Friday, 28 October 2011

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

With time running out for this month's Blogalongabond, I decided to type as I watched The Spy Who Loved Me. There are maybe a few post-viewing additions, but generally these are the thoughts that tumbled out of my noggin as I watched.

The pre-title sequence is fairly well done; a great double entendre from M; “Tell him to pull out”, a bit of nuclear submarine disappearance exposition, some well shot (apart from the close ups) skiing action, and some quality 70s wacka wacka music (that was a wah wah pedal btw). This is followed by the very understated but cool title song, Nobody does it better.

I do love the way that for all of the sophisticated technology on display, the route of the submarine is displayed on an etch-a-sketch map, and overlaid with tracing paper to show that someone is now able to track the route.

The Spy Who Loved Me introduces us to Jaws, perhaps (to me anyway), the most iconic of evil henchmen. Portrayed by the giant Richard Kiel, no metal bars or locks can contain him; though his vampiric way of dispatching people (and sharks) is rather unconvincing. Speaking of iconic, the car is that wonderful white lotus that I remember getting free with cornflakes or something; and it is quite a cool shot as it drives out of the water onto the beach.

The first half of the film is concerned with tracking down some microfilm McGuffin, as Jaws tried to bump off anyone connected to it. At least the search leads them to some tremendous locations including the Pyramids at Giza and Karnak. Though it’s quite a trek from Cairo to Karnak, only to then get a boat back to Cairo, but then end up in Abu Simbel which is in the opposite direction (if my geography and google maps research is right)! The second part of the story sees 007 and Vin Deisel agent XXX, tracking down the evil Karl Stromberg who is hiding out in his very own Atlantis, and ship courtesy of Ken Adam’s set design. The ship even comes complete with a set of red-shirts ripe for the killing; the whole battle towards the end is rather reminiscent of YOLT, though rather less haphazard.

Great score by Marvin Hamlisch, I liked the mysterious themes around Karnak, and then I suddenly realised the Lawrence of Arabia theme as 007 and XXX walk around the desert. Though I wasn’t sure about the French music in Sardinia. Some of the music sounds really quite 70s and dated, but it is still quite groovy and works well within the film.

Once again Roger seems to be enjoying himself, having a bit more spring in his step than in The Man with the Golden Gun, though his one-liners got cringeworthy quite quickly: “All those feathers and he still can’t fly!”. Though amazingly there is actually a reference to 007 being married before! Barbara Bach is reasonably alright as Major Anya Amasova (Agent XXX), she seems fairly strong headed and in control; that is until Roger flashes his huge nipples at her and suddenly her tit-tape is straining at all her skimpy tops! Curd Jürgens is good as the evil Karl Stromberg, a marine biologist with designs on starting a new world order. His gravely voice is the dominant force in every scene that he is in; though I was surprised how quickly he died. Obviously having being shot several times, he would die quickly; rather I am surprised that Bond just shot him, with no daft slapstick punch up and slow motion.

TSWLM is more of a return to the fun and intrigue of LALD after the rather more linear story of TMWTGG. Great locations, groovy music, iconic car and henchman, Roger seems to still be enjoying himself; the only fly in the ointment is perhaps the naff one-liners.

Order of Preference so far: (this is starting to get difficult)

You Only Live Twice, Goldfinger, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Live and Let Die, The Spy Who Loved Me, From Russia with Love,  Dr No, The Man with the Golden Gun, Diamonds are Forever, Thunderball

Thursday, 27 October 2011

In-flight movies

The one advantage of long-haul transatlantic flights with KLM was the very impressive range of films available for in-flight entertainment. Of course, this is tempered by having to watch them on a screen slightly less impressive than this laptop, and having to press the naff earphones into my skull to hear much over the noise of the 747. Before I give any more excuses for these briefest of reviews, this is what I watched.

Green Lantern (2011)

One of the main selling points of Green Lantern was the special effects, and given that I was watching on a tiny screen, they were lost on me. This meant that I could concentrate on mundane things such as acting, script, and character development (so old school!). I thought Ryan Reynolds was both bored and boring, he was a bit of a cocky Maverick type initially (his first 20 min of the film was essentially Top Gun, but nowhere near as good), acted like he couldn't care less when he went to Oa, and I don't really feel that he became humble or redeemed himself by the end (despite defeating Megamind Parallax). I thought Mark Strong was completely wasted, and Peter Sarsgaard's character was just plain weird/rubbish. I realise that this "origin" kind of film required a lot of exposition, but I think it could have been done so much better; and given that the Green Lantern can summon anything he can imagine, I thought the film really lacked imagination.

