Saturday, August 31, 2013

Prime Cuts :: Clearing Out the Amazon Instant Que :: The 23 Overnights of Bond Edition :: A Full Debriefing on the Complete Dossiers of Timothy Dalton, George Lazenby and a Recycled Sean Connery.

For those of you tuning in late, Amazon Prime currently has about 20 of the 23 Bond films streaming for free right now. And so, somewhat moronically, I've set out on a fool's quest to watch them all in something I've dubbed 23 Overnights of Bond over on Facebook, with running commentaries and after-action reports filed as each film is checked off during this three week long odyssey. Now, since I didn't want to watch them in order, I randomly started with Moonraker because, well, it had Space Marines and Space Marines are awesome. After which, I have been working out in a spiraling pattern from there, explaining the out of whack order of the write-ups. And after covering Roger Moore's run in the last update, we forge ahead with four more entries for your perusing pleasure before I take off on my September Sabbatical as we rank the whole series on a scale of 000 to 007. 
Folks who wrote off Timothy Dalton's run as 007 probably need to watch The Living Daylights again. Everything Daniel Craig is being praised for Dalton had already done and that seems unfair to me. Right Bond. Right Film. Wrong time, I guess, as right from the start Dalton's Bond is a little more blunt and to the point; a complete paradigm shift from Moore's take (-- kind of like the difference between using a chainsaw and a scalpel), as the franchise attempted to return to its (at least a little) more serious roots after playing toward a younger matinee crowd over the last few entries. This proved too much for some, which is too bad, because, you're missing a pretty great movie. Anyhoo, also great to see the Aston Martin gadgeted out and in action again. (And a big shout out to the cello toboggan that I had misplaced in at least three other entries.) Also, some great practical F/X and amazing stunt-work this round, too, especially that fight while dangling out of the transport plane, helps grease the plot along. However, contrary to what you've heard, turns out cellists make shitty pilots.
Also, also, Dalton and Maryam D'abo sparked the chemistry set well enough, and I appreciated the complexity of the conspiratorial knot Bond had to first untangle before finally taking out the bad guys, played beautifully with bluster and boobery by Russian turncoat Jerome Krabbe and American arms dealer Joe Don Baker. (Oddly enough, Joe Don Baker's anthropomorphic wax dummy tribute to tyrants is even more creepy than the wax museum I witnessed in Tijuana, Mexico. Odder still, all the wax figures there resembled Eddie Murphy. Weird.) There's some morbidly unintended humor, too, as Bond joins John Rambo in the cinematic fight to help the heroic Mujahideen kick those pesky Russian aggressors out of Afghanistan. (IRONY! See also Rambo III.) Now, I know Team Eon wanted Pierce Brosnan to take over the mantle for The Living Daylights until they ran into a Steele wall, but their Plan B worked out just fine. They were lucky to have him, and Dalton's run really needs to be remembered as more than just a stop gap between Moore and Brosnan. Final score: 005 out of 007.
Quickly realizing George Lazenby was going to be more of a liability than a solution (both onscreen and off), United Artists stepped in as a mediator between a feuding Sean Connery and Team EON and offered the actor a buttload of money to come back for another go around as 007. Sadly, about five minutes into Diamonds Are Foreverit becomes quite apparent that Connery is acting like the check already cleared and just walked through the remaining two hours as quickly as humanly possible. As a friend of mine so brilliantly put it "My distinct impression of this movie is it's like watching someone wait semi-patiently in the buffet line." (Jessica Ritchey's Book of Film Genius: pg 56.) The plot proper itself isn't all that terrible, with the opener focusing on Bond seemingly settling scores over the murder of his wife in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. From there, we're soon knee deep in a plot over diamond smugglers, who need the gems to build an orbiting space laser that all ties into a billionaire recluse holed up somewhere in Las Vegas.
And as a vintage Vegas time capsule is the only place where the film really excels. (The scenes in Circus Circus are AMAZEBALLS. I remember actually witnessing one of those women turned into gorilla sideshow acts firsthand.) The two fey assassins are pretty great, I think, and Jill St. John is completely adorable, but I believe it was the death of Lana Wood's Plenty O'Toole where the quarter finally dropped for me on how this kind of horrible death happened A LOT in this franchise to A LOT of an ancillary characters, almost all of them female; and I've been very sour on this repeating (and at the end of the day, very lazy,) plot contrivance ever since. And while we're at it, I'm also gonna call bullshit on how the tide turned in Bond's battle with Bambi and Thumper. (Hard to call it a battle when he was getting his ass so thoroughly kicked.) The final Big Battle on the oil platform, which is nothing but flybys, explosions, and general running around, fizzles but I did like how Bond used Blofeld's escape craft as a wrecking ball (-- also nice to see the 'and counting' timekeeper in action again); and I don't think I've ever laughed quite so hard as I did at the shot of the burning Chinese soldier, matted in rather ridiculously, during Blofeld initial laser rampage. But! This was quickly offset by the invading images of Charles Gray making his escape in drag. *bleaurgh*. Not all that terrible, but not all that great, either, is a kind way of saying one man's pile of shit is another's gilded turd. Myself? I lean more toward the latter. Final Score: 003 out of 007.
