Wednesday, 27 February 2013
Muchos Gracias Senor Lobo
by Thorsten Benzel
This marvellous tome was given to me by “a very good friend” recently for my birthday... because she knew just how much I wanted to read it. Now, while the book isn’t quite what I was expecting it to be, I was so struck by the design and beauty of this limited edition that I really wasn’t overly worried and, as it happens, this proved an absolutely amazing read, in addition to the heady experience of looking over the thousands of beautiful posters, lobby cards, locandinas and foto busta reproductions which make up 99% of the book. It really is one of the three or four most beautiful books I’ve ever owned... right up there with Tim Lucas’ All The Colours Of The Dark (his epic work on director Mario Bava... and I mean epic) and my Taschen book, The Pedro Almodovar Archives (reviewed here).
Now, when I first caught sight of this wonder on the internet, I was labouring under the false impresssion that this book, which has all the text in two languages (one of which is English), was concerned with talking about the films of Paul Naschy... who was perhaps most famous for his Waldemar Daninsky wolfman character which he played on and off for a number of decades. Well this is not strictly true, although, it certainly is one of the most valuable resources on the films of Paul Naschy there is (possibly the most indispensable actually). I don’t think you would find as fine a collection of posters and lobby cards etc as comprehensive as this printed anywhere else. However, the sharper eyed among you may have noticed the subtitle of the book is actually “Paul Naschy Memorabilia” and while the book features all these quite rare and opulent examples of various promotional materials on a film by film basis, it turns out that it is these artefacts from the films themselves, and not the actual films, that are the source of discussion here.
The book is put together by a private collector of Paul Naschy items and, while there is obviously some technical background on the origins of each movie, the main thrust of the information is all to do with the history of each movie as seen by it’s release patterns and paper trail, so to speak.
Curiously, the book only goes up to the 1987 Naschy movie El Aullido Del Diablo (aka Howl Of The Devil, reviewed here), which co-starred the extraordinary Caroline Munro... and then covers some of the other films in a short appendix which also has some amazing poster artwork in it (I ordered a cheap copy of Mystery On Monster Island on DVD after finishing this book because of that appendix). So what would be a typical chapter here would be some bumph about the movie, followed by the curiosities manifest in the different styles of advertising campaign materials in different countries - things like a company logo being printed on the bottom right of a poster identical to another except for the absence of that logo or the fact that one country’s run of lobby cards was printed on a slightly thicker stock but printed offset litho instead of some other process. Some of the most amusing differences from territory to territory are the way in which some countries censor nudity... some will allow it, others will put little stars over ladies’ nipples and yet another went to quite elaborate lengths to “pen and ink” ladies underwear onto some of the actresses. All very strange but interesting.
Now, I’m a graphic designer for print, so I naturally found most of this stuff really fascinating anyway, but the real icing on the cake, and the strength of this book, is that the writer is able to then show you all these things illustrated in full colour with a wonderful (old, decaying book) background which is printed under the text and pictures on every page, presumably chosen to give the photographs of this rare, archival material a bit of 'lift' off the page in contrast. It’s really wonderful stuff and, even if there had been no accompanying text with each section, it would still be one of the most essential purchases going... not just for longstanding fans of Paul Naschy, but for anyone interested in knowing the ins and outs of the way films are marketed in different areas.
This is, untypically, one of my shortest reviews, but that’s because I really have nothing bad to say about this particular volume. The myriad illustrations of brightly coloured movie advertising confections coupled with the sheer enthusiasm and passion of the writer, who has obviously spent many decades putting together this collection of rare and sometimes rescued items, are more than enough to ensure this is a book I shall return to for reference and, well, to just lose myself in the pictures, time and time again. If you are a fan of either Paul Naschy, horror films or movie advertising in particular, I urge you to snap up one of the last copies of this book before it passes you by. An absolutely thrilling work of reference which is an absolutely essential purchase for lovers of film.
And another big thank you to my “extra special friend” who got me the book in the first place.
For some of my Paul Naschy movie reviews, check these links below...
Fury Of The Wolfman
The Beast And The Magic Sword
Howl Of The Devil
Tuesday, 26 February 2013
Mama - M.I.A.
Directed by Andrés Muschietti
Playing at cinemas now.
Mama is a movie written by Andrés Muschietti, Barbara Muschietti and Neil Cross. A Spanish/Canadian production shot in English, I’m guessing it’s inspired by a three minute short the same director did a few years back, of the same title (although I haven’t actually seen the short myself). It’s also just about as good a modern era ghost story/horror film as you’re likely to see these days.
The film starts off in tragedy as a man who has just rampaged and murdered his wife, takes his two very young daughters far away into some snow covered woods to kill both them and, presumably, himself. They stumble into a deserted cabin and then... something happens to the man.
After 5 years of spending all his money on looking for the man and his two daughters, the man’s brother Lucas (played by the same actor, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) finds the two young girls who have, by now, gone almost totally feral. However, if you were following the opening titles sequence of children’s drawings with the attention you should have been paying, you’ll know there’s more to the story than that. As Lucas and his sexy ass, rock-chick galfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) strike a deal with a therapist working with the children to win custody of the children on the condition that they move into a very specific house the therapist chooses, things start to get decidedly spooky and, oh heck, drop dead scary as the film ticks away at a very even pace, designed to chip away at any resistance you have to the regular scares of the horror movie environment.
While this movie does have plenty of “jump shock” moments in it, it’s the slow, lurking sense of dread that keeps your delicate, viewers psyche on the edge of its fear precipice. The storyline is pretty much a retread of dozens of other ghost tales from the past but, fortunately for all involved (and especially fortunate for the jaded, modern horror movie audience), the film is stylishly put together and, although there’s a lot of CGI involved, it’s much more creatively used and is actually quite good for a change. When the ghost is finally, properly seen, in one of it’s many unique manifestations, the director has no qualms about showing it off properly and the special effects are much more reminiscent of the dark CGI fantasy work featured in the films of Guillermo del Toro, who is credited as executive producer. I’d say that I would recognise his hallmark stamp a little on the film but, then again, I’m just not too confident in exactly how much direct contact and impact on the final product the executive producer on these things has these days... so I don’t think it’s necessarily his doing.
Whoever’s fault it is, though, it’s all a good thing for the film and the way certain parts of the story are visually expressed by the “DNA” of the title creature are a great help in moving the story along too... and not just used as an “illustrative element”. I don’t want to explain that visual element too much, however, because I’m trying to keep this review pretty spoiler free.
One of the other things that keeps the film from ever slipping into the realm of the dull or the humdrum is the four or five notable performances in the film, especially those of the two sisters who really sell it right from the start. This is a real collaborative effort and a great outpouring of combined creative energy which covers all the production aspects of the film, including some great sound design and a nice little score I’ll need to keep an ear out for too.
It all makes for a film which will continue to play out in your mind for a day or two and that’s one thing I am grateful for. The other thing I’m equally grateful for is my inadvertent delay in writing this review because it let the film do its work in my head and I suddenly had a bit of an epiphany on the bus coming home tonight, because I’d let the film take possession of my soul and haunt me when I was least expecting it...
