Saturday, 28 June 2014

Film review: The Living Daylights

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Timothy Dalton's all too brief tenure as 007 emerged from the charred remains of the Roger Moore era -- a phase in the series that I could never fully get behind but which even I could tell was in a vastly worse state by the end of his tenure than when it had begun. I maintain that Moore should have stepped down after MOONRAKER -- the film itself was terrible, and the more sombre, down to earth FOR YOUR EYES ONLY could have served as the perfect introductory film for a new Bond of the sort ultimately played by Dalton. Sadly, it was not to be. Dalton arguably arrived a good six years too late and only got to play Bond in two films. But my, what films!

I'd previously seen THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS in two halves -- and, rather counterproductively, I saw the second half first. This was my first time watching it from beginning to end, and while I'd always known it was in the upper echelons of the Bond canon, I hadn't appreciated until now just HOW good it is.

Indeed, there's a case to be made that it features the best script in the series. Richard Maibaum, who had a hand in penning virtually every film in the series until the end of the 80s, dives into his brief to deliver a more grounded, realistic Bond with unmistakable relish, delivering a script that, barring a few moments of residual silliness, stands on its own two feet as a gripping Cold War spy thriller. Although it begins with a suitably action-packed pre-credits teaser, once Maurice Binder's opening titles are out of the way, the wacky hijinx of the Moore years are jettisoned in favour of an extended sequence in which Bond relies on his natural resourcefulness rather than sci-fi gadgets to extract a Soviet defector from Czechoslovakia. The whole thing is as expertly handled as any "serious" spy movie, and serves as a perfect introduction to the new Bond: cold, ruthless, cunning and jaded. There are no raised eyebrows here. Dalton's Bond is Fleming's Bond: a cool, calculating bastard who carries out his mission with expert efficiency.

And it's not just the script and Dalton's performance that carry the sequence -- everyone involved seems to have upped their game, from John Glen, whose previously rather flat direction now ekes out every last ounce of tension from the scenario, to John Barry, who, in his final contribution to the series, delivers the best score to a Bond film since ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE. It's a standard that's kept up for the duration of the film, which sees Bond set off on the trail of the supposed defector (it's actually a brilliantly executed triple-cross), taking him from Bratislava to Tangier by way of Vienna, and finally to Afghanistan where, in a move that will probably raise a few eyebrows among modern day audiences, he teams up with the noble Mujahideen to drive out the occupying Soviet forces. Along the way, he falls for Kara Milovy (Maryam d'Abo), the cellist girlfriend of said defector, and takes her along for the ride. Kara might not be an iconic Bond girl like Tracy or Pussy Galore, but she's believable and her relationship with Bond is genuinely charming. For once, her wide-eyed naiveté isn't annoying but rather entirely appropriate given the situation in which she finds herself.

If I have a slight preference for the first half of the film, it's because I find the European locales more redolent of Cold War espionage than the African and Asian settings of the second half. Once the film relocates to Afghanistan, it becomes more action-oriented and the spy mechanics take a back seat, but it remains thoroughly gripping nonetheless. A great many Bond films, particularly during the Moore years, suffer from a sagging middle; this one doesn't, and I suspect this is largely due to the fact that we actually invest in Bond as a character. I can't praise Dalton's performance enough. Whereas Moore and even to a considerable extent Connery played the character as a collection of easily recognisable traits, Dalton approaches the part with the utmost seriousness, taking a method approach to the character's motivation and responding to the events taking place as if they were real. Watch the scene where, after a fellow agent, Saunders, is murdered, he returns to Kara and pretends that everything is fine while at the same time conveying to the audience that he's ready to explode with anger. I'm not an actor myself, but even I can tell that something like that requires immense skill to pull off, and it's electrifying to watch on screen. If Connery and Moore were movie stars, Dalton is an Actor with a capital "A".