Okay, so apparently you need a license to kill before you can take licence to kill. I think. (Yeah, I never noticed that before either.) Whichever or whatever, this time it's personal, folks, as 007 goes rogue to bring down, basically, Carlos the Jackal (Robert Davi), who orchestrated the maiming of his best friend and the murder of his wife on their wedding day. (A familiar scenario that I'm sure tripped a few mental 'kill' switches in our hero.) I remember seeing this in the theater back in '89 and being disappointed, but after finally watching it again, Licence to Kill was either a lot better than I remembered or, more than likely, something finally clicked for me this time through. Yeah, a lot of folks, myself included, were down on this grittier, grislier, and (definitely) more violent version of Bond and how they basically plugged him into a terribly clichéd and completely telegraphed plot more suitable for Schwarzenegger, Stallone, or even Michael Dudikoff, saying it doesn't jive properly as a Bond film. Well, nine films into this retrospective and I can definitely say that kind of drastic tonal inconsistency is a problem NOT exclusive to Licence to Kill.
Here, Team EON basically did what they always did: cash in on popular cinematic trends; this time the 1980's action/revenge movie (with nods to Lethal Weapon and Scarface, and a definite Michael Mann / Miami Vice aesthetic in the wardrobe and production design), and then tried to pound the usual 'round' Bond tropes into this very square hole. So, if anything, Licence to Kill is a model of consistency. It truly is a Golan and Globus movie with an A-Budget, and I think it should be celebrated as such. Dalton definitely brings a feral edge to Bond, and it serves him well, here. Davi is great, as always, and his main henchman is played by a 12 year old Benecio del Toro. (At least he looked 12. And, holy crap, is this thing chock full the 1980's edition of 'that guy'.) And I had completely forgotten that Carey "Law&Order" Lowell was the Bond Girl in this; and she is both stunningly gorgeous and holds her own when the bullets start flying. (As the old song goes, 'She's got legs. And she knows how to use them.') The final convoy battle is patently ridiculous, yes, but what else would one expect from this franchise? Just watch it again. Trust me. Final score: 004 our of 007.
Feeling exploited financially and overexposed everywhere else, a bitter Sean Connery gave Team EON the finger and exited, stage left, after You Only Live Twice. Enter George Lazenby, a male model with zero acting experience, who somehow lied and bullshitted his way into one of the biggest roles in cinema as the new James Bond for On Her Majesty's Secret Service. I know the man has his defenders, and even I don't think he's all THAT bad, but, lets step back, take another look at the movie again, and really reevaluate this thing. To start, do you all remember the scene in Singing in the Rain, when Don, Kathy and Cosmo salvage The Dueling Cavalier by turning it into an outlandish musical extravaganza whose main objective was to hide Lina Lamont's shortcomings as an actress? As I watched On Her Majesty's Secret Service again I got the same impression of all involved working extra hard to overcompensate for Lazenby's lack of range. Again, to be fair, Lazenby isn't that terrible but he is very inconsistent, depending on what he was called on to do. For as good as he was in the dust-ups and stunts, his attempts at humor -- especially the punctuating punning is pretty atrocious, and he has the charming romantic swagger of a drunken fratboy. He also eats and botches several lines that make it into the film, making one wonder if director Peter Hunt knew wasting film on any additional takes would solve nothing. 
And truth be told, everything else around him, the co-stars (big nods to Rigg and Savalas), the action set-pieces, the editing (except for the inexplicable skip-framing in a couple of fights), the sets themselves, the production design, George Baker's dubbing assist, the costuming, even the soundtrack (major kudos to John Barry, whose running theme is probably the best in the series), are all making Lazenby look better than he really is. C'mon. Admit it. And there was no way in hell the production team could keep that kind of effort up as the series progressed and would've only exposed his short-comings even more. As is, Lazenby was good enough to make On Her Majesty's Secret Service one of my favorite Bond movies. (The assault on Piz Gloria is probably the most ambitious and well-executed Big Battle sequences of the entire franchise.) But try as I might, I cannot see him making Diamonds Are Forever work, let alone Live and Let Die. And, yeah, there are days where I openly wish Connery had stuck around for one more go, or even Moore taking over one film earlier. For if they had, On Her Majesty's Secret Service would probably be remembered, rightfully, as the best Bond ever and not as Lazenby's one off. Final score: 006 out of 007.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Favorites :: Soundtracks :: Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai's Amazing Awesomeness of Operation: Kid Brother (1967)