Essentially, there's a neat little twist towards the end of this movie and, normally, just my pre-knowledge of that fact (which I did have, actually) is enough to allow me to figure it out within the first 5 or 10 minutes of a film. This time, however, I hadn’t even perceived that there was a twist when I actually saw it... I just let the hypnotically beautiful visuals wash over me and missed it completely, I guess. There was something the director took time to carefully highlight a few times before the end of the film (aka visually bash me over the head with) but, unusually for me, I just didn’t pick up on it at all and, whereas that should have ensured I was even more surprised at the finale, all it meant was I just didn’t even perceive that there was anything more to the ending than what I saw on the surface.
In this particular instance, it was probably me just being stupid but all I will say to those of you who have not gone out to see this one yet, is that you should really watch those opening credits very closely... and if you do you will be rewarded. I’m now definitely picking up the blu-ray of this thing when it comes out because I want to watch it again and go in knowing what I know about the ending now... it will be a much more rewarding experience because of it, I suspect.
So there you go... mostly traditional ghost story but with a slight twist, well written, beautiful CGI on the “Mama ghost creature” who is a character in her own right, a cool dream/nightmare sequence (I didn’t mention this before but the Mama back story dream sequence is amazingly well presented), brilliant performances from the actors and actresses involved, a sexy rock chic (okay, so I might be a bit biased on that count) and some truly stunning visuals.
Oh... and it’s scary, which is something maybe a lot more modern horror movies should try to remember to be these days. If you’re a fan of ghostly apparitions with a beautiful, dark fantasy world element, then Mama is right up your street... and if you’re not careful she may just haunt you on a bus a few days later.
Saturday, 23 February 2013
A Good Day To Die Hard
Directed by John Moore
Playing at cinemas now.
Okay. So there’s a lot of negative criticism about this fifth installment of the Die Hard franchise going around at the moment and all I can say, really, is that while I can well understand where all the backlash on this one is coming from, if you are one of those people who are okay with films which are non-stop action, then this really isn’t all that bad, just taking it in those terms.
I’ve also heard some comments that this doesn’t really feel like a Die Hard film and on that point I’d really have to disagree. It may not be a very good Die Hard film, I’d let you get away with that one, but it’s certainly got enough in common in terms of the main John McClane character, the way in which lead actor Bruce Willis chooses to play him and other elements in the periphery of the character, to provide adequate links to the tone of the preceding four movies. There’s also another strong binding force on this one, which helps the film glue together with the lead character’s previous outings... but I’ll get to that in a minute.
Unlike the first two films in the series (reviewed here) this movie is not based on anyone’s novel and whereas they got away with this approach fine with both the third Die Hard movie (my favourite in the sequence) and the fourth one, it has to be said that the script to this one doesn’t really seem to have a lot going for it, to be fair. In fact, there’s hardly any plot at all and I don’t think its really giving too many spoilers away to briefly summarise that plot here... bearing in mind all this stuff is shown in the trailers and promos for the film anyway.
John McClane goes to see his estranged son stand trial for an assassination in Russia, but it turns out his kid is actually a spy who is facing off against a terrorist threat and soon the McClanes find themselves patching up old differences and “bonding in action” as they wage back to back war against the fairly obvious “bad guys”, all punctuated by a number of bangs, whistles, staccato bursts of machine gun fire and loud explosions as man and machine alike are subject to large explosions and other, various amounts of “an American in Russia”-appropriate carnage.
It doesn’t help too much that the dialogue in the movie isn’t that sparkly either, to be honest. I guess it might be some tribute to the actors in question (all of whom were excellent and doing their best, I have to say) that the characters look like they’re just making up their dialogue as they go along, and it’s more true to life in terms of those kinds of considerations... but it’s possibly something less special when it looks like the actors in question actually are also probably just making up things as they go along too. Sometimes, naturalistic dialogue in the arts needs a little more push to keep it real.
However, there are some nice things about the movie too and some of the action sequences are quite exciting, if that’s your bag. The editing on these kinds of segments which, if I’m honest, make up almost all of the film’s running time, is pretty good in terms of modern day action editing... in the sense that you can at least make out what is actually going on in them without any jarring juxtapositions to jangle your brain cells. However, the downside to this is that there do seem to be a fair few continuity errors throughout the length of the movie which are quite glaring, actually... but at least you can watch them and pick holes in those fairly easily, without getting completely “lost in the edit”, I guess.
Another nice thing is the way the movie does, in fact, gel with the previous movies.
Back in my review of The Detective (right here) I highlighted the fact that the John McClane character originated from the character in this novel/film and that, once Sinatra had turned the sequel down, the character was renamed John McClane and the sequel novel was retooled for Bruce Willis... and here we are. Well, there’s a nice little tip of the hat to this in this fifth installment where a Russian taxi cab driver sings a Sinatra hit to Bruce Willis, so I quite enjoyed the irony of that little scene.
Also, this is the first time for a while that two Die Hard movies have had a running character other than John McClane played by the same person. The film features both McClane’s son and daughter (originally seen as kids in the first installment of the series) and in this one, the always excellent Mary Elizabeth Winstead is back from her stint of playing his daughter, Lucy McClane, in the previous film in the series Die Hard 4.0 (aka Live free Or Die Hard). She’s not in it much but she bookends the film somewhat and thats kinda okay (even if the film does end on a 1970s TV freeze frame... oops).
The opening titles are nicely handled too, paying homage in the style of the typography, perhaps, to the late great graphic designer Saul Bass, although the words are way too small, I expect, to be easy for anyone to read them watching on a normal sized TV screen or monitor, which is the way these films tend to get remembered historically, once they’ve passed their original theatrical release.
One great thing, which I alluded to earlier and which keeps good continuity with the previous films, is Marco Beltrami’s excellent score. He also scored the last movie in the franchise because the guy who did such an outstanding job on the first three films, Michael Kamen, had died since scoring the third. Here, Beltrami not only brings back the influence of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony to give it continuity with the first film (although the exact reason he’s brought back this particular piece of leitmotif is unclear as the characters it’s associated with are not in this movie) but he also gives a lot of this score a very Kamenesque sound, especially in the action cues which echo the previous composers specific kind of histrionics and it’s really great that Beltrami is happy to blend his own style with elements of Kamen’s distinctive musical voice so much. I don’t know, yet, whether this holds up as a stand alone listen away from the visuals and sound mix it often gets buried under in this entry, but in terms of playing out within the context of the movie and hitting the spot in terms of franchise recognition, Beltrami does a really good job on this one.
And there you have it. This movie isn’t going to win any awards, I suspect, and personally I can agree with what seems to be the general opinion on this one in that it’s certainly the worst in the franchise... but it still delivers most of the required thrills as an action piece so I’m cutting it some slack here. I also hope this isn’t the last we’ll see of this series either. I think a more restrained (in terms of over the top action) and tighter, cleverer script could see a real return to form for the series if the studio were willing to pump in some more time and talent to the project. Bruce Willis may be an awkward cuss to work with sometimes but he’s certainly a great performer and one of the few modern “stars” out there. Give him a decent screenplay and he’ll come up trumps. Meanwhile, if you like action movies and you’re a fan of the franchise in general, the links to the previous movies really aren’t all that tenuous and you may well find yourself having a good time with this one if you give it a go and you’ve got a couple of hours to waste at your local cinema. Maybe give this one a look sometime.
