Category Archives: Film and TV

Goldfinger (1964) Review

 

Theme Song

Performed by legendary Welsh singer Shirley Bassey, her eponymous tune is the first in the franchise’s storied history to accompany the opening title sequence: a tradition that would continue for all subsequent James Bond flicks, save for the Daniel Craig movies.

A decent tune made iconic by Shirley Bassey’s truly rip-roaring rendition, ask the average person to recite the words of a Bond theme song, and this would probably top the list. So impressed by her inimitable style were the producers, in fact, she was asked to return for two further films, giving her the distinction of being the only performer to record the signature track for three separate films.

9/10

The Film

Goldfinger sees the return of Sean (Ssshocking…positively ssshocking) Connery for his third outing as 007. Taking a much-needed break at a luxury hotel in Miami after blowing up an illicit drug laboratory somewhere in South America, Bond’s holiday is rudely interrupted by his old friend and CIA agent Felix Lighter (Cec Linder). He explains that M (Bernard Lee) has orders for the suave super spy to investigate fortuitously named bullion dealer Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) who happens to be staying in the same hotel. Never one to disobey orders… Bond shoos away his typically statuesque masseuse so as he can indulge in a bit of “man talk” with Felix (yes, that actually happened) and hash out the details of his next assignment.

It doesn’t take long for 007 to spot his target, who’s currently to be found cheating at cards with the help of Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton), prompting him, in the most conspicuous example yet of Bond’s complete lack of subtlety, to “have a bit of fun” at the dodgy dealer’s expense; all while Miss Masterson watches on in amusement as Bond blackmails Goldfinger into an ignominious defeat. After indulging in a bit of hanky-panky (naturally), stopping to make a disparaging comment regarding the musical talents of The Beatles, James is suddenly knocked unconscious by Goldfinger’s golf-ball-crushing, amusingly named manservant Oddjob – awakening some time later to find poor Jill covered in gold paint and dead from skin asphyxiation, providing one of the more memorable (if scientifically inaccurate) deaths, if not scenes, in the entire Bond franchise.

Back in good old blighty, apparently unconcerned by his role in the late Jill Masterson’s death, 007 receives orders to continue the investigation into Goldfinger, and a meeting is arranged between the hero and the villain over a not-so friendly game of golf. Triumphing over his increasingly frustrated opponent thanks to a combination of his innate skill (yes, he’s a world class talent here, too) and a bit of schoolboyish trickery, the audience is treated to its first glimpse of Oddjob’s secret but deadly weapon of choice, his steel-brimmed hat, which he uses to decapitate an almost certainly priceless statue; a warning shot fired across Bond’s bows telling him not to meddle in old Goldie’s affairs.

Undeterred, 007 precedes to follow his prey to Switzerland in what has to be the seminal Bond car, the Aston Martin DB5, equipped with all the usual gadgets we’d expect to see from MI6’s finest – including an ejector seat (no Q wasn’t joking). Along the way, Bond finds time to engage in some banter with an attractive young woman named Tilly (Tania Mallet) who, it transpires, is the late Jill Masterson’s sister and is herself stalking Goldfinger looking for an opportunity to avenge her beloved sibling.

Unfortunately, her attempt at assassinating the portly gold enthusiast ends in failure; shooting so wide of the mark she nearly kills Bond by accident. It’s not the last we see of the would-be assassin however, as, during a covert assault on Goldfinger’s base, the pair cross paths once again; agreeing to work together to bring down the heinous villain and ruin his latest sinister plot. Sadly for Tilly, as they attempt to flee the compound, she trips the alarm, leading to a brief and ultimately unsuccessful escape attempt during which he rather conveniently gets to use all the gadgets in the modified Aston Martin’s arsenal; which includes launching a goon out of the vehicle’s passenger seat using its in-built ejector mechanism (you couldn’t make it up… well actually, it seems you could). This hectic scene culminates, sadly, with Tilly’s eventual death via decapitation, of all things (at the hands of Oddjob and his deadly hat) and Bond’s incarceration.

Awaking from his enforced slumber, Bond finds himself in a rather uncomfortable position: tied to a modified operating table with a laser beam inching ever closer to his unmentionables. Oh how womankind would have wept. Just before the laser reaches the no go zone however, 007 craftily bluffs his way to a reprieve, feigning knowledge of Goldfinger’s plot to persuade him it would be in his best interests to keep Bond alive for at least a little while longer (kill him, just kill him!)

