Friday, March 14, 2014

The 17 Film Characters who have been nominated more than once.

Hey guys.

Yeah, I'm back from FUCKING ENGLAND finally. Trust me you'll hear plenty about that. It's also post-awards season! Trust me, you'll hear plenty about that too.

Anyway it's been almost a full year since I started this blog, and in that time I started a weird James Bond thing that's not even halfway done, and I have forgotten about it for several months at a time. But the best way to get back into things is to do what I do best; talk about movies and shit!

So let's all pretend its still awards season and this article is still relevant. Basically, one thing I've noticed is how during the Academy Awards, we always remember the artists who are nominated multiple times, but I got to thinking; which characters have been nominated more than once? Are there better things I could be writing about? Yeah. Are there probably more important things I could be researching at this point in my life? Definitely.

Are you curious? Yeah. That's what I thought. These are the characters that have been interesting enough to be represented at the Academy Awards more than once. In chronological order.


Leslie Crosbie

The earliest contender on our list is Leslie from the two film adaptations of W. Somerset Maugham's play, The Letter, about the court proceedings that follow when Leslie, in the absence of her husband, shoots and kills a man who she alleges attempted to rape her. However, it becomes evident during the trial that she may have attempted to cheat on her husband and killed the poor sap who refused her. So right off the bat you can see how early 20th century Americans would be attracted to the story of a cruel woman using a false rape accusation. Still, she was an interesting enough character that both the 1929 film and its 1940 remake involved considerably impressive performances from its leads that both Jeanne Eagels and Bette Davis were nominated for Best Actress. Unfortunately, Eagels passed away before the ceremony, making hers the first ever posthumous nomination.


King Henry VIII of England



Here's where it gets interesting; the next earliest character, and the record holder for the male character nominated the most times is none other than Henry VIII, England's most head-obsessed king. And not in that way. It's not hard to see why; he's the guy you remember from history class as the king who became so obsessed with having a son he divorced and then murdered a bunch of his wives. He's also more or less guilty for such crimes as the virtual decimation (and impregnation) of most of the Boleyn family. He also loved divorce so much he created Protestantism. And now he can add "having three people being nominated for acting awards for his portrayal" to his resume. It started with Charles Laughton, who won the award for Best Actor for the his performance in The Private Life of Henry VIII in 1932. The trend continued with the great Robert Shaw, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in A Man for All Seasons in 1965, and then the equally great Richard Burton who was nominated for Actor in in Anne of the Thousand Days in 1969. You may remember Burton from all his films that involve Shakespeare, and Shaw from all his films that involve giant sharks. Namely that one. For more jokes about Robert Shaw you're free to visit my From Russia with Love review.

Professor Henry Higgins



Professor Henry Higgins is, of course, the main character in George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion. I don't know how to pronounce it either. The title of course, refers to the ancient greek character who fell in love with his own sculpture. This is thematically like the characterization of Higgins, who, as part of a bet, has to help a poor cockney girl named Eliza to sound like a debutante and then obviously falls in love with her because cliches are old. While Leslie Howard was nominated for Best Actor in the 1938, most people fondly remember the modern (for 1964) film adaptation of the Broadway musical My Fair Lady, for which Rex Harrison won Best Actor.

Mr. Chips



Goodbye, Mr. Chips, based on the book of the same name, tells the story of Mr. Chipping, a once strict and traditional schoolteacher who learns to grow and connect with his students as he gets older. Obviously, it's incredibly sentimental, but the character was loved well enough to give Robert Donat a Best Actor award, and Peter O'Toole a nomination for his role in the musical remake.


President Abraham Lincoln

 

What you're going to figure out in due time is how most of this list is British royalty and American Presidents.  And it wouldn't be a list of the most famous thematic film characters without one of the all time great American figures; our sixteenth president, patron of log cabins and silly hats, savior of the union, and liberator of black people across the country; Abraham Lincoln. You may not remember John Cromwell's Abe Lincoln in Illinois, for which Raymond Massey received a Best Actor nomination in 1940, and tells the story of Lincoln up to his inauguration. What you probably do remember is Daniel Day-Lewis's Best Actor win for Lincoln in 2012, which covers the story of Lincoln after his inauguration. Unfortunately, Abe Lincoln: Vampire Hunter did not make the cut.

Father Chuck O' Malley
 

 Father Chuck is the first character on this list to be nominated twice for a performance by the same actor; in this case Bing Crosby, who plays the Father Chuck as an unconventional Catholic priest who is introduced to various parishes to make them more fun, to the chagrin of Barry Fitzgerald and Ingrid Berman. Because movies that would end up on the lifetime channel today were extremely successful back in the day. Anyway, Crosby was so much fun he won for Best Actor in Going My Way in 1944, and was nominated again for The Bells of St. Mary's a year later.

