Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Re-viewing Bond- MOONRAKER (1979)

I’m a fan of the James Bond films as, I think, most guys are. We grow up watching these movies and loving the action, the women, the cars, the gadgets and the exotic locales. Last years re-boot of the series with new Bond Daniel Craig was just the shot in the arm that the series needed. By going for a more hard edged realism the producers once again move away from the jokey asinine light tone that the films seem to fall into every now and then. The first of these sad declines resulted in the first completely awful Bond film MOONRAKER. Not that there hadn’t been a few clunkers in the run before (YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE and MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN are not good) but MOONRAKER was the worst. (Until VIEW TO A KILL! The stench is still coming off the original negative of that sucker!)

Looking back at the film now it’s easy to see what the problems were without even searching very hard. The script only gives Roger Moore about 3 scenes in which to even attempt to act. For 90% of the run time he serves only as our guide trough an ever larger set of strange/stupid action sequences that seem to try to top each previous one in some way. Don’t believe a man can survive a fall from a plane into a circus tent? How about a man biting through a 3 inch thick steel cable in one chomp? Or a gondola outfitted with missiles and the ability to convert to a car? And those just scratch the surface of dumb moments.

Originally I thought the problem was that the producers were trying to top themselves by trying to surprise their increasingly jaded audience but I now see something else. I think that they were too concerned with trying to appeal to everyone. There are so many pop culture references in MOONRAKER that I lost count. By the time the tone code to access a super secret locked lab is revealed to be the same as the one used to communicate with the aliens in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND you know they’ve lost sight of one critical thing- believability. And once you lose that in an action film IT IS OVER! Not that the film hadn’t rocketed off the rails a long time before this point but as with any Bond film you just keep hoping they’ll pull it out somehow. But, as anyone who has seen this sucker can attest they never do. And the final 20 minutes are some of the worst cinema to ever be foisted off on the public.

As the insane finale kept rolling along I found myself stunned that a series of films that at that point had lasted 17 years felt it had to treat its fans to a sub-par STAR WARS rip off. It was unintentional parody and made some of the jokes in the AUSTIN POWERS movies the second time an audience has laughed at this situation. Words cannot do this crap justice. The icing on this shit cake has to be the sudden inane turning of the deadly (and invulnerable) assassin Jaws (Richard Kiel) into a good guy. I think when I first saw this years ago my eyes rolled so far back in my head I could see my sinus passages. And the pathetic bit wherein Bond assures his shuttle co-pilot (and us n’est pas) that the reformed mad killer and his blond pig-tailed sweetie will be fine as the orbiting space station comes apart and falls to earth is wonderfully bizarre. Really, Mr. Bond? That big chunk of satellite won’t blow up or fry completely on reentry? The hell you say! This space travel stuff isn’t really all the dangerous after all. Should I pack extra undies in case I soil myself laughing? And they can’t leave it alone! Then there is a scene in which the MI-6 higher ups mention that the loving couple has been rescued! WTF! The Jaws character (another stupid pop culture reference I might add) was barely tolerable in the previous film THE SPY WHO LOVED ME. To have brought him back to be the Wiley Coyote to Bond’s Bugs Bunny was ludicrous and beyond all comprehension. What the hell were they thinking? Were they thinking?

I’ve got to stop thinking about this movie. I’m getting a headache. And I haven’t even mentioned the pathetic product placement throughout. Marlboro, 7 Up, and some damned brand of watch all get prominent display. I hate this crap!

Needless to say MOONRAKER is a terrible movie. But one day I know I’m going to watch it again!

I swear I must be a freakin' masochist!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

ROLLING THUNDER (1977)

I finally sat down last night with a friend and watched ROLLING THUNDER. Dan Taylor (a.k.a The Hungover Gourmet) was nice enough to send me a tape of the recent letterboxed cable broadcast and I cannot thank him enough.

If ever a film lived up to its fan hype this is it. Expertly scripted (Paul Shrader), played and directed (John Flynn) it moves carefully and confidently from its deliberate, thoughtful opening third to its violent pivot point and straight on into vengeance. Devane is one of those character actors I never had much use for in my younger years (he looked strange) that I find I respect much more as I get older. He's damned good every time and has a world weary gravitas that a lot of actors would pay money to own. Here he's perfect as the conflicted and confused man returning home after being a POW for 7 years in
Vietnam. Seemingly lost in his old life with his marriage soured because of infidelity he begins trying to reconnect with his son. When his wife explains that she wants a divorce he accepts it with little comment. He remains removed from emotion and distant to all but his son as he struggles to just be able to sleep at night and forget the tortures of his imprisonment. He only really comes to life when given a mission and an outlet for his rage and frustration.

Tommy Lee Jones (looking YOUNG) plays Devane’s fellow POW and gives a fantastic performance in the same vein. Obviously very uncomfortable with his family, unable to relate to them anymore he springs at the chance to do something physical. Both men seem to relish the opportunity to have a clear, defined enemy they can get their hands on – something they were denied as long term prisoners. His simple calm response to Devane's request for help in tracking down the bad guys is a classic moment in movies.

I was impressed with the real feel of the family problems and the relationships between the wife's lover and Devane's character. These are not overblown movie types spouting BS to push easy buttons in the viewer but realistic people dealing with a complex situation. It says a lot that I don't see this kind of strong writing about emotions in most thrillers these days. This is well done, intelligent stuff whereas things these days are usually dialed up to 'cartoon'. This film is an action story but still shows a subtle understanding of people and their realities. Believable, sharp and effective- a great film right down to it’s violent, bloody ending.

Movies like ROLLING THUNDER make me long for a return to the filmmaking style of the 70s. Are those skills lost? Or have they been bred out of the system?
Once again- Thank you Dan. I owe you big.