Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Living Daylights

Year 5, Day 166 - 6/15/13 - Movie #1,458

BEFORE: OK, I'm not quite sure how to address this, but I have seen this film before.  I know I saw this in the theater when it was released in 1987, but it's the only Bond film I've seen all the way through, and the problem is that it hasn't been placed in proper context.  But this countdown is all about discussing films I haven't seen already, so do I count this one or not?  When I get to the Woody Allen films I'm planning on skipping the ones I've already seen, but for the Hitchcock films, I'm planning to watch them all (I probably saw "The Birds" and "Psycho" as a young lad).  I think I'm going to watch and review this one, but if my chain turns out to be one film too long at the end of the year, maybe I'll come back and delete this one.  Fair enough?

Switching to Bond #4 tonight (or #5 in my strange sequence), and Moneypenny #2 for that matter, but 2 members of the support staff carry over, so actor linking is still maintained.  Now starring as Bond - Timothy Dalton (last seen in "The Lion in Winter").

THE PLOT: James Bond is living on the edge to stop an evil arms dealer from starting another world war.

AFTER: The IMDB description is a bit off, it says that Bond "crosses all seven continents" in this film, but I don't recall seeing him travel through Antarctica.  Anyway, there are really only 6 continents, because Europe and Asia are connected and should only count as one (pet peeve of mine). Can I get a ruling on this one?  Bond doesn't go to the Americas or Australia either, so it's really only three continents (two by my count - Eurasia + Africa).

This film marked a turn in the franchise, to a slightly more serious, realistic Bond.  After some of those campy Roger Moore films, I feel I can support this change.  While some people probably didn't like the general lack of humor, I didn't mind it - Dalton still got in a few witty asides.

They also tried to make Bond a one-woman man, or at least a "one woman per film" man.  If I remember right, this was something of a reaction to the AIDS crisis in the late 80's, and the filmmakers were trying to get something of a safe sex message included.  Considering that Connery or Moore's Bond would typically sleep with 3 or 4 women per film, for Bond this was really dialing it back.

I like this one, and I like Timothy Dalton, but I just have a feeling that I might like the Pierce Brosnan films more.  Nice appearance here of the giant ferris wheel in Vienna, also seen in "The Third Man".

For the record, Bond's allies in Afghanistan are the Mujahideen, the resistance movement, but they are NOT the Taliban, which didn't exist at the time.  Nor do they become the Taliban - different group, OK?  They're shown here in conflict with the Russians, which makes sense because that's what took place in the 1980's. 

LOCATIONS: Gibraltar, Bratislava, Vienna, Tangiers, Afghanistan

VILLAINS: Brad Whitaker, Gen. Koskov, Necros

BABES:  Kara Milovy

ALLIES: M, Q, Moneypenny, Gen. Pushkin, Afghani rebels, Felix Leiter (hey, haven't seen him in a while, he looks...younger somehow)

PASTIMES:  Classical music, paintball, Civil War reenactments.

CARS:  Finally, the Aston Martin is back. 1987 5.3 liter Aston Martin V8 Vantage Volante Series 2.  With special snow tires.  And lasers.

GADGETS: Remote keychain with stun gas and explosives, pipeline transport device.

THEME: "The Living Daylights" by A-Ha.  We're still in the 1980's, after all.

Also starring Robert Brown, Desmond Llewellyn, Walter Gotell (all three carrying over from "A View to a Kill", Maryam D'Abo, Jeroen Krabbé (last seen in "Robin Hood" (1991)), Joe Don Baker (last seen in "Congo"), John Rhys-Davies (last heard in "The Jungle Book 2"), Thomas Wheatley, John Terry.

RATING: 5 out of 10 toy soldiers

Friday, June 14, 2013

A View to a Kill

Year 5, Day 165 - 6/14/13 - Movie #1,457

BEFORE: The last of the Roger Moore films, just three more Bonds and 7 more films to go. 

THE PLOT:  An investigation of a horse-racing scam leads 007 to a mad industrialist who plans to create a worldwide microchip monopoly by destroying California's Silicon Valley.

AFTER: For the third night in a row, I get the feeling that Bond got sidetracked from his original mission.  This could just be a way to cram two plots into one movie for maximum entertainment purposes, but that's a rather cynical view.  Maybe there's a feeling that two plots will be more appealing, if someone doesn't like one, maybe they'll enjoy the other.  I'm not sure why a British secret agent would be investigating irregularities in the horse-racing industry, so thank goodness it leads him into one of those "blow up part of the world for fun and/or profit" type deals.