King Henry V of England
 

The Academy loves historical dramas, and the Academy loves Shakespeare (or they used to, now we have superhero movies). Put them together, and you have the two film adaptations of Shakespeare's historical play about Henry V. First was Olivier, who was nominated for Henry V in 1946, as was Shakespearean expert Kenneth Branagh in 1989. Both were in movies they directed, not sure if that makes it easier or harder.

Cyrano de Bergerac
 

Finally, we come to my favorite example, and in fact my favorite theatrical character of all time. Cyrano's fucking awesome; he's a swashbuckling badass, a lover of the arts, a hopeless romantic, and a sarcastic asshole. Unfortunately, his biggest character flaw is that he's ugly and has a huge nose. Jose Ferrer won Best Actor for playing him in Cyrano de Bergerac in 1950, but my favorite will always be Gerard Depardieu, who was nominated in 1990.

Eddie Felson


In another of my favorite examples on the list, 1961's The Hustler became an instant classic and rocketed both the fantastic Paul Newman and the sport of pool to popularity. Unfortunately, pool is the only one of those two still around. However, almost 25 years after getting a Best Actor nod for playing the small-time pool hustler, Newman returned for the inexplicable sequel, Martin Scorcese's The Color of Money. While almost universally considered the weaker movie, it's still a fucking Scorcese/Newman movie (with Tom Cruise and an Eric Clapton song), which was more than good enough to earn Newman his first and only Oscar.

King Henry II of England
 

Oh look, it's Peter O' Toole again. Peter O' Toole, who sadly was one of the fifty-or-so great actors to die this past year, played the morally questionable king as a young man in Beckett in 1964, before playing him as an older man just four years later in The Lion in Winter. I know what you're going to ask though, and no; unlike the other examples on this list, these films aren't necessarily sequels, as they have a different tone, were made by different companies, and even had a mostly different cast. But they're based on a historical character, so maybe you should watch them in order for consistency. Or just watch Iron Man 3 again, I don't give a shit.

Joe Pendleton


It's kind of weird how much the Academy used to like movies that were actually funny, provided they be kind of saccharine at the same time. Both Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941) and Heaven Can Wait (1978) tell the story of Joe Pendleton, an athlete (first a boxer, then a football player) killed on accident before his time, because I guess God just fucks up like that sometimes. He is sent back to Earth in the body of crooked investment banker Bruce Farnsworth, and then has to figure out how to fix this man's life and help the people in his old one. Robert Montgomery and Warren Beatty were both nominated for the role.

Rooster Cogburn
 

Hi Whitney! I see you skipped to this part. And I know why. I think it's fair to say that The Dude is probably an all around better actor than The Duke, but even though Jeff Bridges was incredibly fun to watch in the Coen Brother's 2010 remake (or re-adaptation) of True Grit, Wayne's performance in the '69 original is nothing short of classic. It also won him an Oscar for Best Actor.

Michael Corleone
 

The fact that Al Pacino won neither Best Supporting Actor in The Godfather, for his role as a good man being corrupted by the italian mafia; nor for Best Actor in The Godfather Part II for his starring role as a bad man being even more corrupted by the italian mafia, is almost as much of a crime as this run-on sentence. It would also go a long way to explaining how he eventually won for making toddler noises in Scent of a Woman, in the Academy's now-standard practice of giving people awards for things they should have already had awards for. In any case, Pacino's performance is only part of what makes these two movies so legendary among cinema.

Howard Hughes

Hughes, the man who is, by all accounts, the inspiration behind Iron Man, is the definition of Hollywood legend. A filmmaker, producer, inventor, aviator, billionaire, and severely developmentally disabled eccentric genius and all-around crazy person, Howard Hughes helped make Hollywood what it is today through ambition, brilliance, assholeishness, and general insanity. Also my dad totally hung out in his plane once. While he was basically a plot contrivance in 1980's Melvin and Howard, for which Jason Robards was nominated for Best Supporting Actor; his true character shines through in Martin Scorcese's The Aviator in 2004. For his emphasis on Hughes's obsessive compulsive lifestyle, Leonardo Dicaprio was nominated for Best Actor. He did not win though, and so an internet meme was born.

President Richard Nixon

 

The mastermind behind Watergate, the inventor of the double-peace sign, and the only guy on this list with a bigger nose than Cyrano's; our 37th President may not be the best, or even close, but he may be the most villainously Shakespearean. Or at least the most like a Bond baddie. And I would know by this fucking point, trust me. Perhaps thats why both Anthony Hopkins (for Nixon in 1995) and Frank Langella (for Frost/Nixon) saw nominations for Best Actor for giving us insight into what made this disgustingly power-hungry man tick.

