Archive for James Bond

Back Asswards

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2020 by dcairns

SPOILERS FOR TENET! !TENET ROF SRELIOPS

Lots of them.

I felt a sort of historic obligation to see TENT since it positioned itself as the Great Return to Cinema — its writer-director seemed eager to create a series of super-spreader screenings and, like his Russian supervillain, bring his medium of expression (arms dealing, cinema) to an end along with all of us. That plan was thwarted, perhaps by a time-traveling secret agent, and now, also like his Russian supervillain, his movie has bellyflopped into the icy waters of indifference, pausing only to smash its skull on a jutting section of luxury yacht, and will shortly be towed off by a motor launch, its pale and shapeless body, a Felliniesque dead mackerel, glistening with poorly-applied sun cream. Or am I stretching my simile too far?

I enjoyed this film! Maybe my favourite Nolan since THE PRESTIGE. Of course I have grumbles, but there were at least moments where I felt a kind of glee over what was about to happen, or maybe what had just happened? So hard to tell.

Of course I went in knowing that all the dialogue was exposition, and most of it was inaudible. Knowing that helped to not worry about that. Must be even tougher if you’re unused to Cockney.

Robert Pattinson’s impersonation of Christopher Hitchens may not be as dazzling as Roger Allam’s in V FOR VENDETTA, but it’s very entertaining.

About that: Sir Michael Caine appears, since this is a Nolan joint, and it’s always nice to see him. But the appearance feels valedictory. Damn you, 2020! It’s a wholly sedentary appearance, unevenly cut, and that fine actor seems to be having trouble speaking. That thing, whatever it is, when your teeth are no longer firmly rooted. Nolan gives Caine some of the best lines in the film, and drops the thundering Zimmerist music of Ludwig Göransson so we can hear him. Caine is playing Sir Michael Crosby, and when John David Washington (continuing to prove his worth as an excellent, sensitive leading man) gets up to leave he pauses, and in a specially weighted close-up, says, “Goodbye, Sir Michael.”

So there’s THAT — the only emotional moment in the film, really, and the most successful emotional beat of Nolan’s career. Maybe I’m out of line for even mentioning it. I do hope Caine does lots more films. Nolan and Caine seem to be admitting otherwise, if that moment is there for a reason.

Elsewhere, the film is a series of heists and capers and assaults. You know that thing about INCEPTION? That thing where they bend Paris, and it’s just a DEMO, to let you know the kind of thing they can do in a dream? And then they never do anything like that again? Except the Fred Astaire punch-up in the rotating corridor?

Well, TENT, sorry, TENET, isn’t quite like that, but I was waiting for them to do more with their reverse gear. I had guessed from the title that the film would go forwards for half its running time, then backwards to the beginning, but that’s not really true. They do start reversing at the halfway mark. There’s a fun backwards car chase. And a fight played first with the protagonist moving forwards, then replayed with him reversed (Nolan can’t quite shoot this expressively enough to make the masked man the hero — your eye keeps going to the unmasked one). And at the end there’s a “temporal pincer movement” in which one set of attackers are in reverse, but why?

Best bit in that attack — where a building seems to blow up twice, both forwards and backwards and there really wasn’t time why or even WHAT — is when a wall reverse-explodes and sucks a passing trooper into itself. Presumably, if we had a flashback to the construction of that wall, we’d see a couple of builders going What do you want done with these human bones? Oh just put them in the wall, it’ll be fine. Are you sure? Yeah, when somebody eventually blows up the wall all the bits will turn into a person and he’ll run off backwards it’ll be FINE.

Disappointing the film does not include that scene.

TENET contains the palindrome Tenet, and also the reversible names Sator and Rotas, and it contains a racecar (kind of) and a mom. But no kayak or madam. The LA JETEE moment when a memory is replayed only this time the person whose memory it is becomes a character seen in that memory — I saw that one coming — is, given that the character is called Kat, perhaps a visualisation of the palindromic sentence “Was it a cat I saw?”

In terms of clarity — I think the film suffers not just from everyone saying important lines through masks or cockney accents, but because Nolan is not the world’s most lucid visual storyteller. Think of the incoherent fights in his first BATMAN, then listen to him saying they were like that on purpose, then look at the later BATMEN and their fights, which are only like 25% better. So he can’t help it. I always felt THE PRESTIGE needed not just a big CITIZEN KANE shot at the end — which is easy to do if you have a big budget for man-sized mason jars — but a tracking shot that shows a reasonable sampling of WHO is in those jars. Because I value clarity. TENT has a big briefing scene (I think it’s actually in a TENT) where they explain what they’re going to do before the final battle, and it’s STILL confusing.