Tuesday, 19 February 2013
Valley Sin Day
You Only Live Twice
Directed by Lewis Gilbert
EON Blu Ray Region A/B/C
With a screenplay by noted children's writer Roald Dahl, You Only Live Twice is a pretty good Bond film with lots and lots of stories surrounding it which I could talk about: the recasting and reshooting of Blofeld, the frightened cat that got lost for days/weeks in the volcano set, the almost suicide of one of the leading actresses who wasn’t working out until she was welcomed back and switched roles with another actress. Loads of stories but too many to tell on one of my small reviews.
Instead, I’m going to just write about some of my own observations on the film and if I find them leading into stories, so be it. I also want to push a speculative idea about the pre-credits sequence of this and a much later Bond film, The World Is Not Enough... but I’ll circle around back to that in a minute.
I first saw this movie as part of a double bill with either Thunderball, From Russia With Love or Diamonds Are Forever, back in either 1973 or 1974, and since then I must have seen it maybe a dozen times over the intervening years. It’s a quite powerful Bond film with a bit more of an epic feel than the previous movie, although I can’t explain why that is since the underwater battles in Thunderball were what epic excess is all about. Maybe it’s the great, hulking volcano interior set designed by Ken Adam, where Donald Pleasence’s Blofeld has his villainous lair, that helps gives the feeling of everything being generally larger than life. Whatever it is though, this Bond film has a certain sense of power to it which maybe some of the other directors in the series sometimes lacked.
Looking back on it now, I find the editing to be a lot more jumpy than I remembered. In a lot of sequences in the film, editor Peter Hunt takes natural “journeys” and “routines” and instead of showing A followed by B followed by C followed by D, for instance, he just cuts straight from A to D in this one and relies on the collective brain of the audience to just fill in the gaps. It used to work fine on me because I never noticed it before, but viewing it this time around it felt a little more jarring in some places.
This was supposed to be Connery’s last film in the series and knowing that nowadays, he does look kinda unhappy in the role in certain key scenes... playing things maybe a little more glumly than usual. Maybe my brain is just making that up but he just doesn’t seem that enthusiastic in the role anymore. This wasn’t his last Bond film, of course, as he would return in both the EON series film Diamonds Are Forever and, of course, the non-EON Thunderball remake Never Say Never Again, in the 1980s. But more on those when I get around to watching them again.
So maybe some of Connery’s performance is a bit wooden but he certainly still carries the movie on his able shoulders and he has some excellent co-stars, especially in the form of famous Japanese actor Tetsurô Tanba, who was in such things as the original version of Hari Kiri (alongside the great Tatsuya Nakadai) and Three Outlaw Samurai. He was also in some pretty interesting Japanese exploitation movies including one of my all time favourite, outrageous Japanese movies, Bohachi Bushido: Code Of The Forgotten Eight!
Add to this an excellent John Barry score (and a “pieced together from a gazillion different, challenging takes” song sung by Nancy Sinatra) which includes the third use of his 007 sub theme which was first heard in the gypsy camp shoot out in From Russia With Love, in a fresh and brilliant arrangement for the scenes with the gyrocopter “Little Nellie”, and you have a sure fire winner of a film. I read a book about the music of the James Bond films just recently (reviewed here) and I was surprised that the author didn’t mention the, to me quite obvious, fact that the opening title theme to the next Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, started out life in the music to this film. There are a few instances in the film, most notably highlighted on the original release soundtrack album on the cue Fight At Kobe Dock - Helga, where a complicated base line is the absolute dead spit of the bass line on which the main theme to the next film is hung on, albeit in a slightly simpler form than it is here. I don’t think I’m wrong on this count... go check it out!
The film also has a memorable pre-credits sequence which actually turns out to be more like three pre-credits sequence... and I have a theory about this but this theory also applies to the Brosnan starring The World Is Not Enough... so I’ll start there.
The pre-credits sequence of The World Is Not Enough is actually three pre-credits sequences joined together. You have a) Bond escaping from the bank in Balboa, followed by b) a debriefing session with M, followed by c) the assassination and subsequent, epic speedboat chase (one of my personal favourite Bond pre-credits sequences). However, this all goes on for a bit and, anyway, why three? Now, I’ve never seen this confirmed anywhere but it’s my belief that the bank scene in itself was originally meant to be the pre-title sequence but then it was deemed to be not exciting enough maybe (I’d agree) and so they let the film play through and used the speedboat chase to be the climax of the pre-credits. No idea if that’s right or not but that’s my personal belief. I reckon the titles were originally supposed to have started with Bond sliding down into them, not falling into them and had to be slightly adjusted at a later stage.
Now then, back to You Only Live Twice.
You have the film starting with such “British resident USA guys” as Ed Bishop and Shane Rimmer, plus Barry’s iconic and driven fugue accompanying the equally iconic kidnapping of a spaceship by SPECTRE. There is an establishing shot of a radar dish shortly after and I believe that’s where the original credits were supposed to have started, especially when the first graphic image on screen of a parasol or whatever is obviously a parody of the satellite dish... however, I think the producers lost faith in the pre-credits sequence not having Bond in it and chickened out and recut things around as this is followed by a United Nations style conference and then followed by the machine gunning to death of James Bond... which then leads into the credits. I think this was a case of the film-makers changing their minds because of the lack of the main protagonist before the credits in this one but, as it happens, it does tie nicely into their almost obsession with having some movies in the series starting with the apparent death of the hero...
From Russia With Love had Bond garroted to death before revealing it was another character wearing a Bond mask, for example, and Thunderball teases the audience with a glimpse of the initials JB on a coffin. So this intro, where you see Bond seemingly betrayed and then machine gunned to death (before being “resurrected” in the post credits sequence), is certainly in keeping with the style of a couple of the Bonds that had gone before it and, of course, it’s still a preoccupation with the producers of these movies to this day. Last year’s Skyfall (reviewed here) started off with a pre-credits sequence which left Bond shot dead until a point a little later in the film. Another tradition that the latter film revisited amongst others.
You Only Live Twice is a good, solid entry into the Bond series and, although not the best of the Connery Bonds, it could certainly make a good jumping on point if you’ve never seen one of these things before. A respectable and highly recommended addition to the series, then, but, the best was yet to come...
EON James Bond Movie Reviews on NUTS4R2
Sunday, 17 February 2013
Breakfast At Fulci’s
Zombie Flesh Eaters (aka Zombi 2 aka Zombie)
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Arrow Blu Ray Region A/B/C
When I finally caught up with seeing Blake Edwards 1961 romantic comedy Breakfast At Tiffany’s a number of years ago, my first impression of the film was, “Wow! This is just like Zombie Flesh Eaters.” I’ll come back to that thought for you in a minute.