Queen Elizabeth I of England
 


And we come to it at last, the record-holder for the female character most nominated at the Academy Awards is none other than the world's most famous queen, Elizabeth I. Somewhat fitting that the character tied with Henry VIII would be none other than his own daughter. Brilliant, classy, and badass to the end, Elizabeth showed the western world that a woman could lead and do it damn well. Hell, she was friends with Shakespeare, and apparently she ran into Doctor Who a few times. Anyway, the great Cate Blanchett did the character justice in the rather great Elizabeth (1998) and its rather not-so-great sequel Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007). Blanchett was good enough to become nominated for Best Actress both times, but did not win. Who did win was Judi Dench, for her fan-fucking-tastic supporting portrayal in Shakespeare in Love in 1998. That's right, she was even nominated at the same time as Blanchett, and had about a fraction of the screen time. That's talent.

Iris Murdoch

In what was a nice twist on the "interesting man and his doting wife" cliche, Iris told the story of the brilliant and famous female philosopher Iris Murdoch, and her life alongside her loving husband, before having to deal with all the bullshit that comes with alzheimer's disease. For playing the philosopher at two different times in her life, Judi Dench and Kate Winslet were both nominated for Actress and Supporting Actress in 2001.


Well I'm pretty sure that's all of them. Let me know if I'm wrong, because I'm not going to go down the full list of nominees and press "control F" on every name. Again. In case you couldn't tell, I really didn't feel like doing homework today.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Bondathon: Thunderball (1965)

Hey guys Bond movie yeah whatever.

Now here's where things get a bit hectic. You see, the next film, Thunderball, was originally supposed to be the original Bond film. It was written as a screenplay back in the late fifties, when black people were still spoken of in hushed voices. It was written for a producer by the name of Kevin McClory. However, Kevin was unable to make a Bond movie sound successful, and the deal fell through. Not wanting to waste the story, Fleming used the story for a book. Which obviously caused a provocation with McClory. The court proceedings were what led to Dr. No being filmed first. They eventually settled out of court, with McClory getting partial credit for the screenplay.

Thunderball is the fourth James Bond film, having come out in 1965. Understandably so, it feel especially “Bond-y” if that makes sense this early in the series. By this point all the staples have been established, but they aren’t tired, but exciting. It’s also probably why they remade it like twenty years later. When they eventually figured out how to make the damn thing, they brought Terence Young back, after Guy Hamilton got tired after just one film. The leftover goodwill of Goldfinger is apparent as well; adjusted for inflation, Thunderball is arguably the most successful Bond film of all time, as the $141million it made back in 65 was actually worth more than the billion Skyfall just made. It kind of stands as a monument to how great the series was doing at the time; its one of the few Bond films to win an academy award; in this case for visual effects.

Thunderball

Photo Credit: United Artists/MGM
Date: 1965
Director: Terence Young
Bond: Sean Connery
Number: 4

Starring: Adolpho Celi, Claudine Auger, Luciana Paluzzi, Rick Van Nutter, Martine Veswick, Molly Peters, Bernard Lee.
The one with: Sharks, the Bahamas, nuclear bombs, scuba diving, that guy with the eyepatch, SPECTRE

Plot:
The film starts out with Bond spending the day at a spa, to rest and heal his wounds after his last mission, in which he assassinated a member of SPECTRE who had killed a few of his colleagues. It’s kind of weird, I may be wrong, but I think this is the first time Bond’s really been shown as an assassin, it’s the first mission where his only objective is just to kill some guy. Anyway, his next mission is literally to just spend a day or two maxing and relaxing at a spa. Of course, James Bond can never really relax, and instead spends the whole day sexually harassing his masseuse (who, naturally, does not put up much of a fight), and snooping around the clinic when he thinks some of the guests are acting odd. Normally, this sounds like the sort of problems you’d have with someone suffering from PTSD, but I suppose it doesn’t count for Bond because he’s so cool about it you get the impression he’s only doing it because he’s bored. Also, he’s right, some of the people there are up to no good, which he notices when he sees someone drop a corpse right in the middle of the spa.
            So, naturally, when his vacation’s over and he returns to MI6 to find that the dead guy in question is a suspect in the theft of two nuclear missiles, he offers to go investigate, which M is okay with, as long as he finds out where the missiles are by the time the weekend’s over. You see, as it turns out, the guy may have been working for SPECTRE, you know, those guys we forgot about in the last movie, who are now blackmailing England and the US for no less than one million dollars, otherwise they will blow up an unspecified major city.