The film's only real failing, and the one that ensures that it remains behind FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE in my ranking of the series, is its villains -- something that the next film would rectify, in spades. The blond adonis Necros is really just a thinly veiled reimagining of Red Grant from that earlier film, while Jeroen Krabbé as the defector Koskov is too much of a figure of fun to ever seem like a genuine threat. Arms dealer Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker) is actually quite an interesting creation -- a self-styled "general" obsessed with military history -- but again it's hard to take him seriously, partly because he's so much larger than life compared to the comparatively sombre proceedings taking place around him. On the side of the goodies, we get a memorable turn from Art Malik as the leader of the Mujahideen, as well as Caroline Bliss's short-lived nerdy/sexy Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell looking even longer in the tooth than Roger Moore by this stage). Judging from the evidence on display here, she's no great actor, but her awkward delivery is somehow endearing, and I love the scene were Bond puts her glasses back on her face lopsided.

Rewatching THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (and in its proper order!) has given me a newfound appreciation for the film, not to mention impressing on me the fact that, regardless of the many strengths of Dalton's next film, LICENCE TO KILL, this is by far the superior of the two. In many respects it's the last true hurrah of classic Bond: a proper Cold War spy thriller that contains just enough of the series mainstays -- Q's gadgets, "Bond, James Bond", vodka martinis -- to fit into the series as a whole while still standing on its own feet as an excellent film in its own right. I'm delighted that, after spending so long as the black sheep of the Bond series, Dalton is finally beginning to get the recognition he deserves.

Classy lady

The divine Natalie Portman, one of the best actors of her generation.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Quoted for truth

Sometimes you just need to sit back and let your opponents make your points for you.

(Originally posted by Scottish CND)

Monday, 16 June 2014

Film review: For Your Eyes Only

If ever there was a film that makes it plain that Roger Moore should have hung up the mantle of James Bond before he did, it's this one. Not because it's a bad film or even because HE'S bad in it, but because it seems plain that it was written for a more ruthless, harder-edged interpretation of the character than Moore was capable of playing -- or had any desire to.

As the first 80s Bond, tonally it marks a clean break from the films of the 70s, which were characterised by increasingly outlandish stunts, sets and scenarios, culminating in the monumentally stupid MOONRAKER, an obvious cash-in on the success of STAR WARS that, after meandering all over the place for a tedious hour and a half, completely jumps the shark during its final act, sending Bond into space to engage in laser battles. As was the case when Sean Connery stepped down from the role, a change was desperately needed, and it came this time round in the form of producer Cubby Broccoli bringing the series back down to earth with a more sombre, realistic spy thriller in which Bond helps a young woman avenge the death of her murdered parents.

Unfortunately, with Moore still in the role and already wearing that wide-eyed, quasi-senile look that would come to define his performance in his subsequent two films, the series' transformation feels like a job half done. It doesn't help that the film begins with a pre-credits teaser straight out of the worst of the 70s Bonds, with Bond trapped aboard a helicopter being remote operated by a thinly-veiled Blofeld stand-in. Dispatched in an utterly ridiculous manner that feels like it was purely intended to give Kevin McClory the middle finger, the slapstick and bad puns are at odds both with the first shot of the sequence (Bond laying flowers at his wife's grave, in a callback to ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE) and the far grittier film that follows the rather bland, Maurice Binder-designed opening credits (I'm quite partial to the Sheena Easton song that accompanies them, though I appreciate that I'm in the minority there).

"Don't worry, old fella. We'll have your stunt double
take care of all the wide shots for you."