Lucio Fulci has always been a bit of a hit and miss director for me, although I have started coming around to his work more in recent years (this stuff was almost impossible to get uncut and in its correct aspect ratio before the dawn of the multiregion DVD) and I think some of his films, such as the giallo Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (reviewed here) are among the finest of the genre.
When I first saw Zombie Flesh Eaters, as it is quaintly and luridly known here in the UK, it was with the reputation of being a once banned video nasty which a lot of the kids at school had already seen on uncut pirate video in their very early teens. I caught up with it almost two decades later when it was shown on a cable channel but... it still had the notoriously censored “wooden splinter slowly penetrates eyeball” scene sliced out of it by our less than beloved censors. I’ve said this before, a long time ago, but I think it bears repeating here... the removal of what is ultimately a fairly cheesy technical and practical effect actually serves to render the scene a lot stronger because your imagination tends to fill in the blank and it takes on a certain power as a scene without it. Nevertheless, there’s no way I was going to be left having watched only a censored version of the movie so I immediately bought the American DVD edition which was uncut, and my appreciation for the movie grew over the years.
I’m now on my third home video print of the film, Arrow’s new Region Free Blu Ray edition, which my cousin got me in a nice “steelbook double disc” edition for Christmas. There is, ironically, a ‘seamless branching’ error on the first disc, containing the film, which means the initial purchase of this “uncut zombie classic” will actually be missing the first 6 seconds of the post-credits establishing shot. Luckily, Arrow have now come clean about this and there is an address where you can send the first disc back to them and they will, hopefully, send you a replacement disc when the second pressing is done (was still waiting for mine to come back when I started writing this review but, hey! It’s here now with 6 seconds fully restored).
Contrary to popular belief, this movie was not “initially” made to cash in on the Dario Argento cut of George Romero’s second zombie feature Dawn Of The Dead (also known as Zombi) in its Italian release. The script was already being well worked on and looked at before that film hit cinemas. However, the players in the Italian film industry are never ones to let the opportunity for a ride on a successful band wagon get away from them so Zombie Flesh Eaters was released after Romero’s film with the title, in Italy, of Zombi 2... in the hopes that people would think it was a sequel (the irony being, of course, that Dawn Of The Dead was already, in itself, a sequel to Romero’s groundbreaking Night Of The Living Dead). In the US I believe it was just released as Zombie and over here it ran afoul of the Video Nasties list when it was released to early home video as Zombie Flesh Eaters. A small case could be put forward, if one wanted to bother to try to tenuously link this movie to Romero’s film, that this movie “could” be seen as a prequel to Romero’s Dead films, since the movie closes with hordes of zombies invading New York over the Brooklyn Bridge (presumably stolen shots because I believe there was some trouble when Fulci’s production didn’t bother to get a license to shoot any footage in the US) but it’s a frail link at best and I don’t think Romero would approve of the mere idea of voodoo being the cause of the zombies in his movies.
So, getting back to my opening statement... looking at this film again after a good few years reminds me straight away why I feel that Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters and Edwards’ Breakfast at Tiffany’s are like two peas in a pod. It’s all to do with the way the shots are framed and designed. Everything in this movie is composed around vertical lines which often serve to truncate the frame into sections for the placement of people and objects within a shot... and this is exactly what I remember the Blake Edwards film doing too. Fulci seems hell bent on finding vertical splitters for a good deal of the film, heck he’ll even split shots with highlighted “hero” palm trees in the jungle scenes, or ensure that the jeep which our heroes ride in has one of those two piece windscreens so that he can compose people in this fashion. Other times, when it’s just two people talking in a room, for example, he’ll use texture and colour change on the wallpaper behind them to artificially create this kind of blocked in space and patiently drop his actors into different sections. It’s a great triumph of cinematography (which is more than most pictures of this kind of subject matter might have gotten treated to in terms of design) but it also serves to give the film a certain sense of subconscious claustrophobia to it... as everyone seems to be closeted away in their own separate space.
The film has Tisa Farrow (Mia’s sister) and the lovely Auretta Gay but its two principle assets are the English actors Richard Johnson (yeah, the cool dude who played Bulldog Drummond in the sixties and who played a major role in the original Robet Wise version of The Haunting) and Ian McCulloch (who was in stuff like The Survivors and who went on to star in a couple of other Italian horror-exploitation movies including the ludicrous and eminently watchable Contagion). Johnson and McCulloch really lend credence to the plot and laughable dialogue in this movie by investing everything they have to say and do with a certain amount of conviction and weight.
Of course, one of the movie’s standout and most celebrated scenes starts off with Auretta Gay showing off a couple of her principle assets with her topless scuba dive routine (which is nice, I admit). This leads into an extraordinary scene where she comes face to face with a shark. Things get intense (and nice to look at) as she tries to evade the shark and goes to hide behind a bit or underwater coral... and then you get the ‘hand on the shoulder’ moment and she is in battle with... an underwater zombie. Yes! She manages to evade both the zombie and the shark to get back on her boat but this leaves us with a shark versus zombie scene, where the zombie bites the shark and comes out the clear winner. Yeah, that’s right. This film has a Zombie VS Shark scene. How can you not want to watch a film that has that? How cool is this?
The rest of the film after this scene is not an anti-climax as you’d think either, with two great gory set pieces being the famous house invasion/eye gouging scene and the ancient graveyard scene with the famous iconic ‘zombie with maggots in its eye’ that usually makes the cover of most releases of the film (recently referenced in the charming zombie remake of Romeo and Juliet, Warm Bodies, reviewed here). The sense of claustrophobia and intensity increases as the film goes on (aided by those fantastic shot designs) and the ending is pretty good too, with the film's two survivors (I’m not telling you which two) facing a less than certain future in their boat with a living dead friend threatening to batter his way up from below and nowhere for them to run to.
Zombie Flesh Eaters may seem, these days, to be a bit of a cliché in terms of genre classics to keep an eye out for (quite literally), but it still packs a wallop and though I’d have liked to have seen the Ian McCulloch commentary track from the old Anchor Bay release making the cut on the new Blu Ray edition (or at least a new commentary track, maybe), Arrow have done a good job with this release (seamless branching error aside) and some of the extras on here, while still being repetitive in terms of what has come from various releases in the past, are well worth your time... as are the little, cute animations this company likes to create for some of the featurettes on their titles. If you’ve not seen this movie before and, especially, if you’re a native of the UK and haven’t seen it uncut before, now’s your chance to catch it in as good an edition as your likely to get... just remember to check the opening, pre-credits shot out and send it back if you’ve got one of the discs with an error on it.
Saturday, 16 February 2013
On Her Majesty's
Secret Score Vice
The Music Of James Bond
by Jon Burlingame
Oxford University Press
I want to point out, up front, that Jon Burlingame’s new book, The Music of James Bond, is an invaluable addition to the bookshelves of any movie score lovers home. There are some negative things I’ve got to say about it but these in no way belittle the fact that this is pretty much an essential purchase if you are interested in the Bond phenomenon and the scores that go with it.