Rango (2011)

This was really quite fun; quirky story, excellent animation, really good voice actors. I felt that the actors would be obvious and over the top as they can sometimes be in animations, (I was worried about Johnny Depp in particular), but they weren't. Rather than model the characters on the actor, I felt the actors really tried to fit the characters, which is how it should be really. In addition to the animation being first class, the use of high contrast in the desert, and the use of shadows indoors gave it a very different feeling to most of Pixar/Dreamworks offerings; it felt more gritty and somehow more real. Perhaps this is because Roger Deakins was a visual consultant on the film, and also having ILM do the animation probably helped. The music by Hans Zimmer was pretty cool too. A very enjoyable animated adventure from Gore Verbinski.

The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

Director George Nolfi's first film is an interesting take on the idea that we don't have free will, and that our lives are predetermined. Matt Damon is running to be elected as the mayor of  New York, when he meets dancer Elise (Emily Blunt). They get on really well, but they are not destined to be together. There is an organisation whose job it is to make sure that everything in the world proceeds according to plan, and Matt Damon's career is far to important to be distracted by Elise. The organisation is the Adjustment Bureau, and via some high-tech gizmos, as well as the ability to open doors (literally) to anywhere, they set about adjusting the world (well New York anyway) so that humans don't destroy themselves. Matt Damon is alright, as is Emily Blunt; far more interesting were John Slattery and Terence Stamp as members of the Bureau. The film was very interesting and had a very Matrixy feel to it. Of course it was rather the wrong kind of film to watch on the plane as there was a lot of dialogue that was difficult to hear. It will definitely be going on my LoveFilm list though.

Battle Los Angeles (2011)

I started watching this because I couldn't get to sleep, and I thought it might help! Unfortunately it was better than I expected and I didn't fall asleep at all. If I was grading it in Hogwarts I would definitely give it an EE; it exceeds expectations. Aliens are landing all over the world and the film follows a squad of marines in Los Angeles as they attempt to resist the invasion. Aaron Eckhart is an unlikely hero, but he does well enough, Michelle Rodriguez is probably the other most interesting character, but this is hardly a character driven film. Director Jonathan Liebesman has made an okay action movie, probably because he chose to position the camera very close to the marines to give it an almost documentary feel that is very reminiscent of Black Hawk Down. The aliens are pretty cool as well. Not as bad as expected, but hardly a great movie.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Interruption to FilmsrRuss

Just in case some people think that I have fallen off the planet, I am going on holiday for a couple of weeks. Yay!
Normal service will resume towards the end of October, starting with the films I saw at the end of September!

Take care everyone.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Memento (2000)

Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) suffers from Anterograde Amnesia; a condition which means that he can’t form new memories. His condition started one night at home when he was hit on the head by an assailant who was strangling his wife to death. Leonard spends the duration of the film trying to find his wife’s killer. Being a tricky thing to do with short-term memory loss, Leonard comes up with unique ways to carry out his investigation.

Christopher Nolan’s second major film as director is very cleverly told, and is really an indication that as a director he is not afraid to challenge audiences, believing us to actually be quite intelligent. Based on the short story “Memento Mori” written by Chris’ brother Jonathan, Memento is really a very linear story; however, the film is not so straightforward. One section of the film is in black & white and plays forward, being concerned with Leonard’s background; the first part of the film essentially. The “second” part of the film, shot in colour, is interspersed with the “first” part, but the narrative is backwards. So the film starts at the end, and the two sections meet in the middle, at the end of the film.

This may initially sound like quite a pretentious thing to do, but it is very clever and actually makes complete sense with respect to the story. Running chapters of the story backwards (in reverse order of course, not actually backwards, that would be nuts) means that for any given scene, how Leonard arrives at that situation is unknown. This is exactly how Leonard feels because he can’t form new memories. This goes beyond empathising with the character, because of this narrative technique we are afflicted with the same condition as Leonard. Fantastic.

Guy Pearce is excellent as Leonard, being helpless yet determined, and often the voice of his thoughts as he tries to figure out what is going on. The two main support actors are also great. Joe Pantoliano is perfect as Teddy, the cop that is helping Leonard in his investigation. His exuberance balances Leonard’s quiet and calculated approach; he plays the fine line between help and hindrance very well, so that we are never quite sure of his motives. Carrie-Ann Moss, is also very good as the girl stuck in a bad relationship, who sees Leonard as a means to an end. I should also mention some lovely cinematography by long-term Chris Nolan favourite Wally Pfister; particularly some of the moody “colour” interiors, and the high-contrast shots for the black & white sequences, which perhaps all add to the confusion felt by Leonard.

It is certainly a film that demands a re-watch, I think one of the DVD extras allows you to watch the film in chronological order, but that of course lessens the impact of it all.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Tombstone (1993)

Unfortunately I'm writing this so long after I saw the film (about 5 months) that I've forgotten most of it! I do remember that Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell) moves out to Tombstone, AZ, having given up being a bad-ass Sheriff; but he can't get away from it all as easy as he hoped. No matter how he tries, he can't keep from antagonising bad guys (of which you would imagine there were quite a few in a place called Tombstone), he makes enemies and there is a chain of events that leads up to a shootout at the OK corral.