So now Bond has to go to the Bahamas to fight, screw, shoot, screw, kill, play, drink, and screw whomever he needs to in order to find the warheads, or else millions of people will die. Or the government just loses a million dollars to directly finance terrorism. Either one. Along the way he teams up with Felix again, spends a lot of time underwater, and meets with two bigwigs from SPECTRE, Emilio Largo, the second-in-command of the whole organization, and femme fatale Fiona Volpe, both of whom are willing to use as many guns, sharks, and sex as they can to stop Bond. Well most of the sex just comes from Fiona.

Bond

Sean Connery is still great as Bond, as usual, and he’s having a lot more fun here as he kills, fights, and near-rapes several people to get his quarry. He’s a bit more at ease here, and while we don’t see anything too new, we don’t really care.

The Villain

I’m not a huge fan of Emilio Largo. He’s not an incredibly interesting villain; he’s just pretty standard. He wants a lot of money, he’s related to the love interest, he works for SPECTRE, and he hangs out with Bond when they’re not trying to kill each other.
Photo Credit: United Artists/MGM
His only real quirk is that he really likes sharks, which is the only thing about him even remotely interesting, because sharks are fucking awesome. He has a whole pool full of Tiger Sharks (he calls them something else, but they’re totally Tiger Sharks) that he enjoys feeding people too. Klaus Maria Brandauer portrays him as just a creepy foreign scientist, without any particularly interesting characterization.

Bond Girls

Photo Credit: United Artists/MGM
Domino Derval: I rank Domino Derval, the sister of the dead man Bond found, as the main Bond girl because she’s the actual love interest. Claudine Auger is pretty sexy, as evidenced by having won “Miss France”, and there’s a scene where she’s tied up. The only problem is, being a model (in the days before models had to have acting talent), she’s a dreadful actress. But she doesn’t have to do too much acting so, who cares. Luciana Paluzzi, who plays Fiona Volpe, is arguably as sexy as Auger, but a better actress, and her relationship with Bond is a little more interesting considering they both want to kill each other. She’s also a much probably a better villain than Largo, and it’s kind of a shame she didn’t replace him as the main antagonist.

Music: "Thunderball" by Tom Jones

This song is okay. Just okay, really. It’s well produced, and Tom Jones is a great singer, but the lyrics are kind of dumb (“so he strikes like Thunderball?”) and it’s kind of slow. The opening is also very bland, its just a bunch of shadows against an underwater background.
Johnny Cash recorded a song for use in the film, but it wasn’t used because it sounded too country-ish, but it’s probably the superior song.

Review

In spite of its enormous success, Thunderball was, during the time of its release and still today, considered by most people to be a bit of a disappointment compared to the previous films, all though still great in its own right. I can sort of see why; for one thing, it takes a long-ass time to really get going. Most Bond films have that one opening scene that has nothing to do with the rest of the film, but this one has that, and then another like twenty minutes of Bond just chilling out in a spa. It’s not entirely boring, but it slows the film down, and I don’t think the plot actually gets started until Bond reaches the Bahamas, which is like an hour into the film.
There’s a lot more Bond women this time around. There’s the asian chick he flirts with in the beginning, there’s Domino, the love interest, there’s his fellow agent who follows him to the Bahamas, there’s Fiona Volpe, and there’s the women in the spa. Bond probably has more sex in this film than in any other film so far, at about five sex scenes, one of which is underwater, which I cannot comment on as I have yet to try it. The problem is, it gets kind of stupid. Most of the sexual tension from From Russia With Love is gone and the scenes with women are so contrived they feel they’re straight out of a porno. But I suppose that’s just the point of a Bond movie and, fuck it, the women are pretty attractive.
            Having said that, this is still a pretty cool movie. I know it’s been mentioned a lot of times that like half the movie is underwater, and that the special effects haven’t aged well, but I actually disagree. I thought the whole underwater angle was new and separated it from the other films in a cool way, and I was often fascinated by how they managed to get the shots they did. There are several scenes where actors are shown swimming with live Tiger Sharks in the frame, which is awesome (although several of the sharks look like its hurt, which is not awesome). However, it does get a bit old after a while. It’s a campier Bond (this is the first appearance of the jetpack), but not to the point of ridiculousness. There’s still an essence of grit. It’s also probably the funniest Bond I’ve seen so far, with several lines that made me crack up. However, I can’t say that all these were intentional. The part where a random guy tries to kill Bond by making the incredibly awkward, hump-the-table machine he’s on go crazy was a lot more hilarious than suspenseful. Also Bond like tortures a guy in a spa machine for some reason. I forget why. Was it the same guy?
            Even though it takes forever for the plot to get going, when it does it still carries with it some depth. This is probably the first time that Bond is responsible for saving millions of people (or, again, just millions of dollars), and although he doesn’t save the world or anything, it’s shown that the stakes are high just by the scene with M, in which Bond is brought into a huge war room, as opposed to the close quarters of M’s office.