What follows feels like budget Bond to an extent, with the largely realistic sets and heavy use of locations contrasting with the bravura Ken Adam designs of the last two films, and the stakes rather lower with Bond up against a smuggler, Kristatos (Julian Glover), rather than a megalomaniac bent on world domination. But the tone works here because first-time director (and long-time editor) John Glen fully commits to the more sombre tone, ill-advised pre-credits sequence and an idiotic coda featuring a Margaret Thatcher impersonator aside. He, in collaboration with new production designer Peter Lamont and veteran writer Richard Maibaum, succeed in dragging the series back to its novelistic roots, albeit unfortunately saddled with Moore as a painful reminder of what came before it. He never looks truly comfortable in this film, and I suspect it's not too much of a stretch to assume that he was happier with the more campy theatrics of the preceding films. I know he found the scene where Bond kicks a car off the side of a cliff, sending its driver plunging to his death, particularly distasteful and didn't feel it was in keeping with the character. (Perhaps not in keeping with his Bond, but certainly in keeping with MINE!) Glen's direction is unflashy, almost utilitarian, but as was the case with Peter Hunt's direction on ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, his past experience as an editor obviously paid dividends in terms of his ability to build tension. The highlight comes at the start of the climax, with Bond scaling a sheer mountainside. The whole thing is shot and edited in such a way as to be positively nerve-racking, making you actually fear for Bond's safety for the first time since... well, probably OHMSS.

Like a number of Bond films, this one suffers from a sagging middle, with the action coming more or less to a standstill in the Corfu and Albania sequences, while the presence of Bibi Dahl (Lynn-Holly Johnson), a precocious ice skater who has the hots for Bond, is most unwelcome. The character and the actress are both excruciatingly annoying, and the sight of a teenager attempting to bed the increasingly aged Moore makes for decidedly uncomfortable viewing. On the other hand, Carole Bouquet imbues the Bond girl du jour, Melina, with a sense of wounded dignity and comes across as far less of an airhead than any of her 70s counterparts. For once, she's actually a fully developed character in her own right with motivation that makes sense, and you end up rooting for her. The romance between her and Bond is allowed to develop naturally and isn't actually consummated until (we assume) after the end credits, though it would have been more convincing had she been playing opposite a Bond closer to her own age. That said, she mercifully comes across as an adult rather than the overgrown children that so many Bond girls have resembled.

As much as I didn't want this review to descend into "I wish Moore wasn't in it", it's somewhat unavoidable and it's the note on which I'm going to sign off. FOR YOUR EYES ONLY has been described to me as a Timothy Dalton Bond film before its time, and oh how I wish Dalton had been cast a few years earlier! He would have really sunk his teeth into this material, and I suspect that his presence would have elevated the film to "great" as opposed to merely "decent". As it is, it's not the best of the Moore era -- that would be THE SPY WHO LOVED ME -- but it's a very close second and, it has to be said, far closer to my idea of Bond than that earlier film.

Film review: The Spy Who Loved Me

After the inanity of THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, the Bond films could have gone in two directions: take the series back to its more sombre, spy thriller routes or become even more camp and over the top. With Roger Moore the incumbent Bond, it's perhaps not surprising that they went for the latter. However, while GOLDEN GUN and Connery's last two outings had me rolling my eyes and itching to reach for the fast-forward button, somehow Moore's third film, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, makes the grandiose, campy theatrics work in its favour, delivering a vastly superior film to everything since ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE. Indeed, I'd go as far as to say that, while GOLDFINGER provided the template for the series a whole, it's this film that the makers of the four Pierce Brosnan entries were looking to ape -- not out and out self-parody, but grandiose and with a definite whiff of the ridiculous. The pre-credits sequence, which culminates in Bond skiing off a precipice, hurtling several thousand feet, then opening a Union Jack parachute while the Bond theme plays, sums up the film rather nicely: bold, ambitious, technically masterful, but silly as all hell.*

The plot itself is essentially YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE retold, with Curd Jürgens as a sort of Blofeld stand-in (to avoid legal action from creator Kevin McClory). His character Stromberg, has a rare wheeze to trigger nuclear armageddon and then establish a new civilisation under the sea -- a scheme so ridiculous it could only appear in a Moore-era Bond film. And yet it works, because the film itself shares Stromberg's level of outrageous ambition in terms of scope and scale. After Guy Hamilton's constrained, TV-like direction of the last two entries, Lewis Gilbert returns to the director's seat for the first time since YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE and delivers a far grander, more cinematic film than its three predecessors. The 2.39:1 aspect ratio makes a welcome return, and Gilbert really opens up the canvas, treating us to sumptuous wide angle shots that show off the exotic locales. A tense stalking sequence amid the ruins of Karnak, photographed almost exclusively in extreme long shot and devoid of music or dialogue, is a particular standout, and when the action moves indoors, Ken Adam's bold production design takes over, offering up sets on such a massive scale that a new custom soundstage had to be built at Pinewood to accommodate them.