“No Mr Bond I expect you to die”

Concussed for what must be the 3000th time, by this point, James is greeted by an altogether more pleasant site: the stunningly beautiful face of the equally brilliantly named Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman). Goldfinger’s personal pilot who, it just so happens, has no interest in men (spoiler, this doesn’t last). Now a prisoner at Goldfinger’s exclusive stud farm in Kentucky (a fitting location for 007) Bond escapes… again and finds his way to a secret conference room wherein he hears the full details of the gold obsessed megalomaniac’s plan to knock off Fort Knox, with the help of some well-to-do American criminals he’s assembled. It goes without saying, their excitement at the prospect of the profits to come doesn’t last long when, before they’ve even finished toasting their impending victory, Goldfinger poisons them with the deadly gas he plans to use in his attack on Fort Knox.

Another tête-à-tête between hero and villain ensues, shortly after, during which, as is common practice in Bond films, Goldfinger reveals his entire plan to 007 which, in a nutshell, is to detonate a dirty bomb inside the gold depository vault, rendering Fort Knox’s gold reserves useless; giving the US bullion depository’s Chinese counterparts a substantial financial advantage and Goldfinger a tidy profit. Bond’s response? To aggressively seduce Pussy, whose flying circus was going to kill all the military presence at the fort using the aforementioned nerve gas and convince her to betray her employer. Presumably he didn’t mention what happened to Jill when she decided to stab Goldfinger in the back.

Now onside, Pussy’s circus sprays the Fort with a non-lethal gas instead, giving the US military time to play possum and surround Goldfinger’s forces once inside the Fort. Realising his original plan has been foiled, Goldfinger escapes disguised as a general, killing everyone (friend and foe) around him as he flees, leaving Bond handcuffed to the bomb and locked inside the vault with Oddjob. The ever-resourceful spy isn’t trapped for long, however, using a pair of gold ingots to extricate himself from his predicament before defeating his ridiculously strong, devoted, and exceedingly stupid foe by electrocution, as the hulking henchman goes to retrieve his METAL-lined hat from the highly-conductive metal bars in which it’s wedged.

Now free of distractions and with the help of both Felix and a bomb-defusal specialist, Jamessssh has just enough time to disarm the device, stopping the countdown at the 007 second mark. Phew, that was fortunate.

After saving the world yet again, Bond is then invited to the White House to meet the president for, I can only assume, a few celebratory Vodka Martini’s. But, on his way to this prestigious rendezvous, his plane is hijacked by larger than life heel Goldfinger (still in his US General’s get up, bizarrely). After a brief struggle over possession of the golden gun (different one, in case you were wondering), Goldfinger is finally disposed of when a gunshot compromises one of the plane’s windows, sucking the overweight nutter through the painfully small opening and into the clouds (what a way to go).

Bond and Pussy, who, her complicity in the original plot forgiven and forgotten, was naturally given command of the plane for this important journey, parachute to safety, conveniently landing safely on a remote patch of land where they have one final ‘sesh’ to close out the film.

Bond finally gets some pussy…

Summary

Goldfinger is a bona fide classic. Arguably the most memorable, it’s also one of the most popular; and for good reason.

Despite an over the top, and let’s be honest, ridiculous plot (knock-off Fort Knox… haha! Good one); silly names (Pussy Galore… Oddjob, Auric Goldfinger); some, shall we say, questionable individual scenes that haven’t aged well (his ‘seduction’ of Pussy Galore borders on rape, while the aforementioned “man talk” is horrendously inappropriate); and more narrow escapes than you can shake a stick at, the film works on pretty much every level. High-octane action sequences withstand comparison to many a modern film, with cinema’s coolest car and an iconic (if chronically idiotic) henchman providing bucketloads of character. There’s also plenty of tongue-in-cheek jokes to lighten the tone that are sure to bring a sardonic smile to your face, one of my personal favourite Bond girls in Jill Masterson, and an absolute belter of a theme tune.

This flick also sees the return of various much-loved characters, including Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny, Bernard Lee as M, and of course Desmond Llewellyn as Q – alongside the man himself Sean Connery, who put’s in another effortlessly cool display as 007.