A-

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Bondathon: Goldfinger (1964)

Bondathon! Because I'm in England (well not right now, right now I'm in Ireland) and what else am I going to do? Travel? Ha!

Well, last time on "Ryan's insane attempt to seem relevant halfway across the world, while also procrastinating from actual work", we learned about how Dr. No had made a ton of money on a modest (for the time) budget of $1 million, and From Russia had made a crapload of money on an expensive (for the time) budget of $2 million. If the first film was like the producers smoking a joint for the first time, because "hey it might be fun if we do it right"; and the second film was like the producers trying hard drugs with some friends because "I guess we're junkies now", the third film was like the producers giving in to their new livelihood and stockpiling three different kinds of drugs for one long crazy night. 

Basically, by the third film, the precedent for Bond movie success had already been more than established, so the boys at the studio decided to go all in and make what can only be called a genuine big budget blockbuster. Granted, it was still only $3 million, one million more than the last one, but that was a big deal for the time. There was also an early example of foreign market investment: the book was chosen primarily for how integrated the plot was in the United States, with the producers hoping to corner the increasingly lucrative American market. When Terrence Young left the project, he was replaced by Guy Hamilton; an old friend of Fleming's from his days in Royal Intelligence.

The end result was a film that has been called the greatest Bond film of all time. Let's find out why.

Goldfinger
Photo Credit: United Artists/MGM

Date: 1964
Director: Guy Hamilton
Bond: Sean Connery
Number: 3
Starring: Gert Frobe, Honor Blackman, Shirley Eaton, Harold Sakata, Cec Linder, Bernard Lee, and Desmond Llewelyn.
Singer: Shirley Bassey
The one with: That gold-painted lady, Oddjob, the Car, Pussy Galore, "No Mister Bond, I expect you to die!", Miami, the laser, Fort Knox.

"Goldfinger", one of the more uncomfortable names in the Bond, filmography begins with Bond callously killing some people in latin America while shutting down a drug factory, thereby establishing the precedent of "opening action scenes that have nothing to do with anything" that is carried on throughout the rest of the series.

Anyway, after watching the opening credits, Bond then heads to the only place in the world with more drugs and Latin Americans than Latin America; Miami, where he is asked by M to keep a subtle eye on suspicious billionaire Auric Goldfinger (you know, actual spy work); which Bond takes to mean "bang his assistant and then humiliate him", because in case you haven't figured it out by now; Bond's kind of a dick. As revenge for this, Golfinger has the assistant killed by smothering her in gold until her skin suffocates, which the British consider dangerous, but most Miami girls consider "a worthy life ambition". Also you can't actually kill someone by smothering them with gold paint, which the production team should have realized when they smothered the actress in gold paint.

Anyway, Bond is briefed by M and Q (the "gadget guy" who we'll come to know and love) and other letters of the alphabet, who put him in the awkward position of having to take down that same rich guy whose pissed off at him, in order to find out how he's managed such a long and sucessful career of smuggling gold internationally. Which Bond takes to mean "try to blow up his factory, run over his henchmen, have sex with every woman he knows, and beat him in golf", which Bond is more than game for. But in the process, he discovers that Golfinger has financial backing by the Chinese government, as well as a sinister plan involving Fort Knox that the brit must stop. I mean who else is going to? The Americans? Ha! They don't have machine-gun cars!

Bond

Still Connery, so still awesome, but he's arguably best here. It's like the movie itself managed to tune to Connery's unique blend of cool charisma and sly self-awareness, and he fits the film like a glove. Although his seduction of miss Galore borders on rape. Actually it's pretty much rape. So that's not very cool. I understand it was a different time, and she doesn't seem to broken up about it (she eventually voices her consent), but it's still fairly discomforting.

The Villain
Photo Credit: United Artists/MGM

The villain, of course, is the film's namesake: Auric Goldfinger, played by former nazi Gert Froebe (to be fair, it was later revealed that he helped rescue a Jewish family). Goldfinger differs from the precedents and antecedents in that he has absolutely nothing to do with SPECTRE; he is just a very, very crooked and ingenious businessman. I'm probably not spoiling a whole lot by revealing how the fantastic twist of the film is that Goldfinger does not want to steal from Fort Knox, but rather blow it up and irradiate all the gold, making it worthless and making his supply that much more valuable. It's a brilliant plan; brilliant enough to land Auric at the top of most of the most lists of the "greatest Bond villains of all time."