Barbara displaying her talents.

As for the cast, Barbara Bach is a perfect example of the series' tendency to cast actresses for their looks over their acting ability. Her character, KGB agent Anya Amasova, is set up as being Bond's equal -- tough, ruthless and libidinous. As long as the script doesn't require her to speak, she acquits herself well. Unfortunately, whenever she opens her mouth, her lack of acting ability becomes painfully apparent and the character becomes harder to take seriously. She also spends the entirety of the final act off-screen as Stromberg's prisoner, effectively neutralising what could have been the series' strongest female character since Tracy in ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE. Moore himself is all raised eyebrows and witty one-liners, but it works amid the overall campy tone of the film, and during the extended climactic battle, which is all action and provides no room for humour, he dispenses with the quips and plays it entirely straight, providing a fascinating glimpse into what could have been. He lacks the serious acting chops of someone like Timothy Dalton (Moore was always more of a "star" than an "actor", in my view), but he's at the height of his game here and pitches it perfectly for the film's tone.

I suspect I won't end up doing full reviews of this length for the lesser Moore Bonds (i.e. the rest of his tenure with the exception of FOR YOUR EYES ONLY) because there's very little productive I can say about them, but I might do a short piece summarising the Moore era if I get the time and inclination. For now, I'll just say that THE SPY WHO LOVED ME is almost certainly Moore's best Bond film, and the only one to make it into my Bond Top 10.

PS. The final title card reads "James Bond will return in FOR YOUR EYES ONLY." Curse you, Bond producers, for getting my hopes up! We all know, with the benefit of hindsight, that we have to endure MOONRAKER first.

* Incidentally, this appears to be the first film in the series to really stress the British nationalist element. There was, admittedly, always something a bit chauvinistic about the idea of a British agent travelling to far-flung corners of the world, defeating the savage locals and bedding their women. Previously, however, the character's nationality seemed more or less incidental (and any sense of "Britishness" in the Connery years is surely diluted with hindsight due to the actor's Scottish nationalism). With this film, I get the sense that it became a fundamental part of his identity, and a sense of British triumphalism (a reaction to the loss of the empire, perhaps, and a need to loudly proclaim Britain to still be top dog once this could no longer be taken as given) began to pervade.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Bookshelf: The Girl Who Played With Fire by Denise Mina

THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE was my favourite instalment of the Millennium trilogy when I first read the series in 2010. I loved the way Stieg Larsson eschewed the Agatha Christie-style whodunit that he used to great effect in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, instead crafting an even more effective "wrong (wo)man" thriller, with Lisbeth Salander in hiding after being suspected of murdering her twisted guardian Nils Bjurman and a young couple investigating the trafficking and prostitution of Eastern European women. I was relatively disappointed with the film adaptation -- good though it was, I felt it took too many liberties with the source material and ultimately turned the best book into the weakest of the three films -- and was curious to see how Denise Mina would tackle the adaptation process with her comic book version.

First, it's worth pointing out that, whereas Mina's adaptation of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTO was split into two instalments and the marketing prior to release suggested that the same process would be used for its sequel, this 288-page book actually contains the full story of the original novel. This is probably just as well, because Mina's two DRAGON TATTOO adaptation was split rather awkwardly in two, with the first book not so much ending on a cliffhanger as stopping mid-sentence. FIRE, of course, ends on a cliffhanger of its own, setting up the events of the third instalment, THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNETS' NEST.