Operation: Kid Brother a/k/a O.K. Connery a/k/a Operation: Double 007 is producer Dario Sabatello and director Alberto De Martino's completely demented Italian James Bond knock-off about what happens when your top spy isn't available to save the world from a dastardly plot and your fall back plan is to recruit his younger brother. (Just roll with it, folks.) Made to help feed the world's spies and espionage-addled cinematic appetite, their end result is both great and goofy as all hell. The production landed Sean Connery's brother, Neil, for the lead (he's honestly not that terrible), and several other Bond mainstays, including Bernard Lee (M) and Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny, who kicks butt in this thing), and former Bond Girl Daniela Bianchi (From Russia with Love), and arch-villain Adolfo Celi (Thunderball) to round out the cast, who are all plugged into a plot that makes no sense, but you, like me, probably won't give a shit as this thing washes over you. And on top of all that, we get an inspired musical score co-conspired by the great Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai, with a vocal assist by Maria Cristina Brancucci.

Video courtesy of Valdez244.

Yeah. Good luck getting that out of your head. Alas, the movie itself is not available on this side of the pond except on VHS, but the film was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000; an episode that is currently available in one of the boxsets.

Operation: Kid Brother (1967) Produzione D.S. :: United Artists / P: Dario Sabatello / D: Alberto De Martino / W: Paolo Levi, Frank Walker, Stanley Wright, Stefano Canzio / C: Giovanni Bergamini / E: Otello Colangeli / M: Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai / S: Neil Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Adolfo Celi, Lois Maxwell, Bernard Lee

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Prime Cuts :: Clearing Out the Amazon Instant Que :: The 23 Overnights of Bond Edition :: A Full Debriefing on Roger Moore's Run....

As I stated in the last post, Amazon Prime currently has about 20 of the 23 Bond films streaming for free right now. And so, somewhat foolhardily, I've set out on a quest to watch them all in something I've dubbed 23 Overnights of Bond over on Facebook, with running commentaries and after-action reports filed after each film is checked off during this three week long odyssey. Now, since I didn't want to watch them in order, I randomly started with Moonraker because, well, I like Moonraker and have been working out in a spiraling pattern from there. And with the first week in the can, I thought I'd share what we've gotten thru so far as we rank the series on a scale of 000 to 007. 

Right from the start you'll know something's a little ... well, off, when the spectacular opening sequence of Moonraker, with Bond and his assassins free-falling out of an airplane with no parachute (-- gawd do I miss the days of pre-CGI blockbusters and the truly amazing stunt-work and practical F/X it has replaced), ends with Richard Kiel flapping his arms like a chicken and crashing into a circus tent. At that point, you can either turn your nose up, or you can smile wryly and nod and play along. (And in somewhat of an ironic twist, the plot that follows is stolen wholesale from an old Dino de Laurentiis flick. Which flick? Glad you asked...) For if you do, the rewards are plenty in the mounting stoopidity of it, for sure. 

But! There's also a fairly under-appreciated Bond Girl (Lois Chiles), a fairly under-appreciated arch-nemesis (Micael Lonsdale), an amazing sequence where 007 actually SAVES one of his auxiliary sexual conquests from certain death, top-notch F/X, and the last of the franchises' climactic Big Battle sequences courtesy of a battalion of Space Marines. (Shut up. Space Marines are awesome. They have lasers. And they're shiny. Because they're Space Marines. SHUT UP! And, hey! Maybe Drax will bump into the astronaut from You Only Live Twice?) Okay, fine, yeah, like everyone else I did get a sense that the director basically said f@ck it and spliced the gag reel into the movie proper as the 'derp' factor in Moonraker is just astronomically staggering. But it's still a ton of fun and I still dug it. Final score: 005 out of 007. 