This plot involves pumping sea water into the California fault lines for some reason, which apparently is something that can cause earthquakes.  Can I see some paperwork on this?  Is this some early form of "fracking", or was the current fracking process inspired by the events in this film?  They also explain what setting off explosives along the fault lines will do, but I could have played this sequence a dozen times and not understood it, once they started talking about geological locks and moving fault lines, my brain just started to tune everything out. 

This also represents the attempt to get bigger "name" actors to play Bond villains - which I think worked better than drawing from the talent pool of obscure German and Italian films.  The process isn't perfect - they say the villain here can speak five languages with no discernible accent, but don't all languages require you to adopt some form of accent?  Besides, the actor has one of the most recognizable and copied accents, or at least speech patterns, of all.  Why not just say he can speak five languages fluently, and leave it at that?  All American movie-goers would still be impressed.

Then we've got the title of the film - they say it at one point, but in an awkward way, so I still have no idea what it means.  "What a great view!" " a kill!"  Huh?  I've gone back to the Ian Fleming short story "From a View to a Kill", and I still have no clue. 

It's odd that most of the cast of "The Avengers" (not the Captain America/Iron Man group, the other one) has appeared in the Bond films at one point or another.  Honor Blackman was in "Goldfinger", Diana Rigg was in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service", and so was Joanna Lumley, and tonight's film had Patrick MacNee.

A disclaimer at the start of the film informs me that "Neither the name Zorin nor any other name or character in this film is meant to portray a real company or actual person" which is strange because here I was, thinking that all of the Bond films portray real-life events.  Silly me.  I'm guessing there was some kind of lawsuit at some point - yep, a fashion design firm with "Zoran" in the name apparently thought there would be some confusion, even though they don't work in the mining or microchip industries.

LOCATIONS: Siberia, Berkshire UK, Paris, San Francisco

VILLAINS: Max Zorin, Scarpine, Dr. Carl Mortner, May Day

BABES:  Stacy Sutton, Jenny Flex, Pola Ivanova (hard to keep all these blondes straight), May Day

ALLIES: M, Q, Moneypenny, Sir Godfrey Tibbett, Chuck Lee

PASTIMES: Snowboarding, horse racing, spelunking, base jumping

CARS:  nothing driven by Bond here, unless you count the fire engine...  There's a cool 1962 silver Rolls Royce Silver Cloud II, but a chauffeur drives it.

GADGETS: some cool check-analysis device, similar to a credit card machine, but that's it.

THEME: "A View to a Kill" by Duran Duran.  Another chart hit, one that really captured the spirit of the late 1980's. 

Also starring Robert Brown, Desmond Llewellyn, Lois Maxwell, Walter Gotell (all four carrying over from "Octopussy"), Christopher Walken (last seen in "Biloxi Blues"), Tanya Roberts, Grace Jones, Patrick Macnee, Alison Doody, with a cameo from Dolph Lungren (last seen in "Rocky IV").

RATING: 4 out of 10 sticks of dynamite

Thursday, June 13, 2013


Year 5, Day 164 - 6/13/13 - Movie #1,456

BEFORE:  It's raining again today, we've had an appalling amount of rain in New York City the last few weeks.  Even though I was away last weekend, it was raining when I left town and raining when I came back, so as far as I know it rained the whole time I was gone.  It's hard to remember a time when the forecast DIDN'T call for scattered showers.  Similarly, it's hard to remember a time when I wasn't watching Bond films...

Roger Moore carries over from "For Your Eyes Only", and I realize I did choose the best order to watch the films in, simply because I maximized the actor linking, which makes me happy.

THE PLOT: A fake Fabergé egg and a fellow agent's death leads James Bond to uncovering an international jewel smuggling operation, headed by the mysterious Octopussy.

AFTER: Again, this kind of feels like Bond gets sidetracked - he gets sent on one mission, and ends up taking on another.  Oh, it's good that he does, because any time you get to stop a nuclear attack, you've got to take it - but the film itself points out that smuggling is not a concern for the British Secret Service, so how did we end up there?  Ah, Bond is investigating the death of another secret agent - right, keep telling yourself that.

I know it's the title of an Ian Fleming short story, but it's still a horrible, horrible title.  It calls up images that are lurid at best, and then just kind of spiral downhill.  Unless we're actually discussing octopus reproduction, which would be a weird way to go.  The poster for the film showed the title character standing behind Bond with 8 arms, sort of evoking one of those Indian goddesses, but she's still also got two legs - that makes a total of 10.  But the character doesn't actually have 8 arms, so how is she an octopus, or an Octopussy?  Unless she's, that's ridiculous.

