeared in British horror films during this period. 

Curd Jürgens is an excellent Stromberg, but his diabolical, anarchic plans are the worst part of the film. He wants to start a nuclear war and reestablish civilization under water. Really? Like villains before and after him, his talent is somewhat wasted, but he does the best that he can with the role. Richard Kiel’s Jaws, on the other hand, is wonderful and makes a welcome return in Moonraker, where he reaches new, delirious heights (literally). All the usual suspects appear - M, Q and Moneypenny - and we are introduced to KGB commander General Gogol (Walter Gotell), who would return for several films. This film also marks a dramatic change in the series. Co-producer Harry Saltzman was forced to sell his share of the franchise for financial reasons and thus ended his long partnership with Albert Broccoli. 

The Spy Who Loved Me also benefits from some wonderful action sequences, particularly the opening where Bond has to evade KGB during a sky chase in the Swiss Mountains. Stuntman Rick Sylvester's leap off a cliff is one of the longest fall sequences in film history and is immediately followed by Bond's use of the beloved Union Jack parachute. I will never get tired of Bond fighting on trains and the excellent scene in this movie is no exception. Though it’s a little unbelievable that the best spy in Russia has to be rescued by Bond, the ensuing fight with Jaws is exciting and the scene’s conclusion is fittingly romantic. The bombastic finale in the supertanker where Bond takes charge of captured British, American and Soviet naval crews to defeat Stromberg is one of the best in the series. Though there is a heavy emphasis on gadgets in this film, most of them result in some amusing scenes, such as the watch that prints out directions from MI6 headquarters. Q outdoes himself with the Lotus Esprit that converts into an underwater vehicle; it definitely one ups Scaramanga's flying AMC Matador from The Man with the Golden Gun

The credits song, written by Carole Bayer Sager and performed by Carly Simon is one of the most memorable in the series and though Marvin Hamlisch’s disco influenced score hasn’t aged particularly well, it’s still a lot of fun. Fun is really the name of the game with this film and I, surprisingly, have no complaints. The Spy Who Loved Me comes highly recommended and is available on multiple DVD releases. I’m reviewing the Ultimate Edition two-disc, which is also included in the Ultimate Edition box set volume 4. The numerous extras include a commentary track with Lewis Gilbert, designer Ken Adams and more of the crew. There’s an informative making-of documentary and a shorter documentary about Adams’s career with the Bond franchise. The Blu-ray includes many of these special features.