After the outlandish heights in both concept and execution of Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only scales things back and sobers stuff up considerably from the get-go and I, for one, found this to be oddly refreshing. (Even the infernal puns are toned down.) However, I will take to task another floundering opening sequence, which had started off so well, with a nice nod to the past via a visit to his wife's grave and a final confrontation with Blofeld, topped off with some amazing stuntwork and aerial acrobatics with the chopper, which is then completely undone by several incredibly stupid bits of dialogue. ("I'll buy you a delicatessen?" ... "Keep your hair on?" ... May I remind you that this is the man who murdered the woman in the grave you just visited?) *sheesh* So much for gravitas. Beyond that, For Your Eyes Only recovers fairly well from this horrific misstep with an all out chase scene through an ersatz Olympic village on skis, and a pretty cool deathtrap escape through a shark-infested coral reef sans water-skis. 

However, there a few other, not quite as horrific missteps along the way, namely the ice skater sublot (Jan Brady + Bond Girl = eyegittyeyegittyeyegitty...), and even the great 007 cannot make rock climbing all that exciting, cinematically speaking, in a sequence that takes way, way too long as a bridge to get to the climax. (Rock climbing and scuba diving? In the same movie? Man, they were just asking for tedious trouble, weren't they.) On the plus side you have one of the most exotically beautiful and pro-active Bond Girls ever in Carole Bouquet and her trusty crossbow; and not since Cheetah the monkey was mistaken for Hitler over the radio in Tarzan and the ... I Forget Which One but There Were Nazis has a film dared such komedy gold until Margaret Thatcher mistakes a randy parrot for 007. Add it all up and you, like me, will realize this one isn't all that great but not quite as bad as you'd remembered. So there's that, at least. Final score: 004 out of 007. 

Hell yeah! Now THAT's how you cap an opening sequence, folks. And after watching Moonraker and For Your Eyes Only completely flub their openers, watching Bond's parachute deploy as the 007 theme kicked in as a final exclamation point already has The Spy Who Loved Me, despite its overall aquatic theme, on rock solid ground from the word go. And to add even more heft to these originators, this one also sports my favorite theme song; with Carly Simon barely winning a helacious dogfight with Nancy Sinatra and Adele for that honor. As for the movie proper, if you're like me when thinking about this franchise, and can't remember which plot came from which movie, The Spy Who Loved Me is the one where the boat was eating nuclear submarines, the car turned into a sub, and the bad guy fed his pet shark via a trapdoor in an elevator. 

Are you all with me now? Good. Because there may be better Bond films out there but each and every one of them stumble and trip over something at some point; but while watching this one again I spotted nary a misstep from the quips, to the plot, to the execution. (Even Jaws works, though it might have been better as a one off like his Odd Job brethren.) Being completely mesmerized by the stunningly beautiful Barbara Bach and Caroline Munro doesn't hurt. And one of the true joys of The Spy Who Loved Me is the constant one-upsmanship and tete a tetes between Bond and Agent XXX. I mean, true two-way sexual tension in this franchise is a surprisingly rare commodity but this one has it in spades. Throw in some great gadgets (the aqua-car), a dastardly villain with a dastardly plot, and another spectacular Big Battle sequence as Bond leads the British, Russian and American submariners in revolt against Stromberg's goons (-- something sorely missing in the post-Connery/Moore era). My heart will always belong to Moonraker, but The Spy Who Loved Me is easily the best Moore Bond; and definitely deserves consideration as the best of the franchise period. Final Score: 007 out of 007. 

My name is Pussy. Octopussy ... Though my memories of this entry are not fond ones, the people have spoken and perhaps my memories were being a little too harsh. And, to be honest, the way my faulty memory has been recollecting this series, odds are I was p'rolly remembering the plot from A View to a Kill anyhow. Either way, after sobering things up considerably in For Your Eyes Only, team EON reversed course and pulled out all the stops to bury Kevin McClory and Sean Connery's faux Bond film released the same year. And though their efforts proved better than Never Say Never Again, and the film actually turned out better than I'd remembered, that just may be the apex example of damning with faint praise. (Bonus points for the auxiliary sexual conquest surviving and turning the tables on our hero, though.) It doesn't help that the film is hamstrung by Louis Jordan, who lacks the dramatic weight to pull off a Bond Villain. He had a great henchman, and he plays the slimy cad very well and would've been great as a stepping stone to get to the real villain, which is kinda set up if Maud Adams had been the true bad guy, but as the evil mastermind he was kinda meh