I actually think the overall plot of the previous movie From Russia With Love is stronger, however this movie is more fun than its predecessor, solidifying itself as the quintessential Bond Film.

Rating

That being said, and while it’s no doubt a classic, after watching it again the other day, I have to say it didn’t seem as good as I remember. So, although it symbolises what makes Bond such a unique and interesting series, I think I prefer From Russia With Love overall.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting old? Who knows. Nevertheless, this is definitely still one of the stronger films in the franchise and, more importantly, a seminal one in terms of the wider series – 8/10.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Film and TV, Latest Posts

From Russia With Love (1963) Review

Theme Song – Film number two of this epic franchise is composed by Lionel Bart, and sung by English crooner Matt Monro. Like its predecessor, Dr. No, this film is slightly different went it comes to the tune, in as much as the opening credits include an instrumental version of the song From Russia with Love without the vocals.

The song itself is decent – Matt Monro’s smooth, strong voice suiting the lyrics and tone of the song perfectly – performed by someone who, though very popular and highly regarded by his contemporaries at the height of his fame, I think it’s fair to say could be described as somewhat overlooked these days – 7/10.

The Film

Once again starring Sean Connery as James Bond, From Russia with Love see’s 007 dispatched to Turkey; his mission to gain possession of a Lektor decoding machine from the Russians. His assignment is complicated, however, by the presence of Soviet cipher clerk Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi), who claims to have fallen in love with Bond immediately upon seeing his file photo; an obvious honey trap, as both M and 007 himself recognise. Unfortunately for Bond, as the British have been trying desperately (and unsuccessfully) to get their hands on a Lektor for many years now, they simply cannot pass up the opportunity, dangerous though it undoubtedly is.

Indeed, seeking revenge for the murder of Dr. No and the destruction of it’s Caribbean operations (as per the events of the first film), terrorist organisation Spectre has orchestrated the whole thing in an effort to eliminate 007, create tension between the British and the Russians, and, during the ensuing chaos, procure the aforementioned Lektor for themselves. With the plan decided and the wheels put into motion, the nefarious head of Spectre, known only as Number 1, puts Colonel Klebb, a former officer in the Russian counter intelligence service, in command of the operation.

It’s Klebb who recruits Romanova (who, it’s only fair to say, believes Klebb is still working for the Motherland) and muscular assassin Donald Grant (Robert Shaw) who, with his deadly garotte wire come wrist watch, are given the difficult task of killing 007. Unaware of the perils that await him, everyone’s favourite schhheeecret agent rendezvouses with station chief Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendariz) in Istanbul, who swiftly proceeds to explain to Bond that he believes the mission is a waste of time and that, before he can act, he must wait for Romanova to contact him.

Despite all the different agendas at play, the beginning of the film really sets up the story nicely, re-introducing us to characters and actors who, even at this stage, were well-known to cinemagoers and would eventually become stalwarts of the franchise over the coming years; 007’s boss M (again played by Bernard Lee) Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell). From Russia with Love also introduces us to Desmond Llewelyn as Q, a role he would go on to play for 36 years before his tragic death in 1999.

Whilst awaiting contact from Romanova, Kerim almost falls victim to assassination himself and thus decides its safest for both him and 007 to lay low for a while in the quietest, most secure location he can conceive: a gypsy camp. During their brief sojourn in the camp, Kerim’s would-be killers strike again, only to be foiled once again by a combination of Bond and Kerim’s gypsy allies. Shortly thereafter, once Bond has settled a dispute between two gypsy girls the only way he knows how – with his penis – and Kerim has murdered his hapless assailant, 007 finally meets Romanova: who’s, naturally, just chillin’ in his bed.

The two strangers waste no time getting down to business (giggity), unaware that Spectre are filming the whole thing in case they need to indulge in a spot of blackmail at any point, before thrashing out a plan to steal the Lektor and return it to good old Blighty which, rather fortuitously, goes off without a hitch. Or, at least, it appears to.

“I think my mouth is too big”.

You see, as they attempt to escape with their ill-gotten prize by rail, things take a turn for the worse and, for a few minutes, resemble Murder on the Orient Express, as Bond finds both Kerim and Russian agent Benz (the man who’d been caught tailing them after the trio successfully stole the Lektor and played by Peter Bayliss) dead in the former’s cabin; the cause of death appearing to be suicide (‘SPOILER’ ALERT – it’s not suicide). In actuality, Grant, who, for the last few minutes, has been impersonating the British security officer dispatched to liaise with 007, is the perpetrator of these not-so-mysterious deaths and after foolishly ordering red wine with fish (a sure sign of evil intent), captures Bond.