While streamlining some elements of the narrative, the comic book adaptation remains much closer to the plot of the novel than the film, and reading it in this form, I was struck by just how convoluted and multi-stranded the narrative is. In that respect, Mina does an excellent job of maintaining a sense of coherence in her writing. The plot is unmistakably Larsson's, but the dialogue exchanges are peppered with all manner of examples of the sort of dry humour that makes it clear the writer of GARNETHILL and the Paddy Meehan books is behind them -- in stark contrast to Larsson, whose own writing had an incredibly po-faced quality. A good example comes when the police are searching Salander and Miriam Wu's apartment, and one, the chauvinistic Faste, discovers a stash of sex toys, to his great delight. Seeing him proudly waving a vibrator in the air, one of his colleagues advises him to put it down, since "not everyone reaches for the antiseptic wipes just after sex."

The artwork is more problematic. Three artists -- Andrea Mutti, Antonio Fuso and Leonardo Manco -- contributed to the comic, each with his own individual style. I imagine it was felt that drawing a book of this length would constitute too much work for a single artist, but unfortunately the lack of consistency leads to certain problems. The cast of characters is vast, with many of the players middle-aged men, and it becomes difficult to tell them apart at the best of times -- particularly when their appearance can change from one page to the next. This is particularly true of Blomkvist and the "giant" Niedermann, who are hard to distinguish at the best of times (both are drawn as tall, blonde and granite-jawed, and both wear a black leather jacket). The main detective, Bublanski, is more distinctive thanks to his Jewish skullcap, but the fact that Fuso draws him completely baldheaded while Mutti gives him a full head of hair is a rather egregious continuity lapse.

While none of the art is bad per se, I find Mutti's work rather flat and prefer the sense of volume the other two artists give their work. I also continue to be rather bemused by the rugged, musclebound Blomkvist, though that may stem from my familiarity with the less imposing Michael Nyqvist from the films. A bigger problem is just how damn incomprehensible some of the panels are, resulting in quite a few instances where the only reason I had any idea what was going on was because I remembered the event in question from the original novel. There's also one instance about halfway through the book where Salander is shown to react with shock to something she sees on a TV screen in a shop window. I know, because I've read the novel and seen the film, that what she's reacting to is her own face, released to the public after the police launch a manhunt for her. Only, due to what appears to be a compositing error, the screen appears blank on the page apart from a ticker at the bottom reading "Share drop 4.6% of value within two hours of market..."

Ultimately, as was the case with the comic book version of DRAGON TATTOO, I'm not sure that there was a burning need to adapt the novel into this form. The script is superior to that of the film, but the graphic novel format just doesn't seem all that suited to what is essentially a story in which various groups of people sit around talking about events that took place in the past. I enjoyed it for the most part, and if time is of the essence, it's certainly a quicker way of digesting the story than either watching the film or reading the original novel, but you're ultimately left feeling that the story isn't particularly suited to the medium in which it's presented.

Inspirational words

There's been something of a splurge of negativity clogging up the internet pipes this week following an intervention (and sizeable donation) from a certain author of children's fantasy novels into the Scottish independence debate, so I thought I'd inject a dose of common sense into my own little corner of the web by posting these videos of a couple of hugely inspirational speakers at the recent Yes in the Park event. First up, Robin McAlpine, director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation:

Followed by Cat Boyd of the RIC and Unite Union:

It's hard not to sense that there's a change in the air listening to these two and feeling their passion. Coupled with the latest polling suggesting that Yes has taken the lead in West Scotland, the North-East and all-important Glasgow, I'm actually daring to think that winning is not just possible but verging on likely.

A sad, desperate man

Shame on you, Mr. Miliband.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Friday, 6 June 2014

From crusty old diamonds to grubby golden guns

Between the years 1971 and 1974, director Guy Hamilton and screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz collaborated on three James Bond films which, in my view, form something of a loose trilogy given their similarities in tone and style, in addition to sharing the same writer and director. They represent a transitional period for the Bond films, with the torch being passed from one Bond to another, and the series moving increasingly further away from the tone and content of Ian Fleming's original novels.