Also, the franchise always had a tendency to cash in on popular trends and while watching Indiana Bond and the Octopus that Laid a Crystal Egg one can easily sense the drastic shift in its target audience. I had honestly forgotten how this thing ended, and we definitely breach a whole new threshold of swallowed bullshit over the ever-escalating 'pffft!OKthen' climax -- a climax that starts with an army of Octopussi storming the castle and ends with an insane plane ride is somewhere between an Anthony Newley sex farce, John Derek's soft-core sleaze, and Stephen Spielberg's improbable chicanery (-- so when I say bullshit, I mean it most reverently, folks. And the plural of Octopussy is Octopussi, right?) Alas, these attempts to make it more fun and family friendly result in something rather silly and juvenile -- and teetering toward the abyss of moronically stoopid. (A decision that would ultimately torpedo Timothy Dalton's run.) And despite some pretty good stunts, and a couple of gags that actually work (ThanQ for more Q and 00Weissmuller FTW), these schizophrenic tonal inconsistencies ultimately sinks Octopussy for me. Final score: 004 out of 007. 

First and foremost: You all know the Bond theme kicked off when the laxative kicked in and 007 passed the spent golden bullet, right? (BahdapBAHDAHbahdadaaaaaah! Dip and *flush*) And I promise: No Fantasy Island or third nipple jokes will be harmed during the running of this commentary. (DerpderpDEEDERPdederpderp!) It's kinda funny but as I got deeper into Moore's run as 007, I found the ones I remembered fondly being not quite as good and the ones that stunk up my neurons wound up being better than I recalled. Weird. This holds true with The Man with the Golden Gun. Granted, it's still not all that great and I honestly cannot believe how I never noticed how blatantly the series cashed in on concurrent cinema fads; this time Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon takes a hit. 

A Hal Needham fueled car chase helps, along with an improbable cameo by Clifton James, but adding Goodknight (Britt Ekland) as the odious comedy relief did not. I did like the scene at the kick-boxing match between Bond, Scaramanga (Christopher Lee), Nick Nack (Hervé Villechaize) and Maud Adams' corpse, adding some dramatic weight to this tiresome and repeating plot contrivance of the auxiliary Bond girl's automatic death sentence. Beyond that, lots of international intrigue, a spy who was still taking his job seriously, and a pretty good villain / sidekick duo (-- who else wants to see a slow-mo kung-fu fight between Scaramanga and Nick-Nack? Show of hands? You, too, Kaytooooeee), all stuck in a plot that makes no sense. Also didn't help that the final duel fizzles pretty badly; and the solar widget macguffin should have remained just that. To sum up: This Gun misfired. Final score: 003 out of 007. 

My faulty memory told me I hated this one. And there really wasn't any doubts as my malfunctioning memory proved right; but after finishing up A View to a Kill I was at a loss trying to figure out exactly why I was so sour on this film. (And it had nothing to do with the master plan being lifted wholesale from Superman: The Motion Picture. 'MayDayburgh? This was your plan? Maydayburgh?!') Make no mistake, Moore's final entry as 007 is irredeemably and unabashedly stoopid -- and an epitomizing example of unintended hilarity. But instead of laughing along, I found myself cringing as Moore and Patrick MacNee puttered and doddered around, while our villains Christopher Walken and Grace Jones left no furniture unmarred, dentally speaking, and the less said of Stacey 'And she's a geologist, Ted' Sutton the better off we'll all be. (Of all the Bond Girls who died needlessly in this series, this one had to make it to the end. And I swear, half of the film's dialogue is the two leads screaming "James!" and "Stacey, look out for that blimp sneaking up on you!" at each other.)

Look, if you're shooting for camp, you have to be fully committed; but once more some drastic tonal inconsistencies completely scuttle this thread of thinking. I tried to get into the spirit of the Eh, why-the-hell-not-ness of A View to a Kill but I just couldn't get over the hump as one back-firing filmmaking decision after another behind the camera kept piling up (The Beach Boys? Really?), which brought on a sense of pity for all involved onscreen, making me feel guilty for laughing at them. (Thanks, movie.) Sure, May Day's redemptive F.U. to Zorin was pretty cool. (Some folks consider Jones a cinematic liability, but here, she's the films best asset.) And the whole thing might've been forgiven if the bad guy had just bounced off a few pylons or been decapitated by some supporting wires on his way down. As is, that was way too clean a death for such a big, mass-murdering meanie. (But if you'd like to see the birth of 'The Walken' tune in, here.) Look, it's p'rolly not as a bad as I'm making it out to be. No. Wait. It totally is. But, who knows, under different circumstances, and with the right crowd, it all might have clicked better for me. As is, A View to a Kill is quite the ignominious end for Moore's 007 run. *sigh* Final score: 001 out of 007. 