That being said, I did find the writer a little less interested, in most of the chapters, in concentrating on the actual scores to the films themselves and the way they were created and developed, and more interested in the various stories around the genesis and the recording of the actual Bond songs themselves which, although its true they sometimes (not always) provide thematic material for the scores to riff on, are for me the least interesting aspect of a Bond score. Especially now that we have two Bond CD’s, the recent Casino Royale remake and Skyfall, which didn’t even see fit to include the song on the album of the film.
There are some lengthy descriptions of the musical highlights of the film with time references which are displayed in a bottom, grayed out bar on many of the pages, but I found this to be really just place marker kind of stuff and, for the most part, nothing really meaty about the underscore itself. The gray bars also are a bad layout choice in this particular book because both the main text and the grayed out box text are running simultaneously and not ending on the same pages... just continuing over to the next page. So you need to either keep darting backwards and forwards to get the bits you missed, or make a conscious decision to just read one or the other over a chapter and then go back and read all the stuff you missed. Personally, I just see this as bad design and found it to be the one really big weakness of the book.
Another disappointment is the fact that the first Bond production, the 1954 version of Casino Royale, is barely mentioned and only then when it comes to talking about the 1967 version. This ruffled me the wrong way because the 1954 Climax version from TV, quite apart from being the straightest adaptation of the novel (with some obvious and reluctant caveats), pretty much marks the first music for a James Bond adventure. Yeah, okay, the cues used in this were almost certainly library cues tracked in to the production but, even so, I wanted to know who wrote them and what was on the producers’ minds when they chose certain “needle drops”. Unfortunately, this book doesn’t cover this.
It does, however, cover two of the non-EON Bond scores, the aforementioned 1967 version of Casino Royale and the Thunderball remake Never Say Never Again. But again, this book is not called The Music of the James Bond Movies... it’s called The Music Of James Bond and I was a bit underwhelmed with the fact that only the character’s cinematic adventures have been earmarked here for musical exploration when there are also TV spin offs and video games which might have also yielded rich results.
I also found myself surprised that, for what is supposedly a fairly specialist subject area, I actually had been able to glean a lot (95% maybe) of what was gathered here over the years from other sources... I really didn’t think I knew much, or anything, about the subject when I started the book, but as I went through I realised that I did... or at least knew as much as the writer was willing to share anyway (strikes me there are some possible untold stories lurking between the lines of this book which might have opened various cans of legal worms if Mr. Burlingame had told them... but that’s just conjecture on my part).
However, now that I’ve said my piece there, I should probably point out that the information about the Bond songs and scores that is available in this book, is expertly assembled and the writer conveys it all in a chatty, easy to read style which, in some ways, makes you feel like you’re visiting with old friends or relatives who trot out the same but always entertaining stories time after time. And all the good ones you expect are all in here. You know the ones...
The one where Shirley Bassey is singing Goldfinger but her lungs are too constricted to hold the notes so take after take she sheds more clothes until she finally gets it right and is topless in the recording booth. Or the one where Tom Jones almost passes out from holding that high note at the end of Thunderball. Or the one where Nancy Sinatra can’t quite get the hang of it so John Barry has to build her vocal track up from a gazillion little snippets to get You Only Live Twice in a useable state. These little well known comfort stories are all here for your perusal and, importantly, they are all in one place and easily findable on a film by film basis.
Perhaps written for the Bond music novice, rather than for the people who have travelled the road of these stories in little, bite sized chunks over the years, Jon Burlingame’s The Music Of James Bond is, as I said when I started this short review, an invaluable guide to all the main stories on the music of the Bond phenomenon over the years. It’s not technically alienating in its use of the descriptions either, so even “musically illiterate” readers like myself will be able to pick up this book and give it a go. Definitely a big recommend for me and certainly something I’d expect to come across in any soundtrack lovers home.
Sunday, 10 February 2013
Romero And Juliet
Directed by Jonathan Levine
Playing at cinemas now.
Warning: Very light spoilers.
You know, I saw absolutely no publicity on this film at all until a couple of days before it started playing at my local cinema, courtesy of same cinema’s i-phone app, and even then it was just because I was checking to see what time another movie was going to be playing. And this is why great movies like this one here are doomed to smaller box office (and often don’t get a general theatrical release at all) while the Batmans and X-Mens of this world grab all the screen time.
Warm Bodies is a new zombie film which, like almost all modern zombie films, takes its basic plot logic from George A. Romero’s revitalisation of the genre in his 1968 film Night Of The Living Dead. With this movie though, it’s more like Nights Of The Loving Dead as this is basically a remake of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette, but relocated to a zombie setting. I didn’t know this when I went to see the movie but if you haven’t figured it out by the time you get to the balcony scene then you might as well hear it from me.
And I have to say, it works really well.
The movie is mostly told from the viewpoint of “R”, a sluggish zombie whose inner dialogue as he shuffles about his daily routine helps set up the audience by running through all the usual Romero zombie ground rules while at the same time introducing a new sub-section of zombies, the “boneys” who are pretty much so far gone in terms of decay, that they are, for all intents and purposes, walking skeletons. Even though R complains about the slow shuffling of his daily routine, the writer/director does try to have his cake and eat it on this one, as there are also a load of really fast, running zombies, including the boneys, who kind of fly in the face of the cinematic convention we’re lead to believe this film is being informed by and, although there are good reasons for this as a biological progression as the movie runs its course, the phenomenon seems to be too bedded in even near the start of the movie for it to make much sense within the genre conventions set up in the opening sequences.
That being said, that’s about the only criticism I have of this movie. It’s a neat little love story and when R falls in love with a human “hunter/gatherer”, Julie, after eating her boyfriend, he smuggles her back to his airplane home at an airport and looks after her, gathering food for her and romancing her with his collection of vinyl records, which he prefers to downloads and CDs. There’s also a nice little gag when Julie holds up the cover of a DVD edition of Lucio Fulci’s Zombi (aka Zombi 2 and Zombie Flesh Eaters, reviewed on this blog soon, in its new blu ray edition) and compares the maggot infested features of the “iconic” zombie from that film with those of the relatively normal looking “R”. And there’s even a major plot point which takes the Dan O’ Bannon scripted spoof Return Of The Living Dead as its “rulebook source” (in fact, wasn’t one of the sequels to that, which I’ve not seen. also a version of Romeo And Juliet?). That last presumably comes from the original novel on which this film is based, which I haven't read myself, as yet.
I don’t want to spoil too much of this movie but when Julie returns back to her community of surviving humans, lead by her father (played by John Malkovich), she is unaware that the act of "R" and her "bonding" has brought a carthartic reaction among the less far gone of the zombies, including "R" himself, which has kickstarted their hearts and started a self healing process as the undead in question slowly start turning back into something like humans again. Love, it seems, really is the drug, at least when it comes to discovering a cure for the undead. Of course, all this means that the boneys are now also hunting zombies (they key off of heartbeats) and pretty soon two zombie factions, the boneys and the walking dead but getting less deader, are converging at the walls of the last surviving refuge of humans and "R" and Julie find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place.... or at least "R" finds himself stuck between a bullet in the brain from John Malkovich and being eaten by boneys.