From what I understand, the Ian Fleming short story "Octopussy" appears here only as that character's back-story - Bond killed her father in the line of duty.  Most of the other story elements are ones that were rejected from other Bond films - the elephant hunt sequence was cut from "The Man With the Golden Gun", the backgammon sequence was cut from "The Spy Who Loved Me", and the knife-throwing twins were originally part of "Moonraker".  Is it any wonder this film feels like it was thrown together out of bits and pieces? 

LOCATIONS: East Berlin, India, West Germany

VILLAINS: Kamal Kahn, Gobinda, Mischka + Grischka

BABES:  Octopussy, Magda

ALLIES: M (a new one), Q, Moneypenny, Vijay

PASTIMES: Backgammon, circus acts

CARS:  Alfa Romeo GTV 6 Quadrifoglio, various Mercedes (all borrowed, I think?)

GADGETS: Mini-plane with folding wings, wristwatch with a TV monitor

THEME: "All Time High" by Rita Coolidge (because apparently nothing rhymes with "Octopussy")

Also starring Desmond Llewellyn, Lois Maxwell, Walter Gotell (all three carrying over from "For Your Eyes Only"), Maud Adams (last seen in "The Man With the Golden Gun"), Louis Jourdan (last seen in "Gigi"), Robert Brown, Kristina Wayborn, Steven Berkoff.

RATING: 3 out of 10 Soviet generals

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

For Your Eyes Only

Year 5, Day 163 - 6/12/13 - Movie #1,455

BEFORE: I realize I'm asking the impossible of James Bond films at this point.  I want them to be original, without duplicating plots from previous films that is, and be realistic (but not TOO realistic) and also sort of wild and fantastic (but not TOO wild and fantastic).  Plus it needs to walk that fine line between a coherent plot and non-stop action - it would be great if it could have both.  Am I asking too much?

Roger Moore carries over again from "Moonraker", along with most of his support staff.  Sadly, we said goodbye last night to Bernard Lee, making his final appearance as M. 

THE PLOT:  Agent 007 is assigned to hunt for a lost British encryption device and prevent it from falling into enemy hands.

AFTER: Chapter 14, in which our hero gets his revenge on Blofeld, then defends himself from bullets with a beach umbrella, then turns down an Olympic athlete young enough to be his daughter.  Doesn't she know he likes his women older, and married?

So "Moonraker" had a bit too much of the fantasy element, and "For Your Eyes Only" didn't have enough.  This was all pretty basic stuff - smuggling, assassinations, drugs - it's too close to reality, nothing really exciting when you get down to it.

Plus, is it me or did Bond really get sidetracked here?  The mission SHOULD have been "The encryption device has been lost - find it."  Instead it was "figure out who has the technology and ability to recover the device", which isn't really the same thing.  In the time it took to figure this out, Bond could have recovered the device from a sunken ship with a magnet and a fishing pole, five times over.  Did anyone even check the sunken ship to see if the device was still there, before going off on a wild-goose chase?

There is also some bit of silliness here, an ending with a Margaret Thatcher lookalike calling Bond on the phone.  Maybe they felt they ended too many movies with Bond caught in the middle of sex?

LOCATIONS: Greece, Spain

VILLAINS: Kristatos, Locque

BABES:  Melina Havelock, Bibi Dahl, Countess Lisl von Schlaf

ALLIES: Q, Moneypenny, Milos Columbo.

PASTIMES: Ice skating (again?), baccarat (again?), scuba-diving (again?), rock-climbing, hockey.

CARS:  Lotus Esprit Turbo 2.2 sportscars, a Citroën 2CV

GADGETS: Um, none?  That's weird...

THEME: "For Your Eyes Only" by Sheena Easton, another one of the really good ones.  And Easton herself appears in the opening credits, so clearly she was hot enough to be sort of an honorary Bond babe...

Also starring Desmond Llewellyn, Lois Maxwell, Walter Gotell (all three carrying over from "Moonraker"), Julian Glover (last seen in "Tom Jones"), Carole Bouquet, Topol, Lynn-Holly Johnson, Cassandra Harris, Michael Gothard. Jeremy "Boba Fett" Bulloch (last seen in "The Spy Who Loved Me") was in there somewhere, but I didn't spot him.  (That's another two-fer of "Star Wars" actors, since Julian Glover played Gen. Veers in "The Empire Strikes Back")

RATING:  4 out of 10 scuba tanks

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Year 5, Day 162 - 6/11/13 - Movie #1,454

BEFORE:  Well over the hump now, after tonight there will be 13 Bond films down and just 10 to go.  Roger Moore's fourth appearance out of 7, and I'm honesty surprised that the same support staff is still with him.  I had no idea the actors who played M and Q made so many appearances before being replaced, especially since they were changing Bonds every few years.