Which is funny, because Froebe could not even speak proper english and had to be dubbed over. But for what it's worth, he's fantastic. Goldfinger is a constantly tense and unpredictable villain, which adds a level of suspense to the film even when he's not present; he seems to constantly be one step ahead of Bond; keeping the hero from reaching superhero level too early. Froebe is great too, matching Connery's charisma and always seeming friendlier than he really is. It's easy to see why every Bond villain afterward felt the apparent need to step it up.

Bond Girls

In this film, Bond encounters Pussy Galore.

No, like seriously, that's her name.

Aside from Shirley Eaton, who is now famous for playing the woman who is dipped in gold, and Tania Mallet, who is famous for playing the sister of the woman who is dipped in gold, we get Honor Blackman (a much less alluring name, to be sure) as the infamous Pussy. Truth is though? She's a great character (and smoking hot)!

She's a major henchman for Goldfinger, and she's also dangerous, clever, and the leader of her own cadre of criminals, who are important for Goldfinger's scheme. Bond realizes very quickly that he's going to need to get Pussy if he's going to stop Auric. Fortunately, she isn't incredibly loyal, and it isn't long before Auric's Pussy may prove to be his undoing. Unfortunately, the talented Honor Blackman broadcasts her Pussy to the world as a rebellious and feisty, if flirty, character. We know what her purpose in the film is when we see her, but she's a box of tricks in a way that turns her into one of the film's, if not the franchise's, best characters. Is Bond up to the challenge of seducing her, or will he Pussy out?

Photo Credit: United Artists/MGM
Protip: When searching Google for "Pussy Galore", it is best to keep safesearch activated.

I'm so sorry.

Review

When all was said and done, Goldfinger emerged from the box office a legend; a blockbuster in ways that would not be surpassed until giant sharks and lightsaber showed up. Furthermore, it turned Bond from a popular character into what he is today; a film star.

So, naturally, I went in with high expectations. And what can I say? This movie's fantastic! It's fun, genuinely exciting even for its time, and holds on enough to the grittier, more realistic aspects of its predecessor to keep from becoming ridiculous. Connery is great, as always, the writing is clever and crisp, and the action scenes are way better than they should be in the sixties. There's really only so many ways I can say "it's exciting, suspenseful, and fun"but that's it, really. This is where the character comes into focus; it's pretty much the ultimate Bond movie. Aside from the uncomfortable scene I mentioned earlier, it's just about flawless.

It may be a cliche to label it the best of the series, and for me it's too early to tell, but so far no film has communicated to me why people love these moves so much as this. Oh, did I mention the car?

To the Bondmobile!

A+

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Bondathon: From Russia With Love (1963)

Bondathon! Because me writing about the same goddamn thing over and over again is better than me writing about nothing! And don't worry I'll put up a post about my experiences in England once I have an opinion on it beyond "it's cold". Fuck it! Let's jump in.

Obviously, Dr. No was a box office success, but that's probably not a surprise. It did have over twenty goddamn sequels. By this point the studio was very much in the mindset of "okay, we're really doing this." So the next film on the agenda was given a doubled budget (about $2 million), and a release date for literally the next year.  The results were pretty good.

From Russia With Love
Photo Credit: United Artists/MGM

Date: 1963
Director: Terence Young
Bond: Sean Connery
Number: 2
Starring: Daniela Bianchi, Pedro Armendariz, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw, Vladek Sheybal, Lois Maxwell, and Desmond Llewelyn.
The one with: The train, Istanbul, Cold-War, knife-shoes, Red Grant, gypsies.

The interesting thing about this plot is the fact that it's actually fairly complicated, especially compared to the last film. This time, MI6 is contacted by Tatiana Romanova, a Soviet Intelligence agent who wants to defect to England with a code-machine that the English desperately want. The twist is, she will only meet with one agent: James Bond, who she alleges to have fallen in love with after seeing pictures of him somewhere, which is precisely why Bond does not have a facebook.

Obviously it's a trap, she is working for Rosa Klebb, who is, in turn an agent of SPECTRE, a criminal syndicate run by a faceless man with a cat. SPECTRE wants to steal the device and then sell it back to the soviets, while also getting revenge on Bond for killing a former agent: Dr. No.

Bond goes to Istanbul where he meets with agent Kerrim Bey, together they enjoy lapdances by gypsies and fight off Soviet hitman, and Bond meets with Tatiana, before the two finally get on the Orient Express train, and that's where the film really gets started. Throughout the film, Bond must get Tatiana to fall for him so that he can maintain her allegiance and get the device, all while dodging assassination attempts by train, plane, and boat. During the time on the train, we finally get an answer to the age-old question: who would win in a fight between James Bond and Quint from Jaws?
The answer is Batman


Bond

Connery is great as ever, but he's more reserved here. This is only the second film, so there's still a level of vulnerability. He almost dies several times, and when he comes face-to-face with Grant, we actually get scared for a second.