Some really nice location shooting. But if it had proper James Bond swooning strings and torch song vamping over it, that would have been better than the pounding, throbbing stuff Nolan always goes for. The James Bond films that inspire him are technocratic power fantasies of violence and casual sex, and when you put s. strings and t.s. vamping on top, you get wonderful IRONY. Which Nolan doesn’t do, does he? Extraordinary that you can be a Bond fan and not appreciate or aspire to an ironic tone.

But he’s quite an odd fellow, I think, Nolan, in his dry, boring way.

TENT stars Ron Stallworth; Crocker Fenway; Fleur Delacour; Rev. Preston Teagardin; Bobby J. Braganza; Harry Palmer; Mopsy Rabbit; Prince Bertie; Hercule Poirot; John Lennon; and Lilian Roth.

Helium Hunchback

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 22, 2020 by dcairns

STRIKES AGAIN is the PANTHER film I could never see as a kid — RETURN and REVENGE and SHOT IN THE DARK played on TV regularly, but not this one. No idea why.

When I did finally see it, I was underwhelmed. Again, not sure why. I do think the whole Octoberfest bit is lacking in good laughs and gags, and the mad mastercriminal plot is maybe not the right fit for the series? But on the other hand, they had done the heist film, the whodunnit, and the Hitchcockian wrong man story — so they needed a different branch of the crime genre, and the Fu Manchu angle was pretty low-hanging fruit…

Herbert Lom ascends to full Mabuseian supervillain status, and gets to play the organ maniacally, spoofing both his PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and MYSTERIOUS ISLAND characters. Along the way, the narrative allows us to take in a bit of country house mystery (“I expect you’re wondering…”) as Lom abducts a scientist and his daughter, a fairly straight riff on Christopher Lee’s Fu Manchu activities for Harry Allan Towers. The plunge into outright fantasy might be a sign that the series has jumped the shark, as might be the fact that the title now refers to… nothing at all. The Pink Panther diamond is nowhere to be seen. (They could have had Lom using it to focus his death ray, I suppose. And the ray could have omitted a Phildickian PINK LIGHT…)Going by Blake Edwards’ diagnosis, that Sellers was tractable when he needed a hit, and impossible when he was coming off one, this shoot must have been hell, I suppose. If the libraries were open (lockdown) I could borrow Roger Lewis’s Sellers bio and find out.

Some excellent work from Burt Kwouk. Sellers tries on his Quasimodo cossie and Cato declaims, theatrically, “What have you done to Inspector Clouseau?” It’s obvious he knows this is his boss in a rubbish disguise, but he loves him so much he humours him. They have a sweet relationship, really.

Like Cato, my cat Momo has been trained to attack me at random intervals, to keep me on my toes. But he’s too lazy to make a go of it.

Richard Williams and associates provide the title sequence, so it’s much, MUCH more beautiful than it really needs to be. As with RETURN OF, the joke is to make the Panther Clouseau’s playful tormentor, and to reference famous movies. But the silvery backgrounds! The special lighting effects! The art deco type! And it features the Panther as Mrs. Edwards. And, speaking of love and marriage, Clouseau’s investigations lead him to a gay bar in this one, where Julie Andrews dubs a drag queen. Edwards seems to be furiously signaling something to us here, but if you ask him about it he’d just look innocent. Just about the only real stab at continuity in this series — Lom’s Chief Inspector Dreyfus was confined to the booby hatch at the end of the previous film, and he’s just about to be released in this one. Then Clouseau shows up to wish him well, and everything goes wrong. We thus get to see a new dynamic between Dreyfus and Clouseau. Clouseau is genuinely solicitous of his deranged ex-boss, but still too cloddishly foolish to realise he ought to stay away. A lot of what goes wrong is random accidents, things that Clouseau can’t really be held responsible for (but Dreyfus doesn’t see it that way). The strange logic of the clouseauverse is that Clouseau’s accident-proneness is transmitted to Dreyfus, in a more painful manner, but only when Clouseau is around or when Dreyfus is obsessing over him.