THE PLOT:  James Bond investigates the mid-air theft of a space shuttle and discovers a plot to commit global genocide.

AFTER:  From what I've read, the next Bond film in the series was going to be "For Your Eyes Only", but then the success of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", and also a little film called "Star Wars" pushed them into an outer-space direction.  OK, an Earth's orbit direction, but you get the idea.  The first Space Shuttle (Enterprise test flights) was in the news at the time, I think, so they just kind of worked that in.

But the effects here can't hold a candle to "Star Wars", I don't know if they just used cheaper mattes or what, but the spaceship models look mainly like models, and the Star Wars models looked more like real ships.  Again, I'm not an expert, but I know what looks phony.

When I think about the low production values, combined with all the poorly dubbed dialogue in the Bond franchise, the simplistic plots and the overall campiness - I'm starting to suspect that I've been duped into watching Europan cinema!  You think of Bond and you think of big-budget Hollywood productions, but the truth is that they seem to have been filmed around the world, mainly outside the studio system, and that means they're foreign films! 

As far as plot goes, this is an exceptionally silly film, even by Bond standards.  The villain's techie-thing is a space station, where he plans to live after wiping out Earth's population - is there much money in doing that?  No?  Then why do it?

NITPICK POINT: If the Space Shuttle were being loaned to the U.K. (though I'm not sure why, what would THEY do with it?) and they were transporting it on top of a plane, why would the shuttle have fuel in it?  Also, why were there no safeguards to prevent someone from stealing it?  They left the keys in it?  Seems rather stupid.

NITPICK POINT #2: I'm not an expert on lasers, either, but even at its strongest and most focused, I believe it functions best as a cutting device, not an explosive one.  So many times in this film (and bad sci-fi in general), you just aim a laser at something, and BOOM, the thing blows up.  That's just now how they work, not in 1977 and not now.

LOCATIONS: Africa, Venice, Rio de Janeiro, outer space

VILLAINS: Hugo Drax, Chang, Jaws (the only repeated henchman in the series?)

BABES:  Holly Goodhead, Corinne Dufour, Manuela

ALLIES: M, Q, Moneypenny, Gen. Gogol

PASTIMES: Hang-gliding, sky-diving, Carnivale dancing

CARS:  Jeep (briefly)

GADGETS: Cyanide-tipped darts with wrist launcher, explosive watch.

THEME: "Moonraker" by Shirley Bassey (the only repeated theme song performer?).  Nearly sung to the tune of "Goldfinger"...

Also starring Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell, Richard Kiel, Walter Gotell (all 5 carrying over from "The Spy Who Loved Me"), Lois Chiles, Michael Lonsdale,

RATING: 3 out of 10 airlocks

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Spy Who Loved Me

Year 5, Day 161 - 6/10/13 - Movie #1,453

BEFORE: Took the Amtrak back to NYC this morning (Acela this time - no more regional service for me, after last weekend...) and made my way through a couple crosswords from my bag, and the June issue of MAD Magazine, which had a Bond parody, in which all 5 previous Bonds comment on Daniel Craig's performances in his three films.  I didn't want to read any spoilers about "Skyfall", so I'm holding on to the article until I get there.  It's still a funny coincidence, though...

Roger Moore carries over from "The Man With the Golden Gun" for his 3rd Bond film...which I probably know the details of from reading MAD Magazine back in the day.  But reading the MAD spoof is hardly the same as seeing the whole film from front to back.

THE PLOT: James Bond investigates the hijacking of British and Russian submarines carrying nuclear warheads with the help of a KGB agent whose lover he killed.

AFTER: This is not, repeat NOT, a re-hash of "You Only Live Twice".  That film had Bond going to Japan, where an evil villain was trying to start World War III by hijacking U.S. and Soviet rockets.  This film has Bond going to Sardinia, where an evil villain is trying to start World War III by hijacking U.S. and Soviet submarines.  See?  Totally different.

I kid, we're back to the basic formula - evil genius has a plan with some super-duper flashy technology, and he decides to hold the world hostage or blow it up, whichever becomes more convenient for him in the end.  What they added this time was another counterpart for Bond, a female Russian agent who also uses sex as a bargaining technique - they can be frenemies for a while, but you just know they're gonna end up in bed together sooner or later, right?