The first, 1971's DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, bears the distinction of being the last of the official Bond films to feature Sean Connery in the role of 007. (Of course, he later reprised the role in the not very good 1983 curio NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN.) Connery, who had departed the role following 1967's YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, was lured back with the promise of an inflated pay-cheque following George Lazenby's one-off outing as the character in the impressive ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, but it's abundantly clear that his heart isn't in it. His shtick feels tired and pedestrian, his permanent look of disdain less that of an aloof secret agent and more that of an actor treating the material with contempt.

And to be fair, the material IS contemptible (though you'd think, given the amount of money he was being paid, he could have made more of an effort). After the more serious tone of OHMSS, which gave us a more human Bond capable of such emotions as love and grief, DIAMONDS jettisons any such affectations in the opening scene -- a montage of fisticuffs and pratfalls as Bond roughs up an array of villains in his hunt for Ernst Stavro Blofeld (now played by Charles Gray). Blofeld, of course, was last seen speeding off after shooting Bond's wife Tracy dead at the end of OHMSS, but you wouldn't know that from the tone of DIAMONDS' opening scenes. This is not a broken and grieving Bond but a (barely) two-dimensional superhero who jets around the world shooting and shagging. It feels like the series deliberately thumbing its nose at everything the previous film worked so hard to achieve, and it's hard not to feel insulted.

It's often said that GOLDFINGER provided the template for all future Bonds, and that's certainly the case here, albeit only in the most superficial sense. Shirley Bassey title song? Check. American setting? Check. Megalomaniac villain bent on world domination/destruction? Check. DIAMONDS is a tired, paint-by-numbers Bond film with few if any redeeming qualities. It reduces the series to the level of camp self-parody, to the extent that almost renders the AUSTIN POWERS movies, which lampoon the conventions of the Bond movies, an entirely pointless exercise. A change was desperately needed, and it came in the form of a new Bond and a radically different type of thriller.

LIVE AND LET DIE was released in 1973 with Roger Moore taking over the role of 007, and is by a significant margin the best of the three films under discussion here. That may, however, be damning it with faint praise. I must confess to not being particularly enamoured by it the first time I saw it, though this might have had something to do with the fact that the six-film Blu-ray box set I was watched jumped straight from THUNDERBALL -- when Connery was still relatively engaged with the role and the series had yet to plumb the depths to which it would later sink -- to Moore's debut. Viewed back to back with DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, LIVE AND LET DIE suddenly becomes a vastly more impressive film. It possesses a sense of youthful energy and vigour not felt since the first three Bonds, and Moore, while completely lacking the sense of menace and ruthlessness with which Connery imbued the role, seems like he genuinely WANTS to be there, which automatically elevates his performance above that of his predecessor in the last film.

It also helps that LIVE AND LET DIE is completely-off-the-wall-batshit-crazy. Tapping into the popularity of the then nascent Blaxploitation genre, it sees Bond heading off to Harlem, New Orleans and finally the Caribbean to do battle with an array of Afro-Caribbean gangsters and drug dealers, led by arch-dictator Dr. Kananga, a.k.a. Mr. Big (Yaphet Kotto). It all looks and sounds a bit politically incorrect now (indeed one fansite, now long gone, jokingly renamed it "All Black-skinned People are Drug Pushers, Pimps, Rapists and Corruptors of Civilised White Society"), but it's unlike anything seen in a Bond film before and rather enjoyable on those grounds alone. The first half of the film is infused with a distinctive air of mysticism and supernatural menace, giving it a rich, otherworldly quality. It also has one of the most brilliantly bizarre subplots in the form of Solitaire, Kananga's mistress and tarot reader, whose clairvoyance rests on her virginity. Bond, cad that he is, of course promptly beds her. The role of Solitaire may not be up there with greats like Pussy Galore or Vesper Lynd, but it's a suitably off-the-wall inclusion in an already off-the-wall film, and it certainly helps that Jane Seymour may well be the most beautiful of all the Bond girls (at least until Eva Green).

