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.


Gassyknoll said...

Interesting to note, when Connery left, they offered the role to a young actor by the name of Timothy Dalton. He turned it down, admitting he was "too young" for the part.

W.B. Kelso said...

You know, I remember unearthing that factoid when I was in the middle of this but it must have gotten lost in 00-Hurricane.

Anonymous said...

Although they were not so popular in the US, both of Dalton's films were successful worldwide. In fact, The Living Daylights beat Lethal Weapon, and License to Kill grossed more than Die Hard. A copyright dispute was the only thing that stopped him from making a third movie. By the time these legal issues were settled, he had moved on and was replaced with Brosnan.

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