I didn’t know this is the same writer/director who made a brilliant (against all the odds, considering the genre) slasher movie about seven years ago called All The Boys Love Mandy Lane (reviewed here) and I have to say he’s definitely one to watch out for. Again, the tragic ending of Shakespeare’s original is played out here but I’m not actually spoiling anything for you here because, even if you’ve figured out that the rules of the zombie genre can somehow change how that ending can work, there’s a bit more surprise about how the filmmakers go about doing this than I expected and, since the obvious template is never in question, I think it’s fair to say I’m really not giving much away here.
This zombie film is bright, original (well okay, maybe not original but certainly well thought through and realised), has absolutely brilliant performances from all involved and is, ultimately, quite heart warming. It even managed to jump-scare me a couple of times, which is no mean feat for a zombie movie, which is a genre more about body count fodder than genuine scares, for the most part. I can only recommend this film to anyone and it’s not just zombie fans who will take something away from this... fans of romantic movies for lovers should have no real problems with this movie and I found it an absolute joy. If you want a movie to see on Valentine’s Day this year, and you don’t mind a bit of blood and gore mixed in with your romance, then this is definitely the movie to go and see on February 14th. Definitely a DVD purchase when this gets a release.
It also makes me wonder when we’ll see a seventh George A. Romero movie hit the cinema as it’s certainly a shot in the arm for the genre and deserves no small measure of success and influence on the money holders' collective purse strings. Wherefore art thou Romero?
Thursday, 7 February 2013
Eleven Of The Most
Powerful Movie Endings
Okay then people... look at the title of this article. That pretty much implies spoilers are going to be present, right? So you’ve been duly warned I’m going to just be discussing the final moments of these movies here. There’s no excuse for you to come moaning at me about this later on then, okay?
Proceed at your own risk...
11. Seven Samurai (1954)
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Four of the seven protagonists lay dead and the surviving three look at their funeral mounds with the fallen warrior’s swords sticking up from them. The youngest of the three does not, as initially planned, go with the other two. He runs off to be with the woman he loves and to live the life of a farmer. Depending on which English translation you watch, Kambei, the leader of the seven, brilliantly played by acting legend Takashi Shimura, says “The farmers have won. Not us.”, signifying his acceptance of the throwaway nature of the ronin and their place as people outcast from society once their purpose is served. You then, perhaps, remember the armour which the farmers have “accumulated” over the years and the implications as to how they came into its possession, and realise the truth alongside these two remaining survivors.
10. Solaris (1972)
Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky
After his adventures on the space station, we find Kris, the main protagonist, is back on earth at his fathers house in a series of shots designed to recall the opening of the movie. However, when Kris goes inside the house we are soon aware something is very wrong because, like the small detail of not simulating buttons on the various replicas of Kris’ dead wife’s dress, rain starts to fall inside the house... not outside. We pull back miles to find that Kris’ dad’s house and surrounding land is actually replicated on Solaris. Is Kris really there or is this a copy of Kris? Indeed, was the opening of the film also set on Solaris instead of Earth and we just didn’t know (after all, the space flight is not seen and the metaphor of a long car journey is used to imply the emotional bleakness of the trip into space)? Once you start to think about this ending... you start to go down tangents and corridors you didn’t expect to travel. Welcome to... Solaris.
9. Kill List (2011)
Directed by Ben Wheatley
Okay... so this movie ending is powerful not because it takes you by surprise in any way. If you’ve made it through to the end of this sometimes harrowing movie, you will probably have figured out the dual identity of the not so mysterious “hunchback” mentioned in the final chapter title. You probably know the main protagonist is going to end up accidentally killing his wife and little boy so that, in itself, is no big deal. The real power in the ending is not the “what the heck just happened” of the last scene but the “why the heck did it happen” element of it. The sheer “this makes no sense” ingredient of this sequence which makes you want to immediately go back and watch it again to decipher the clues so you can figure out just what is going on all the way through the movie, is what makes it so damned resonant in the mind. Even though, I believe, the little breadcrumbs scattered through the movie are just one big, inscrutable tease to keep you hooked on the unanswerable puzzle element of the movie. A bit mind blowing the first time you watch it.
I reviewed Kill List here.
8. Betty Blue
aka 37°2 le matin (1986)
Directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix
After Betty finally succumbs to her inevitable nervous breakdown, she pokes her own eye out and flips over the edge into madness and catatonia. Her lover finally finds a way to sneak into hospital and put her out of her misery by smothering her with a pillow. When he returns home he finds that Betty’s dream of him becoming a successful writer starts to pay off. While writing his next novel, he glances at his new companion, a cat, and we hear Betty talking to him in his mind, as though she has become the cat. We realise Betty will be inside his head forever.
7. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez
Lots of running around as the surviving two “camera eye” kids run around the strange house, presumably belonging to the Blair Witch. As heroine Heather is jumped/knobbled by “something bad” and the camera drops to the ground, we see the other survivor, Mike, standing away from camera with his face in the corner of the room.... which goes right back to a reference in an interviewee’s report of the Blair Witch legend from right at the start of the movie. Now the film has ended, the slaughter is about to begin. This ending really seems to grab people by the throat and I remember seeing a midnight performance of the film in Barnet when it first came out, and a dazed and puzzled stranger I’d never met before came up to ask me about what the ending all meant because he couldn’t make head nor tail of it. It packs quite a wallop the first time around.
6. The Last Broadcast (1998)
Directed by Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler
An absolutely genius of a film, not least because I actually didn’t see the end coming until about 30 seconds before it actually happens. A cameraman is recruited by two local cable access TV personalities to accompany them into a forest in search of the legendary Jersey Devil... but only the new guy returns alive and is assumed to be their killer. A local movie maker starts to make a documentary film integrating the huge amount of footage, some badly deteriorated, the two dead men recorded in the hopes of learning more about what bizarre happenings took place. The film maker talks you through things and at the end of the film, he is talking directly to the audience while a woman is computer cleaning and enhancing footage which is about to, hopefully, reveal what really happened to the two men. Then she, in the background, discovers the key to the mystery... tries to escape but, to no avail. The documentary filmmaker kills her in grizzly fashion, just like it turns out he killed the two men, dumps her body in the forest, and then calmly continues narrating his documentary. This is totally unexpected and, because of the performances, is not something you are going to forget in a hurry.
5. The Shining (1980)
Directed by Stanley Kubrik
At number 5 I’ve picked the first of two Stephen King “adaptations” for this selection. The ends of both those adaptations were pretty much added on by the filmmakers and didn’t end this way in King’s original source material.
In this version of The Shining, after going mad in the Overlook Hotel and terrorising his wife and kid, Jack Torrance is dead and frozen in the “snowed up” snowy snow. All fine and dandy, but then, right at the movies last shot, we focus on a photograph of people at the hotel from way-back-when old timey days (well, maybe it was just the twenties, I forget) while a period song is rendered seriously spooky by its juxtaposition with this chilling shot.
Why is it chilling and powerful?