The Villain
Photo Credit: United Artists/MGM


There are quite a few villains, actually, but the main one is Rosa Klebb, and she's not too scary. She's more of just a very angry, ugly, Russian women. She has several points of vulnerability and desperation as well, do in no small part to her working under a far more sinister villain whose face is revealed later. She gets the plot moving, but the guy we're scared of comes later.

Bond girls
Photo Credit: United Artists/MGM

This section is actually more restrained this time; we only really get one and that's Tatiana, and she's fantastic. She's gorgeous and witty, and keeps Bond and the audience on their toes as to which side she's on throughout the film. Daniela Bianchi is not a poor actress either, which is great considering she's the catalyst for the film's plot.

Review

But in order to get into what's great about this film I have to go over the supporting cast, particularly the always great Robert Shaw as Red Grant, the hitman hired by Klebb to track down and kill Bond. Part of the great thing about this being the second film is that Bond still feels less like a superhero and more like a man. There are scenes with Shaw that bring out the mortal man in Bond, and the scene where they meet in particular is not only incredibly suspenseful, but it quickly leads to a fantastic fight scene.
The reason Grant is probably my favorite Bond hencheman by far is that we are lead to see him as the Soviet's answer to Bond; cold, merciless, and willing to complete any job at any cost.
Hell find Bond for three, but he'll catch 'im, an' kill 'im, fer ten.
Photo Credit: United Artists/MGM

In most other ways, this is a pretty great movie. The action is surprisingly exhilarating for it's time, and the performances and setpieces are all fun to watch. It drags occasionally, not so much on the train, which has the great chemistry between Connery, Bianchi, and the always hovering Shaw to keep it interesting, but a lot of the scenes in Istanbul could feel a little unnecessary. But for a truly great Bond movie, or even just a taught, engaging intelligence thriller, this is a good choice.

A

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Bondathon: Dr. No (1962)



Great, now Bondathon can get started proper. Dr. No, for those of you don't, well, "No", I guess, is the first official Bond film ever made and released in theaters. But because this is the first Bond film, there's a lot of background to cover. The novel "Dr. No" was not, for example the first James Bond book (it's the sixth, released in '58), nor is it the most classic (I know that's a subjective statement but this is a blog so it's fact), nor was it the most popular. All of those things describe Casino Royale, but the rights to that book had been sold in the mid-fifties to someone else. More on that later, trust me. Fortunately, Bond was an established character in an entire franchise of popular books to choose from at this point. Like Jack Reacher, or Katniss, only more people than your dad and your sister liked
him.

So naturally, the time came to create a film franchise. Now I could go all E-True Hollywood Story on you and try and convince you that it was a long-shot, and then show interviews with a bunch of talking heads saying things like "nobody knew it would work!" and "there was a huge risk" and "everyone thought he was crazy!" and "he eventually wound up in rehab", because, while there's certainly an element of all that (except for rehab), as there is with any venture in Hollywood, it's mostly bullshit. It was the Lord of the Rings or Star Wars of it's time; there may have been a risk, but the smart (and shrewd) definitely saw the reward. Sure, not everyone saw the investment value in it; this was, after all, an older, more artistic Hollywood. A Hollywood where Douglas's were Kirked and Hitches were Cocked (those both sound painful...), and movies generally weren't blockbusters unless they were old enough to legally drink and involved Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable sighing at each other for three-and-a-half fucking hours.
Just kidding, no hour spent watching this movie will be a fucking hour. That's for sure....

But the right man saw a way to turn this film into a franchise, showing an attitude towards movies that was surprisingly ahead of his time (if this were to happen today, he would have had reboots planned, and each film would be in three parts). This man was Albert R. Broccoli. Remembering that Salt always went great with Broccoli (I'm so sorry...) Al teamed up with Harry Saltzman, who had recently gotten film rights from the man, myth, and legend himself, Ian Fleming, for seven movies. United Artists, upon hearing this, offered complete financial backing. In order to hold the rights, Saltzy and Brocolli created the company EON to produce the movies, and Hollywood was one step closer to being the sequel-crazy industry it is today.

There's more too, about how the first script involved Dr. No being a monkey, but that's not important.

No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die.

Dr. No
Photo credit: United Artists/MGM

Date: 1962
Director: Terence Young
Bond: Sean Connery
Number: 1
Starring: Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman, Jack Lord, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell.
The one with: "Bond, James Bond", Ursula-in-Undress, Jamaica, the tarantula, the "dragon", radioactive material, guy with metal hands.