Of all the Bonds I remembered fondly, this is the one I openly feared wouldn't hold up. I figured it would be horribly dated -- or too rooted in the time it was made and grounded in the films it was cashing in on. And on paper, Live and Let Die shouldn't work. In fact, what boils down to a Blaxploitation Bond movie would/should/could/whatever be considered a monumentally dumb idea. But, oh my friends, does it work and work beautifully onscreen from character, to plot, to the action set-pieces, to the cast and crew who brought it all up to speed. It doesn't hurt that the opening title theme and credits knock you right on your ass after that fantastically intriguing opening sequence. After, Moore lands firmly on his feet, and never looks back. Yaphet Kotto manages to turn his caricature into a character, and his henchmen are both top notch and a hoot and half (-- with a special nod to Julius Harris and his mechanical hand. That smile alone could kill you three different ways). And, wow, Jane Seymour in those tight bodices ... [we interrupt this report for a few indecent thoughts] ... 

... I'm sorry, what were we talking about? Oh, yeah! Another thing I noticed this time through was the genuine guilt of both parties after the *ahem* deflowering of Solitaire. Solitaire for the betrayal of her boss, Bond over what he's taken from the girl, which I found to be a fairly nice touch for the usual love 'em and leave 'em (most times dead) cold 007. Right. Anyways, this wasn't my first Bond movie, but Live and Let Die is the one that always stuck with me most lucidly after seeing it as a movie of the week back in the 1970's, gathered around the old Zenith with my family unit: the faux funeral processions; Geoffry Holder's magnificent Baron Samedi; the voodoo ritual sequences; the alligator pit escape; Clifton James buffoonish cameo as Sheriff Roscoe P. Redneck; the brutal climax of the boat chase; Kananga slicing up Bond's forearm to attract the sharks; and the villain's ultimate Looney Tunes inspired demise both thrilled and weirded me out -- and all were indelibly etched into my brain as, for once, I didn't get any of the plot mixed up with another entry. This was also the first time I'd seen this unedited and commercial free, and in the proper aspect ratio, meaning I finally got to hear the fuddy co-pilot's reaction to their escape out of the hangar. (And I look forward to seeing all the preceding Bonds the same way.) On top of holding up so well, what really hit me was how much fun Live and Let Die is. Genuine fun, and not the kind of fun at the series' own expense that marred Moore's run as it devolved into self-parody. And not a very good self-parody at that. Final score: 006 out of 007. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Movie Poster Spotlight :: Īe, Mr. Bond Wa, Watashi Wa, Anata Ga Shinu Koto o Kitai! :: A Series of Japanese B2s for Roger Moore's Tenure as James Bond!

Live and Let Die (1973)

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

Moonraker (1979)

For Your Eyes Only (1981)

Octopussy (1983)

A View to a Kill (1985)

FYI. Amazon Prime has all the Bond films streaming for free as I type this up. And I, somewhat foolhardily, have embarked on a 23 day quest to watch them all. I'm two shy of finishing off Moore's run (where and how I picked a starting point I'll explain at a later date), so expect a full debriefing when I emerge, shaken, but not stirred, in the next couple of days.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Favorites :: Inks and Paints :: The Trick to Winning is Avoiding Any Imperial Smokies.

Art courtesy of the Old Red Jalopy by way of Drew Struzan.

I would give everything I have to make this movie happen, for real, just to get the following exchange:

"I must warn you ... I am Boba Fett."
"Boba Fett." 

And if that makes no sense to you, for heaven's sake, go and watch The Cannonball Run and see what a great idea this truly is. (Sorry, German was the best I could do.) I mean, Solo as Burt Reynolds? Chewbacca as Dom DeLuise? -- Going all Captain Chaos on a few Imperials! Fett as Roger Moore. Bossk as Bert Convy, popping a wheelie all across the galaxy with Dengar as his faux bride along for the ride? 4-LOM and Zuckuss as a couple of rednecks who crash their souped-up cruiser into the galactic hotel's swimming pool? A wampa as Jackie Chan! Good grief, this thing casts itself. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

YouTube Finds :: The Action COMES ALIVE as You Read! It's a Madhouse!!! Power Records Presents The Planet of the Apes.

Video courtesy of John Knutson.