Because the picture includes Jack Torrance as one of the people in the photograph? What’s going on? Has the house claimed his soul and whacked him into the photo as a keepsake? Or was he always a guest there and always fated to come back to the hotel in various incarnations? Who knows? Probably not Kubrik, I’m guessing, who successfully manages to bugger up your mind here if you think about it too hard... um... I mean, the inherent paradox will be vaguely disturbing as you ponder all its multiple possibilities and variant riffs. Either way... this movie stays with you after because of this beautifully unsettling coda.
4. The Mist (2007)
Directed by Frank Darabont
And coming right at ya, we have the other Stephen King adaptation in this list...
After being terrorised by bizarre monsters all through the novella, the main protagonist and his son drive off into The Mist in search of a possible hopeful haven from their trouble. In Frank Darabont’s movie version though, it’s a gazillion times more bleaker than that. After the main protagonist David, his son Billy and their two companions, find David and Billy’s gorily dead wife/mother who they have been trying ot get back to all movie, the four decide that there’s going to be no help coming from the impossible world-changing terror which has struck. So, they decide to end it all as they still have some rounds left in the hand pistol they brought with them. However, there are only three bullets for the four of them. David volunteers to figure something out after he’s dispatched them all and he kills all three of them, including his own son, one shot apiece. In his grief, he barrels out of the car and keeps firing empty chambers into his own head... in time to see “the cavalry” arrive in the form of the military who have rescued all of the people who were left holed up in the supermarket in which they’d spent most of the film hiding. If he’d just waited another few minutes... all of them would have been saved. The accompanying vocal wailings by Lisa Gerrard on a special film version of the Dead Can Dance track The Host Of Seraphim just emphasises the utter pointlessness and bitter tragedy of this final, haunting sequence.
3. The Wicker Man (1973)
Directed by Robin Hardy
This is actually not one of my favourite movies, although I will give it another look someday in the not so distant future in case I change my mind. Throughout the film, Edward Woodward investigates strange occurrences in a village where, it turns out, everyone is into a pagan-istic, devil worshipping style kind of groove. Woodward’s character is seized by the villagers at the end and dragged to be burned inside a large Wicker Man as the piece de resistance of their annual ritual. As he’s dragged closer to realise the danger, the audience is waiting for the obvious deus ex machina which will free our hero and allow him to punish his persecutors... but instead, he is put inside the Wicker Man and burned alive, screaming for the religious deity who has forsaken him, without intervention. End of movie! Scarifyingly powerful stuff... especially if you’re not expecting it.
2. The Great Silence (1968)
Directed by Sergio Corbucci
Well this really takes the biscuit for completely gloomy endings and was banned in a lot of countries (I think here in the UK too) for a couple of decades until it started getting screenings again. I first saw it screened under the title The Big Silence, as part of Alex Cox’s Moviedrome season on BBC2, back in the day.
The mute, title character of Silence is played by famous French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant as he tries to save the rag tag bunch of so-called “outlaws” in a small community from the evil bounty killer Loco, played by Klaus Kinski. The film is both bleak and beautiful in that it’s a snow bound Spaghetti Western with a wonderful score by Ennio Morricone, but the ending really kicks you in the gut. Silence is wounded and has fallen for the woman who has asked him to avenge her dead husband, unfairly killed by Loco. They now form a romantic bond but Loco and his men have got all the so-called outlaws, who are really the victims, tied up in the saloon in order to coax Silence out of his hiding place. Silence, our hero, goes to save the day... his new girlfriend follows him. As he approaches the saloon and he and Klaus face off for a Leone-style staring match, one of the bad guys shoots Silence through both hands so he can’t fire the snazzy automatic Mauser pistol he’s been using all through the film. After a bit more Morricone backed staring, evil Loco shoots our hero dead. The girlfriend runs into the scene to avenge him, and she is promptly shot dead too. Then, all the tied up victims in the bar are massacred by the bounty killers. The bad guys win all the way on this one and it’s a scene which stays with you a long time after your first viewing.
In recent years an alternate ending which was shot, possibly to appease some countries censors, was found. I don’t think it’s known if this ending was ever used in any territories but it deserves a brief mention because of the sheer preposterousness of what happens in this alternate take in the face of everything else that’s happened in the movie leading towards this scene. In this version, Silence is shot in the hands like before but as Klaus Kinski goes to finish him off, the “funny sheriff” played by the late, great Frank Wolff, rides in out of the blue on a horse to shoot Loco... even though he was quite definitively seen going to his death earlier in the film. Silence then also bursts into life, seemingly unaffected by the hand shooting, jumps into the saloon and kills all the bad guys. All the good guys are saved and Silence’s girlfriend undoes the bandages on his hand to reveal that he is wearing half a knight's metal gauntlett around his hand, presumably as a mini reference to the plate of metal Clint Eastwood wears under his poncho in A Fistful of Dollars, and they all live happily ever after. It goes without saying though, that if the film had been released with this silly ending, the film would not be remembered and kept alive with much the same enthusiasm that genre fans have done over the years.
If you’re not expecting that original ending... it’s a pretty powerful conclusion to a movie.
1. The Third Man (1949)
Directed by Carol Reed
And my number one pick is perhaps less “in your face” than any of my other choices... although it’s more powerful than any of the endings I’ve mentioned so far...
Harry Lime (Orson Welles) is dead and our hero Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton), who has been pining over Harry’s ex-girlfriend all the movie, as played by Valli, is waiting for her as she walks down a long street away from Harry’s second funeral of the movie. As she walks towards the camera, with Cotton waiting at the side of the screen, in a long unbroken shot accompanied by Anton Karas’ beautiful zither music, we hope she will forgive Holly for shooting his old friend and her ex-lover dead, and embrace the uncertain future which Holly may be able to offer her. Instead, she completely blanks him and continues walking past both him and then the camera... a sad ending to an absolutely brilliant movie and my pick for the most powerfully moving end sequence of all time. I never knew the old Vienna...
Tuesday, 5 February 2013
Bomb De Plume
Directed by Terence Young
EON Blu Ray Region A/B/C
He’s tall... and he’s dark,
And like a shark,
He looks for trouble.
That’s why the zero’s double,
Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
And those, as you may or may not know, are the first lines in the song Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, one of the greatest and most powerful Bond songs ever written... and it was originally supposed to be the opening title song to Thunderball. But I’ll get to the music later.
Thunderball is the fourth Bond film and the third and final film in the series for director Terence Young, who practically reinvented the Bond character for the big screen and helped Sean Connery pull it off in the first two movies which he directed in the sequence, Dr. No and From Russia With Love. It has some interesting little things to look out for but, again, before I go into that, let me give you just a taste of the film’s checkered history.
Thunderball was developed as a script by Ian Fleming to be the first James Bond film. A collaboration which included writing components from his various producing partners, two of whom were also rights holders and caused a lot of trouble for EON on a number of occasions in the courtroom. The two more famous collaborators, Kevin McLory and Jack Whittingham, are even given collaborating credits in the title page within the novel that Ian Fleming turned his screenplay adventure into once the movie obviously wasn’t going to happen. EON wanted to make this their first film but had trouble getting the rights from McLory and co, at the time... so they made Dr. No instead. Ian Fleming’s novel was then published in 1961 and the movie version of Dr. No came out in 1962.