The only other thing I can really remember is that Val Kilmer was surprisingly good as the sick and ailing Doc Holliday. Maybe if I watch this again I'll post a better review in the comments below. I do remember it was quite enjoyable though!

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

“Oh, good. For a moment there I thought we were in trouble”

This 1969 film directed by George Roy Hill recounts some the escapades and close calls of two of the most enigmatic outlaws in American history. I only saw this film for the first time recently and fell in love with it; and although I generally think westerns are brilliant as a genre, this is something very different from most of them. So here are 5 reasons why I love Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid.

1) Chemistry

Of course I’m referring to the onscreen chemistry between Paul Newman (Butch) and Robert Redford (Sundance), rather than an H2O2 kind of way. Both actors are fantastic, and the banter between them feels so natural and organic (chemistry again!). Newman is lively, cocky, quick-witted, and looks like he’s really enjoying himself. Robert Redford is a lot more brooding, and has many a smouldering look (if blue eyes can be smouldering).

I think that there are two scenes early on that really demonstrate the characteristics of these criminals, and their relationship. The first is a card game that Sundance is playing with two other guys in a gloomy bar. Throughout the scene the camera is fixed on Sundance as we see how calm he is under pressure, with total belief in himself. We also find out that his reputation precedes him, as the other gambling fella changes his attitude when he finds out his opponent is the Sundance Kid. Robert Redford is very good, and his eye-acting is equally good! Initially his eyes are flicking between his cards and his opponents, but soon they are just staring out into the middle distance in incredulity; he really can’t believe this guy is accusing him of cheating and is now challenging him.

The second is a scene where Butch’s dominance of his gang is challenged by Harvey Logan. Butch has a quick scrap with him (obviously he comes out on top), but the way he wins is by quick thinking and (sort of) cunning. This really sums up Butch. Just before the fight, there is a brilliant little exchange between Butch and Sundance. Logan announces that if he beats and kills Butch then Sundance is welcome to stay. Butch whispers to Sundance: “Listen, I don't mean to be a sore loser, but when it's done, if I'm dead, kill him.” Sundance simply says: “Love to.” and waves like this:

Certainly a lot of the best scenes have an element of humour in them as Paul and Bob play off each other, such as the scene before they leap from a cliff into a river, or just before the iconic last scene when Butch suggests that they should go to Australia.

2) Cinematography

Thanks to Conrad Hall (who won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography for his work here) the whole film is gorgeous; as well as wonderful vistas the characters are beautifully framed, and often shot from behind foliage/buildings. Having watched the “Making of” documentary on the DVD, it seems that Conrad liked to shoot into the sun giving the film an overexposed washed out feel to it; a lot of it has a sepia look to it which matches so well with all the still photographic sections of the film.

As I've already mentioned, near the beginning of the film is a scene where Sundance is playing cards with two other fellas (one is Sam Elliott but you don’t really see him). A lot of the exchange between the players is done in one shot, focussing on Sundance (this time being shot from behind the other players), and the lighting for the whole scene is very subdued, adding to the uncertainty of the outcome. Especially brilliant is the last shot as Butch and Sundance burst out guns firing, whereupon the picture freezes, the colour bleeds out to leave a sepia image that the camera then pulls away from. Brilliant and iconic.

3) Script

Of course, one of the reasons that the banter between Butch and Sundance is so good is the quality of the script. Throughout the film the writing is sharp, witty and lively. Of course it helps that Newman and Redford’s on screen relationship is such that the script really comes alive. However, as Newman says in interviews, the script was so good that it would have worked with almost any actors. Presumably it was this genuine quality that the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences saw in writer William Goldman’s script when he won the award for Best Writing.

4) We’ve been there!

Apologies for bringing up our amazing holiday again, but films become so much more fun when you can specifically picture being in that landscape. Some sections of the film were shot in an abandoned town called Grafton in Utah, just round the corner from Zion National Park. Unfortunately we only discovered after we had left the area that Grafton was only 5 miles down the road from where we stayed! But some of it is shot in Zion National Park itself:

5) Woodcock / You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!

Woodcock is a minor recurring character, whose role it is to safeguard the safe of money on the Union Pacific Railroad that Butch’s gang periodically hold up. The fact that having blown him up once, Butch recognises his voice when they next hold up a train is a great touch. Unfortunately for Woodcock, having reinforced the safe, more dynamite is required with alarming results:

One thing that you might not like: The slightly silly scene where Paul Newman rides around on a new bicycle, while Katharine Ross sits on the handlebars and Burt Bacharach sings “Raindrops keep falling on my head”! It’s a fairly ridiculous scene even if the song won the Oscar for Best Song!

So there you go, that’s my love letter to Butch and Sundance. What do you think? Is it that good, or am I seeing it through rose tinted glasses after my holiday?