I confess that as a little kid I was really freaked out by the mistreatment of Dreyfus — the thumb-chopping and nose-blowing went beyond what I was comfortable with in slapstick. But I loved the films so much I forced myself to toughen up (I was a crybaby). Clearly, Edwards is aiming for a live-action cartoon thing, where serious injuries just go away after. But I never liked bandages and plaster casts in comedy, either: they implied that the violence was real and had consequences, which made it unfunny. Everyone else would be laughing like it was TOM AND JERRY, and I’d be staring at the screen in horror like it was THE TENANT.The obligatory Cato fight, with Lom spying through a little periscope from downstairs, is really good — Edwards makes a rare foray into handheld cam, and for some reason this makes everything even funnier. Indefinably so. There’s probably less overt brutality in this movie than in SHOT or RETURN (Graham Stark’s fingers!), but an excruciating moment occurs when Lom, being a madman, climbs a tower of furniture and inserts a finger through the ceiling-floor hole he’s drilled, Clouseau steps on it, and Lom loses his balance so he’s hanging by the crushed digit. (Paul Schrader has theorised that writers obsess about damage to their hands because that’s what they write with, unless I suppose they’re Norman Mailer and they just dip their balls in an inkpot.)

Then, some masterful finger acting — Clouseau shifts off the finger, which remains pressed to the floor for a moment, then springs erect, stays there, in defiance of all gravity, like Wile E. Coyote just before he realises he’s over a canyon with nothing holding him up — you actually sense the fingertip opening its eyes wide in alarm — and then it slips from view. CRASH.

I wonder if Lom did his own finger acting? Carol Reed doubles Orson Welles’ fingers through the grate at the end of THE THIRD MAN, and I would think Blake Edwards might well have done the same here, since in a sense he IS Chief Inspector Dreyfus.As the Clouseauverse breaks out onto the world stage, there’s a joke about the American president, a Gerald Fordalike, being clumsy. Is this the right time to recount my friend Mark Bender’s close encounter with Ford on a ski course? “Hey, that’s Gerald Ford! On skis. Coming right at me. Say, he really IS coming right at me, isn’t he? He – OOF!”

The Bondian climax is biggish and I guess it allowed Edwards to focus on things other than his difficult star. Stunts, special effects, supporting cast. There are, by the way, a couple of very good hide-in-plain-sight stuntman substitutions in this film. 

Earlyish, Edwards performs a simple match cut as Clouseau turns to the parallel bars, allowing him to replace Sellers with a Fake Clouseau, keeping the voice droning nasally on, and allowing “CLouseau” to do something the physically unsound Sellers never could.Likewise, when the Inspector attempts to pole-vault into Dreyfus’ schloss, he backs into the bushes as Sellers, and charges out, in a single, unbroken shot, as an anonymous stunt double. The end of the pole remains constantly in view, so if you were in those bushes you’d have seen Sellers handing it to his clone.

Bold!I don’t know if Dreyfus’s climactic disintegration means they were really planning to end the series, or they thought they’d gone as far as they could with this particular character — obviously, having him return in the next film would require a breathtaking dismissal of basic plot continuity. Most likely they weren’t worrying about it, and just needed a strong finish to the Dreyfus-as-Mabuse/Blofeld/Fu Manchu scenario. And clearly just bringing him back without explanation in the follow-up film was the right way to go.It’s a shame the film crams Leonard Rossiter, Colin Blakeley and Dudley Sutton into the British sequence and then finds nothing to do with them. Rossiter is positioned as a substitute Chief Inspector Dreyfus, but it doesn’t go very far. It feels more like Edwards is padding the film with characters he can shoot on Sellers’ days off, giving everyone a rest from the inevitable madness. (Remember, Sellers was bored of this character a film and a half ago.) But it’s nice to see the familiar faces. Dud has just finished Fellini’s CASANOVA. As he told me, “He cut out all my lines, but I’m still in there.”Obligatory Graham Stark routine. A joyous excuse for a crap joke. I don’t know if the policy of surrounding Sellers with mates from the UK comedy scene actually made him behave better, but anything’s worth a try, and you shouldn’t need an excuse to hire Stark. (One chilling anecdote I recall from the Roger Lewis bio is Sellers phoning David Lodge up one evening after shooting, and asking if his behaviour had been really terrible that day. As a straight-talking friend, Lodge said Yes, it had. And from the receiver there sounded a cold, blood-curdling chuckle…)
Very, VERY sexy work from Lesley-Anne Down. Not much of a role, acting-wise, but sexy. Her story plays like a spoof of THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, but was filmed first: she’s supposed to kill Clouseau, but his astonishing loveplay converts/enslaves her. Only it wasn’t Clouseau, because in the dark she’s mistakenly tumbled and uncredited Omar Sharif.

And a hilarious final sequence, the Clouseau striptease, which had Fiona genuinely can’t-breathe-hysterical, on the floor. “I’d FORGOTTEN!” she gasped. Clouseau, it turns out, can’t undress himself, which turns his sexy strip into a failed Houdini routine. Fantastic stuff like the necktie stuck round his cranium like his hippy hairband in ALICE B TOKLAS. Somehow my keen nudity-spotting eyes always missed the fact that L-AD’s bottom comes into view when the insanely huge Murphy bed folds up. That would have meant a lot to me when I was first seeing the film as a teenager. It still seems packed with significance. And the scene is the greatest example of Kwouk-blocking Edwards ever filmed.