By the time EON wanted another crack at Thunderball, McLory and the gang joined forces for producing the movie... which was now after Fleming’s untimely death, sometime during the production of Goldfinger. However, Fleming had granted rights for McLory to make films based on the characters and ideas in this book, and that’s exactly what he did in the early 1980s with the Sean Connery Bond vehicle Never Say Never Again... which is pretty much a remake of Thunderball... although it also included characters from early drafts of the script which didn’t make it into the final screenplay from the 1965 movie. There were various court battles over the years and the last one over the rights means that EON now has soul ownership of all the Bond movies ever made (including the 1967 version of Casino Royale and, I suspect, the 1950s TV version too). I think similar legal proceedings were happening a long time before this and were the cause of delays in shooting another Bond movie after License To Kill, and which unfortunately cut short Timothy Dalton’s brief but effective turn as Bond.
The Thunderball movie from 1965 is a, mostly, simplistic but (again, mostly) effective Bond movie. I say mostly because the plot idea is over with fairly quickly and everything from then on becomes a “hunt” for missing atomic bombs (the Thunderball’s of the title, presumably). It’s also a bit draggy in places because a lot of the action takes place under water and, frankly, there’s a lot of time wasted due to various underwater establishing shots slowing down the pace of the piece... contextually, though, I’m guessing this was more of a novelty back in 1965 and you certainly didn’t hear me complaining when I saw it as part of a Bond double bill at the cinema around about 1973/74 when I was 5 or 6 years old. I absolutely loved it and that underwater battle stayed with me forever.
So, yeah, now I look back on it... a bit leaden in places but still a solid Bond entry with quite a few items of note in it...
Okay... so this was the first Bond film to be shot in a long, thin 2.35:1 aspect ratio (probably Cinemascope or Panavision... but that kind of ratio anyway). The aspect ratio would change over the films from one kind of size to another, but this marks the first time that the compositions of a frame in a Bond movie could be played about with in this specific shape. This also gave the films producers an excuse (if they really thought they needed one) to rectify something they maybe should have done at the beginning of the series. By which I mean...
The opening gun barrel sequence had to be re-shot to accommodate the new aspect ratio that Terence Young was shooting in. So instead of seeing stuntman Bob Simmons walk on and shoot into the camera, like you do in Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger, you actually see Sean Connery perform gun-barrel duties for the first time in the films... and he does it quite differently. Down almost on one knee if I recall correctly?
The pre-credits sequence opens with another in a line of little gags where the producers try to alarm you into thinking Bond is dead, a theme which had started in director Young’s previous Bond movie From Russia With Love. This one focuses on the JB initials on a coffin at a funeral, before Bond and the woman he’s working with fill the audience in on the fact that it’s not Bond’s funeral. These pre-credits are also of note because it’s the last time you will see the famous Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger actually showing off some of it’s gadgetry in a working environment (although it had kind of a cameo, sans gadgets, in Goldeneye) until you get to last year’s Skyfall... which finally got the Aston Martin out as more than just a tool for visually ticking a check box and turned it into an important Bond prop again for a small, nostalgic section of that movie. After Bond’s daring escape by jet pack (which is actually not a special effect in the long shots you see and which was actually flown on that day by, I think, the inventor of the machine) we get to see the famous bullet-proof back windshield, made famous by then from the Corgi toy, and some water squirters which help Bond and his girl (an actress who returned as one of the card players in the Daniel Craig version of Casino Royale decades later) escape SPECTRE’s operatives before going into the Tom Jones performed title song. Johnny Cash sent his own Thunderball song to the producers in an attempt to secure him the honours but it was rejected, although I believe it finally turned up for public consumption on YouTube a couple of years ago.
It’s also, hands down, got the most gorgeous Bond girls in any of the Bond films (excepting the astonishing Caroline Munro in The Spy Who Loved Me, obviously), including a more significant role for Martine Beswick, one of the girls featured in the gypsy wrestling scene in From Russia With Love.
There seem to be various versions of the prints of the movie too, with different bits of scoring and different lines of dialogue and takes used, depending on which version you see. It’s also one of the Bonds which is the most heavily cut on TV... the torture scene I remembered as a kid, seeing it at the cinema, was always eradicated completely on television and for years I thought I’d just made that scene up in my head until I got to see it again on various home video releases. On some prints the next Bond movie mentioned on the end titles is On Her Majesty’s Secret Service... although the producers changed their mind and made You Only Live Twice as the next one instead.
All in all it’s not a bad film... with my main problem being the contrast of fast, tightly edited scenes juxtaposed with shots of the ocean which are just plain boring.
The score, however, is wonderful but...
He’s suave, and he’s smooth,
And he can soothe,
You like vanilla.
The gentleman’s a killer,
Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
Another verse from one of the great Bond songs, Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and Dionne Warwick’s original recording, which is great, does synch perfectly with the opening credits for which it was written once again, by the winning team of Barry and Bricusse. They didn’t think Thunderball would mean anything for a song lyric and the producers agreed and then this title song was recorded. Then United Artists said the song must have the film’s title in it so they could get recognition on the radio, so Barry then turned to Don Black for a new title song which was performed by Tom Jones... which, to be fair, is also a powerful, killer ballad worthy of many a Bond film... it’s just not as good as the original song (something similar happened with David Arnold’s Tomorrow Never Dies, performed by K. D Lang, which had to be retitled Surrender and placed on the end credits of that film when Sheryl Crow recorded her song for it... Sheryl’s song is great, until you hear the original, which is just a powerhouse of perfection).
But the thing is... most of the score, and it’s a brilliant score, that Barry wrote for Thunderball is based on variations of Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang... so Shirley Bassey was then called in to sing a shorter version of Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang for the end credits of Thunderball... and that wasn’t used either. So Barry wrote a few Thunderball variations and plugged those into the score in a few places, so the Tom Jones song wouldn’t feel tagged on at the last minute (which it was) and the result is a powerful score... based mainly on the tune to Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (and again, David Arnold’s powerful score for Tomorrow Never Dies is all based on the melody from the song which ended up being retitled to Surrender). There’s some lovely, slow stuff for harps and vibraphone in this score too, to musically enhance the feeling of being underwater.
If you’re interested in seeking out this paragon of a Bond song, Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, then the Dionne Warwick version can be found on the single disc edition of the 30 Year Anniversary Compilation CD and the Shirley Bassey version can be found (along with the Warwick version) on the expanded double disc edition of the 30 Year Anniversary Compilation CD... they’re worth checking out.
And that’s about all I’ve got to say on this one... some great and brutal (more brutal then you get to see on TV) underwater action sequences, truly beautiful women, kick ass music and the usual Bond humour all come together in this superbly acted, brilliantly designed and, occasionally, draggy Bond movie. Not one to miss, though, that’s for sure.
EON James Bond Movie Reviews on NUTS4R2