I believe this record / comic book combo was my introduction to the Planet of the Apes franchise. I've gone into greater detail in other places on the trauma this series wreaked on my childhood, like the whole guerilla / gorilla conundrum, and this initial encounter also fah-reaked the crap out of five-year-old me, especially the opening hunt sequence and the death of astronaut Dodge by rifle fire.

The audio. The image. The CRACK.
The spasm. The scream. The blood.
E. Freakin'. Gad. Wow.

Power Records also released a record combo for Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes -- all of which go straight for the jugular, meaning it should come as a surprise to no one that Arvid Knudsen and his associates took a pass on the slightly more optimistic Battle for the Planet of the Apes.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Repost :: When Disney Went to College :: Kurt Russell Lives the Life of Reilly in the Medfield Universe.

There's an apocryphal story that says back in the 1960's, when producers Jim Nicholson and Sam Arkoff cast America's favorite Mouseketeer, Annette Funicello, for the lead in William Asher's Beach Party, the legend gushes over how Uncle Walt plumb blew a gasket and harangued American International's brass for ruining her wholesome image. Rumor also has it that Arkoff told Disney to go screw himself and allow the girl to grow up. In the end, as the fabled story continues, Arkoff did make one concession and promised Funicello would not appear in a bikini. She didn't, a two-piece, yes, but not an actual bikini. Either way, her days as Disney's golden girl were officially over. 

Now, if you jump ahead to the end of the next decade, we see the same familiar pattern with another Magic Kingdom mainstay. 

Aside from maybe Bruce Campbell's Ash, I don't think there's been a more popular, cocky, anti-hero/bad-ass icon amongst the B-Movie Brethren than Kurt Russell's Jack Burton or Snake Plissken. One wonders, however, how many of them actually realize how before he was a lean, mean, and morally suspect quipping machine our boy in question was a slightly chubby and cherubic teen idol who cut his acting teeth in a string of vanilla comedies for Walt Disney? See, the 1970s were an odd time for the Disney studios. And when they weren't making films about precious metal pooping water fowl, sentient Volkswagens, or cats from outer space, they were offering their own brand of teenage/young adult comedies, most of them set at mythical Medfield College (-- home of The Absent Minded Professor), which centered around the comical misadventures of one particular pupil: Dexter Reilly. 

In The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, when our boy Reilly (Russell) is involved in a freak electrical accident, where the resultant surge in voltage super-charges his brain, he becomes a walking encyclopedia. The story begins when the always cash-strapped Dean Higgins (Joe Flynn) refuses to fund a much needed computer for Medfield's science department. But always the entrepreneur, Dexter manages to talk local business tycoon and all-around no-goodnik A.J. Arno (Cesar Romero) into donating one. Arno does, a relic, en lieu of a promised $20000 contribution to the college coffers. And it's while trying to repair this temperamental contraption that Dexter gets zapped, transferring all the computer's stored data into his brain. 

A whirlwind world tour soon follows as the Dean exploits Dexter's new abilities as a windfall for the college. Of course, Dex's ego soon matches his inflated I.Q., but, this being a Disney movie and all, down comes the Clown-Hammer of Morality; and he soon sees the error of his ways and returns to his girl, Abbie (Debbie Paine), his bestest bud Schuyler (Mike McGreevy), and good old Medfield U. Of course, the school is still in dire financial straits, but a solution is found by using Dexter as a ringer in a series of collegiate quiz-bowls. Things go well until the semi-finals, when the effects of the accident appear to be wearing off, and then one of the answers, "applejack," triggers an involuntary avalanche of regurgitated names and numbers from Dexter. No one knows what to make of it -- except for Arno and his hired muscle, Cookie (Dick Bakalyan), who recognize the blathering as part of their highly illegal bookmaking operation (-- that was stored on the old computer, 'natch). So it isn't much of a surprise, then, that on the day of the finals, Dexter turns up missing. Not to worry, Annie figures it out, engineers a rescue, and then, needless to say, hijinks ensue... 

Personally, I was introduced to the Medfield Universe and its denizens on the small screen when Tennis Shoes showed up on The Wonderful World of Disney. But the sequel, Now You See Him, Now You Don't was one of the first films I remember seeing in a theater. I recall seeing all kinds of Disney fair when I was a kid, getting dropped off at the old Strand or Rivoli theaters with my siblings while my folks did whatever folks did in town when they didn't want their brood underfoot: Black Beard's Ghost, The Boatniks, The Gnome-Mobile, and an old William Castle movie about a house haunted by three ghosts, who murdered each other with meat-cleavers, which have all been expounded upon elsewhere. And we're here to talk about Dexter Reilly, anyways, right? Right. 