At any rate, Cato’s martial arts intervention has saved L-AD from what would presumably have been a highly disappointing sexual experience. Still, though, I can’t help but see the end of the opening titles, when Edwards’ credit appears, as symbolic of the whole enterprise at this stage: the PANTHER movies were the most successful comedy series in screen history, and the writer-director and star pretty much hated each other, but both of them felt the need to carry on working together despite the strain of collaboration and the difficulty of continuing to reinvigorate the character. The image of the cartoon Clouseau, having ascended into cinema like SHERLOCK, JR, trapped, hands pressed against the other side of the silver screen, staring bleakly at us…THE PINK PANTHER STRIKES AGAIN stars Fu Manchu; Captain Nemo; Georgina Worsley; Mr. Ming; Dr. Watson; Dr. Andrei Smyslov; Prof. Trousseau; Slartibartfast; Baron De Laubardemont: Dr. Ralph Halvorsen; Mrs. Emma Bulstrode; the Oompa Loompas; Catweazle; Dr. Auguste Balls; Hugh Abbott; Arab Swordsman; Charles Bovin; Sherif Ali (uncredited); and the voice of Mary Poppins.

Quantum Menace

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on April 25, 2018 by dcairns

I once watched the opening of QUANTUM OF SOLACE on a plane. I was curious to see what kind of film could be made by people who thought that title was good. Now that Leith’s charity shops are selling DVDs for, at times, 25p, I thought it worth picking up a copy to see if it was as bad as I remembered.

If memory serves, this one went into production during the writers’ strike, and it needed a rewrite. So despite the complicated writer credits (three names, one “and” and an ampersand) it’s as close to a film without a writer as you could hope to see, or not to see. The director and star were trying to cobble it all together as they went along. So we should cut them some slack. Will we? Nah.There are two schools of thought about incoherent action sequences — one says that they’re fine as long as they’re stylish and create a lot of visual dash and confusion to keep our eyes darting about, and they simulate the chaos of being in a dangerous, fast-moving situation. Occasionally this is true. The other school of thought is that if something genuinely exciting is happening, it would be nice to be able to see it.

We open on a car chase. There’s some nice photography here — details of bits of car pulsing in and out of the light as they pass through tunnels at speed. We get glimpses of our man Daniel Craig, so we know he’s in one car. There are quite a few cars, so the likelihood is the bad guys are chasing him, but there’s no way to be sure of this. Not to worry, all will become clear.

Well, actually, no. Even when we get some wide shots where we can see several cars and the road at once, it’s not easy to tell who is where. Bond’s car gets impaled on a big spike that’s part of a truck, and it punches through the door, inches from him. He puts his car into a spin, tearing the door off, and freeing himself from the decelerating truck. I figured that out after watching it twice. The poor cinema audience wouldn’t have a chance, and all that expensive stunt work counted for nothing.

SMASH! OK, James Bond’s car definitely got flattened by a truck just then, definitely. Well, that was a short movie. Oh no, apparently that was one of the other cars that got hit.

Here’s an Italian cop helpfully broadcasting a recap:Ah ha! Bond is driving a grey Aston Martin and being chased by a black Alfa Romeo. That’s bound to help. Nope. Bond’s car looks black to me. I might be able to tell one vehicle from another if they were ever on screen for more that eight frames, though.

Still, if Bond’s now only got one pursuer, things should be clearer, and they are, despite an Italian cop car joining the chase. The cops soon get wiped out, rolling down a hill and across Bond’s path, the mangled vehicle and its blameless corpse occupants serving as a fleeting bit of additional jeopardy for our hero. Well, these films are supposed to be ruthless, I suppose.

Still, the editing is jarring — I can see they’re using it to keep the pace up, because every time we get a real wide shot it does looks flat, slow and boring. I think actually staying in tighter POV shots moving with the cars would be much better, imparting a real rollercoaster sense of rollick and swoosh.The sequence ends when Bond picks up a machine gun he had all along and shoots the other driver. And then doesn’t make a quip because the writers are on strike.

Yeah, pretty bad: there’s no INVENTION to it, it’s all in the hands of the editors, who hash it up, and the sound designers, who do create a very dynamic, starwarsian mix, but can’t help create clarity where none exists.

I’m also picking up discs of the BOURNE series, piece by piece… more later…