It's not an unqualified success, however. Hamilton shoots and stages the film like a TV-movie, and following a solid first hour, things begin to unravel in the second half, falling back on the tired physical comedy and jokiness that sunk DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. This half of the film also introduces one of the singularly most annoying characters in the entire Bond canon -- the loud-mouthed Louisiana sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James). He, and Bond's insufferable (though thankfully short-lived) sidekick Rosie Carver (Gloria Hendry) are both so bad that they threaten to derail the entire film. There's also the issue of Moore, who will never be Bond in my eyes. Roger Moore is by all accounts one of the nicest human beings on the planet (support for the Tory party notwithstanding), and unfortunately this shines through in his performance, to the extent that he never convinces as a ruthless secret agent.

Whatever good work was done in LIVE AND LET DIE was promptly undone the following year in 1974's THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, a film which plumbs depths to which even DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER did not sink. The GOLDFINGER formula returns, but devoid of the sense of scale, scope and wonderment with which the earlier film was infused. After LIVE AND LET DIE's liveliness and verve, GOLDEN GUN already feels tired and pedestrian, plodding from set-piece to set-piece and ticking off the various Bondian clichés.

It really should have been so much more -- James Bond versus Christopher Lee himself, in the role of megalomaniac Francisco Scaramanga, he of the superfluous third nipple. But even Lee, bringing to the part his usual elegance and sense of menace, can't inject any life into the proceedings. There is some amusement to be had in the form of Scaramanga's sidekick, the diminutive Nick Nack (Hervé Villechaize), but it all feels irritatingly juvenile, with most of the laughs stemming from the character (and the actor)'s short stature. Britt Ekland is the Bond girl du jour this time round. She gives a weak performance and her character is irritatingly stupid -- a re-tread of Rosie Carver in the previous film, only without the advantage of being killed off at an early stage.

Oh, and J.W. Pepper is back, sightseeing in Thailand and getting in Bond's way. Because that worked so well last time round.

There's little more to be said about this film. Some consider it the worst instalment in the series, and at the moment I'm inclined to agree, though I may end up revising my opinion once I've seen the three films that have eluded me so far -- MOONRAKER, OCTOPUSSY and A VIEW TO A KILL. Following the film's release, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman went their separate ways, with Saltzman selling his stake in the series and Broccoli remaining as the sole Bond producer. Legal issues delayed the next instalment for three years, which may well have been for the best, because when it finally did arrive, in the form of 1977's THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, the situation had improved dramatically. But that's a story for another post...

Paris match

The divine Ms Audrey Tautou, star of one of my all-time favourite films (and probably the only romantic comedy you'll ever see in any "top X" list from me), AMELIE.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Lying by omission

Since the pro- and anti-independence campaigns got under way, the BBC has consistently shown itself to be hopelessly biased in favour of a No vote. From the daily deluge of scare stories ("Experts warn...", "SNP accused...", "Pensions timebomb..." and all manner of variations on the above) to the soft-pedalling when interviewing unionist politicians to the complete lack of serious investigative journalism, the BBC's output more often than not resembles state propaganda rather than something worthy of a service that was once considered to be the envy of the world.

On Sunday, several hundred people showed up outside BBC Scotland's Pacific Quay headquarters to protest against the BBC's pro-union bias. True to form, the BBC made no mention of the fact that a sizeable protest was taking place outside their offices, once again lying by omission. Clearly they didn't think the issue was newsworthy... though funnily enough, Moscow-based Russia Today thought otherwise and briefly covered it. It really says something when you have to tune into a state broadcaster more than 3,000 miles away to find out what's going in your own country.

There will be a further protest on Sunday June 29th at 2 PM. I think I might head along to that one -- should coincide nicely with the start of my Summer holidays

Monday, 2 June 2014

See more Seymour

Bond girl and all round work of art Jane Seymour, as seen below in LIVE AND LET DIE.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Counting votes the Hebridean way

This is all kinds of hilarious.

Go ahead, make my birthday

Many happy returns to the man with the greatest face in cinema -- 84 years old today, and still more than capable of kicking your ass.