Okay, then, almost all of the old Medfield gang returned for Now You See Him, Now You Don't, where the rascally Reilly strikes again; this time accidentally inventing a substance that, when applied like paint, can turn things invisible (-- and can be easily removed with plain old H20). Once again, budget woes have Dean Higgins moaning to the Board of Trustees. And once again, enter A.J. Arno -- who must have beat the kidnapping and racketeering rap from the first film -- who takes over the school's debt. He claims his motives are altruistic, but Reilly and his gang don't buy it. And, using his latest invention, our hero sneaks into Arno's office to find out what he's really up to. Sure enough, Arno plans to shut the school down and turn it into a giant gambling resort. 

Then, things get kind of convoluted when they take the evidence to the Dean, whose solution is to get a grant to pay off Arno before he can foreclose on the property. And to do this, he must win a golf tournament. (Don't ask.) Win it he does, with Reilly's unseen help, but they've got bigger problems: Arno has figured out the invisibility ruse and has stolen what's left of the formula for his own nefarious purposes. More hijinks ensue... 

When viewed today, the matte F/X used to pull off the vanishing act doesn't hold up very well. But back when I was three, when Dexter sticks his fingers into the goo and pulls his hand back to reveal his missing fingers I nearly crapped out my Milk Duds, thinking they had been burned off by something caustic. 

Two years later, I was back in the same theater -- probably in the same balcony seat -- for the conclusion of the Medfield trilogy, The Strongest Man in the World, where once again, Reilly inadvertently creates a super-strength serum while mucking around the science lab. (And if you're thinking what I'm thinking at this point, yeah, I'm beginning to suspect Reilly was the illegitimate son of Ned Brainard, too.) With dollar signs flashing in his eyes, Dean Higgins wants to quickly cash in by selling the formula to Harriet Crumpley (Eve Arden) for her Crumply Crunch Breakfast cereal. His presentation is a smash, mostly for the furniture, but there's a snake lurking in the grass by the name of Harry (Dick Van Patten), who happily offers to sell the secret formula to the rival Krinkle Krunch cereal -- owned by none other than A.J. Arno. (And whatever he's paying his lawyers, it ain't enough.) Things come to a head when Crumply challenges Arno to a weightlifting competition fueled by their rival cereals. 

Of course, Arno brings in a bunch of ringers but the Medfield team has their own secret surprise -- or do they? Is Arno one step ahead of them again? And one last time, hijinks ensue ... 

Now hold on, some of you say. Wasn't there another one with a monkey? And you'd be absolutely correct. Russell was in The Barefoot Executive but that film takes place outside the Medfield Universe -- a parallel universe, to be sure, because even though it's different everything feels exactly the same. Here, Russell plays Steven Post, a lowly page at the UBC Network with big dreams that soon come to fruition when he starts picking out sure-fire hits that score high in the ratings. Flynn returns as the cranky station manager, Wilbanks, who promotes him to programming director; and John Ritter plays his nefarious nephew, Roger, who will stop at nothing to find out the secret to his rival's success; that secret being Post basing all of his programming decisions on the whim of his girlfriend's (Jennifer Scott) pet chimpanzee. Seems that whenever the monkey claps the show will be a hit, and when he blows a raspberry, the show's a flop. (Well, at least he wasn't flinging his scat at the screen.) Hijinks -- you get the picture. And if you're recalling another movie where Russell's a track star then your wires are a little crossed. That was Jan Michael Vincent in The World's Greatest Athlete

With that, we officially close out our slightly surreal and bluntly corny sojourn into the wild world of Dexter Reilly. And honestly, sometimes corn is what you crave and this franchise delivers it straight from the cob. Disney mainstay Joseph McEveety produced and provided all the scripts, Robert Butler did all the directing, and Hans Metz, Eustace Lycett and Danny Lee provided the familiar looking F/X when needed. All in all it's G-rated harmless, and Russell does nothing to embarrass himself and was already showing some of the smooth charisma and snarky bravado that would soon become his stock in trade. So how did Russell go from clean-cut Dexter Riley to the less than scrupulous Rudy Russo in Used Cars? Could it be that the very same year The Strongest Man in the World came out he played infamous mass-murderer Charles Whitman in The Deadly Tower? Oh yeah, I think Uncle Walt's head just took a spin in the cryogenic chamber. Goodbye Dexter Reilly. Hello Snake Plissken. 

Other points of interest:

The newspaper ads for Now You See Him, 
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