The plot is actually not that complicated. When a British agent in Jamaica is killed by black blind people, MI6 suspects treachery and sends another agent to go take his place and investigate the circumstances of his death. Because Jamaica is rife with crime, gambling, and naked women, but also seems to be an intelligence dead-zone where odd happenings occur, it fits that MI6 send an agent who is both sexy and dangerous enough to investigate in ways other men cannot. This agent is codenamed 007, but this code name proves pointless because he announces his real name to literally every person who will hear it. Apparently his name is Bond James Bond, which is how he introduces himself.

Bond James Bond arrives in Jamaica and meets with CIA agent Felix Leiter, who reveals that he is investigating a signal in the area that is jamming American rockets! With the help of Jamaican associate Mr. Quarrel, Agent Bond James Bond goes to the island of Crab Key, where he investigates strange ongoings that involve miners mining for suspicious rocks under the employ of the mysterious Dr. No.

Will Agent 007 be able to find out what is happening at crab key? Can he beat a man with metal hands in a fight? What is the nature of the mysterious bikini women he meets, and does it involve romance? You'll have to watch to find out the answers to these questions, which are probably, hopefully, and definitely. 

Bond

Photo Credit: United Artists/MGM
 First thing's first: as popular as the books were, and as unpopular (I'm assuming) as that Climax! show was, this was Bond's introduction to a whole world of fans; and the same goes for his actor, Sean Connery. A little background (you should be used to it by now): Connery was not the first choice for Bond. Fleming didn't like him, he wanted David Niven (I'll tell you how that went...), it was Broccoli who chose Connery, a young bodybuilder at the time. The reason being, I suppose, that a young man without much money could be taught to be dapper, but a rich gentlemen could not be taught to be a badass. 

The results are obvious; Connery is fantastic. To get the obvious stuff out of the way, he's suave and sexy from the moment he introduces himself in the middle of lighting a cigar at a table, but he's also dangerous in the way that women like. Or, in the modern vernacular, "he's a hilarious douchebag." Bond doesn't give a shit. He sleeps with plenty of women even though he clearly has a girlfriend back home, not to mention a receptionist with whom he clearly has a history. He's also dangerous in the way that men like, or in the modern vernacular "he might be a psycopath". He famously murders a guy in cold blood in one scene. It's exciting because this is the first time we're meeting the character, and even if you've seen the movies before, watching Connery in the role is a whole different experience.

But the main thing Connery brings to the role is humor, which is something he would later admit in interviews to being a personal choice. Bond never takes himself too seriously, even when he's doing serious stuff, and this would turn out to be why we loved him.

The Villain

Photo Credit: United Artists/MGM
The villain is, of course, Dr. Julius No, which is almost certainly a fake name constructed to either do evil or write detective books. Dr. No is played by Joseph Wiseman, who rarely gets the credit he deserves as the first true Bond villain, perhaps because he doesn't actually show up until fairly late into the film. But that's kind of the point, for most of the film he is MIA, and this somehow makes him that much more creepy. He sets the precedence for baddies who can use money and power to make bad things happen and then cover it up, but when he finally arrives we're not let down. He just exudes power. He matches Bond's humor by being entirely cold and humorless. He's not a perfect Bond villain, and indeed we get some much better ones later on, but for his film he works.

Bond Girls


Photo Credit: United Artists/MGM
Ursula Andress, as Honey Ryder, is sexy, in that weird "she's really really old now"kind of way. Honestly, her acting isn't great though. I know that's a weird thing to want from a role that's historically played by models, but work with me here. I was kind of underwhelmed. We also get Eunice Grayson as Bond's on-again-off-again girlfriend Sylvia Trench.


Review

I'll try and keep this short because this is already a long-ass post. Basically, when I undertook "Bondathon" I wanted to answer the question of "if you're going to sit down and watch a Bond movie, which one should it be?" While it depends on what you're looking for, Dr. No is a pretty great place to start, because, well, it's where everyone started.

 Honestly, when you come down to it, Dr. No is not a very good Bond movie, because it seems like it doesn't offer anything at all new, because when it came out everything was new. It is, however, a great movie for that reason, if only in the sense that introduces us to Bond, and all the crazy things he does. Even when it's slow, it's suspenseful, and when it's fast, it doesn't get too silly. 

The supporting cast is very good as well, we get introduced to Bernard Lee as M, Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny, and Jack Lord as Felix Leiter. It's not perfect, the action isn't very believable. You may say that's a lame accusation for a movie from the sixties, but the next two movies have incredible action for their time.

Ultimately, Dr. No is't just a Bond movie, it's the original Bond movie. So it's a fun, exciting, and cool introduction to the series, but to someone already familiar with the character, it only really offers novelty. 

Rating: A-