I'm still seeing slight improvements in the film technology, we're not really at "Star Wars" level yet, maybe more like on par with "The Black Hole".  They were still cheaping out on things like the skiing scenes - every shot of Bond skiing is either from very far away, meaning it's likely a stuntman, or it's a shot of Roger Moore against an extremely fake rear-projection mountain, that moves in almost a completely different direction than it would if he were really skiing past it.  It's really a shame that green-screen wasn't more prominent at the time, even that might look better.

One of these films is going to wow me with its high production values and rise above an average score, I just know it.  But not yet.  The ocean models of the villain's submersible hideout, and the giant tanker ship come close - they almost look real, but since I know that they're NOT real, my mind immediately figured out that they were scale models, shot in slow-motion. 

LOCATIONS: Austria, Egypt, Sardinia

VILLAINS: Karl Stromberg, Jaws, Sandor

BABES:  Major Anya Amasova (aka Agent XXX), Naomi

ALLIES: M, Q, Moneypenny, Gen. Gogol

PASTIMES: Skiing, Egyptian dancing

CARS:  Lotus Esprit S1 turbo sports car (adaptable Perry submarine-car)

GADGETS: Ski-pole rifle, microfilm reader, jet-ski (also see "cars")

THEME: "Nobody Does It Better" by Carly Simon.  Composed by Marvin Hamlisch with lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager, I think this is one of the few Bond themes (along with "Live and Let Die") that manage to rise above the medium.  Some were hits on their own, and remain popular on radio, unlike, say, "Thunderball". 

Also starring Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewellyn (all also carrying over from "The Man With the Golden Gun"), Barbara Bach, Curd Jürgens, Richard Kiel (last heard in "Tangled"), Caroline Munro, Shane Rimmer, Walter Gotell (last seen in "From Russia With Love") and cameos from TWO "Star Wars" actors - Jeremy "Boba Fett" Bulloch and Garrick "Biggs" Hagon.

RATING:  5 out of 10 torpedoes

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Man With the Golden Gun

Year 5, Day 160 - 6/9/13 - Movie #1,452

BEFORE: Back up to Massachusetts for another weekend with my folks.  That's two in a row, but this Sunday is the local German festival, so how could I pass on that?

Almost halfway through the Bond series, I've now seen 11 with 12 films left to go.  Roger Moore carries over from "Live and Let Die" for his 2nd appearance as Bond, out of 7.
THE PLOT: Bond is led to believe that he is targeted by the world's most expensive assassin and must hunt him down to kill him.

AFTER: This seemed like a bit of a departure from the Bond formula - most of the film seemed to be missing one of those "villain threatens the world for ransom" plots.  But then it feels like the filmmakers noticed this was missing too, so they sort of tacked one on at the end.  Definitely influenced by the "energy crisis" of the 1970's, and made back when solar power seemed like the best answer (whatever happened to that?).  There's a super-efficient solar cell that can put OPEC out of business, but of course the Bond villain just wants to use it to blow stuff up.  Or, alternatively, be paid to NOT blow things up. 

The question I'm left with, did Scaramanga really target Bond, or was Bond just led to believe so?  Because Bond is sent to deal with Scaramanga before the reverse can happen, which seems a little bit like prosecuting someone for a crime that hasn't happened yet.  But again, I'm probably overthinking things.  Perhaps I can tell myself that OPEC sent Bond the golden bullet, so he'd take down Scaramanga and his solar device, and they could stay in business for a few more years.

Other than that, this one had a pretty ho-hum plot.  They tried to position Scaramanga as Bond's counterpart, someone who enjoys the finer things in life, good champagne, beautiful women - and who gets paid for killing.  Bond protests the comparison, but it's hard to see the difference between them, except that Bond works for a government and is not as well-paid.  Sure, he saves the world, but isn't that just semantics?

LOCATIONS: Beirut, Macau, Bangkok, Red China

VILLAINS: Francisco Scaramanga, Nick Nack (possibly the inspiration for "Mini-Me"?)

BABES: Andrea Anders, Agent Goodnight

ALLIES: M, Q, Lt. Hip, J.W. Pepper

PASTIMES: Martial arts, kickboxing

CARS: 1974 AMC Hornet X Hatchback Special Coupe (borrowed, unfortunately)

GADGETS: Gun assembled from a cigarette case, lighter and pen, also a car/plane.  Too bad these are the VILLAIN'S gadgets, not Bond's...

THEME: "The Man With the Golden Gun" by Lulu.  Pretty basic stuff.

Also starring Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Clifton James (all also carrying over from "Live and Let Die"), Desmond Llewellyn (last seen in "Diamonds Are Forever"), Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Maud Adams, Herve Villechaize, Soon Tek-Oh.

RATING: 5 out of 10 broken wine bottles