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. 


Anna Elizabeth said...

Hi there, I followed a link from "And You Call Yourself a Scientist", so glad to see you're still around. :)

I will say, I have a lot of affection for both "Moonraker" and "For Your Eyes Only". Firstly, they have my 2 favorite Bond theme songs.I love the concept of Moonraker, space shuttles, Space Marines, it's like the early 80s would have been if we were actually on pace for a Kubrick-style early 21st Century. With "FYEO", I think it's a nicely-grounded, more realistic adventure afters the campy "Moonraker". I think they were going for a "Guns of Naverone" grittiness here, not that they achieved it, I still appreciate the attempt. And Carole Bouquet is a knockout, one of the Top Three Bond Girls, IMHO.

Even though I've always preferred Sean Connery, these particular Roger Moore movies were my intro to 007 back in the day of "Edited for Television", and I still enjoy them. :)

~ Anna

W.B. Kelso said...

Hey, thanks for stopping by. Yeah, Moore was my introduction, too. First on the TV and then THE SPY WHO LOVED ME on the big screen first, followed by all of them until Brosnan's run started fizzling out (still haven't seen his last two but I have seen all the Craig entries and enjoyed them all except QUANTUM but that can be blamed on the troubled production and writer's strike). Lets say Connery 1A and Moore 1B for me. It's really, really close. And at some point I should really try to finish this Bond retrospective. What happened was, as usual, bad timing, as this marathon was chugging along and I was about to watch THUNDERBALL when Netflix and Hulu and Amazon yanked all the Bonds from their free streaming line-ups all on the same day, leaving me stranded with this thing barely half done. And ever since, as far as I know, they've never done all of them that way since, meaning I'm still stuck. I have write-ups of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, GOLDENEYE, THUNDERBALL and TOMORROW NEVER DIES and that's as far as I ever got. *sigh*

Anna Elizabeth said...

I hear you. I'm marathoning Ken Burns' "Baseball" and "The Civil War" before they drop off of Prime at the end of this month.

THUNDERBALL is my favorite of the Connery-era. Amusingly, when he returned in "Never Say Never Again", it was to pretty much remake THUNDERBALL. SRSLY, "NSNA" is closer to THUNDERBALL than the Duke's "El Dorado" is to "Rio Bravo". XD I didn't enjoy Dalton or Brosnan much at all, and so I've been hesitant to give Craig a try.

W.B. Kelso said...

Hey! THUNDERBALL is my all time favorite, too. That underwater Big Battle is ah-mazing. Connery should've never come back, even for DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. I think Dalton deserves a another look. (I did write up on his run, Lazenby's one-off, and Connery's first comeback.) Brosnan is 50/50. The first two were pretty good, the other two look awful. Craig makes for a good Bond post-THE BOURNE IDENTITY. His last one wasn't so hot, nor QOS, but CASINO ROYALE and SKYFALL are amaze-balls.

Anna Elizabeth said...

Hey. :) I have to agree about THUNDERBALL, I think it might be the only movie with scuba diving,etc., that isn't a boring mess. I love the ditching of the Vulcan bomber too, that is such a beautiful, iconically British jet of the era, it makes for an astounding scene.

I'd be willing to re-evaluate Dalton, etc., and to try Craig. I probably needed a break from it all, I had been binge-watching Connery & Moore back a few years ago. It'd be fun to start over again with 007.

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