Brimming with confidence following his success, Grant commits the same faux pas that would shortly become a hallmark of the series, revealing the entirety of Spectre’s plan to a defenceless 007 (just shoot him!!!). This, as it always would, gives Bond the information he requires to complete his mission and, more importantly, the time he needs to concoct an escape plan; in this case, using the simple lure of gold sovereigns combined with a boobytrapped brief case to overcome his foe after a pretty brutal and intense fight which ends when Bond disposes of Grant using the latter’s own favourite finisher; the garotte come wrist watch.

With that particular obstacle out of the way, Bond and Romanova appropriate Grant’s escape plan, destroying a helicopter and squad of Spectre troops, in the process, thanks primarily to some conveniently placed oil drums and the apparent stupidity of their pursuers (seriously, every single henchman heads straight into the flames).

Upon hearing this news, an enraged Number 1 has Kronsteen executed via the rather amusing method of a poison-tipped shoe-blade, and gives Klebb one last chance to complete the mission.

Believing they’re safe, and comfortably ensconced within a well-appointed Venice hotel room, Bond and Romanova are attacked by the now desperate Klebb (disguised as a maid), who resorts to the fatal footwear demonstrated in the previous scene, after Bond relieves her of her gun. However, before she can really ‘stick the knife in’, as it were, Romanova shoots Klebb dead with her own pistol.

Mission accomplished! There’s just enough time for Bond and Romanova to take a romantic Gondola ride, with a bit of nookie thrown in for good measure, before the end credits begin to role accompanied by Matt Monro’s excellent soundtrack.

Bond didn’t get the point. (Pun intentional)

Summary

From Russia with Love’s most notable feature is perhaps the strength of its performances. Sean Connery is once again superb as main protagonist James Bond, bringing his trademark levity to the role with more amusing one liners and off-the-cuff remarks. More importantly, he’s aided by strong performances from the supporting cast – something Dr. No arguably lacks. Daniela Bianchi provides some glamour in the form of Bond’s love interest Tatiana Romanova (not the voice however; that was actually provided by Barbara Jefford), while Lotte Lenya puts in a strong performance as shrill, stern-faced Spectre agent Rosa Klebb. Though special mention must be made to Pedro Armendariz, as Bond’s womanising ally Kerim Bey, and Robert Shaw for his gritty portrayal of main heel Donald Grant, both of whom are excellent in their respective roles.

Personally, I would say From Russia with Love is a stronger overall film than its predecessor Dr. No. The plot is more rounded and realistic, telling a traditional espionage thriller with a characteristically tongue-in-cheek James Bond twist, while the characters are far more engaging.

It’s not quite as spectacular in terms of scenery and backdrop as the first film – a natural consequence of the change in setting from the sun-drenched beaches of the Caribbean to the historical cities of Istanbul and Venice – but we are at least treated to a picturesque train ride through the Balkans and (on an unrelated note) some pretty impressive action sequences.

Rating

I think it’s fair to say From Russia with Love looks a bit dated when viewed today, however, I actually think this is one of the stronger 007 flicks. Though some of the scenes might seem a little bit cheesy in comparison to the likes of the Bourne films, it does more than enough to keep the audience entertained throughout and is a brilliantly made and expertly shot film – 9/10.

Leave a comment

Filed under Film and TV, Reviews

Dr. No (1962) Review

Dr No Main

Over the coming weeks and months, our brother, Richard, will be reviewing every (mainline) Bond film in chronological order. Enjoy!

Theme by John Barry – The first James Bond theme song is slightly different to all the others that followed in that it is essentially the original theme that would go on to be heard in the background of all official James Bond movies, and is not a song sung by a top selling musical artist of the time. Written and composed by Monty Norman & the legendary John Barry, the theme itself is undoubtedly one of the most iconic film tunes of all time.

8/10 (not so much for the music itself, but for the legend it helped to create)

The Film

So, onto the film itself.

Starring Sean Connery – the first man to don the tuxedo for the official film franchise – Dr No. is set amidst the stunningly beautiful scenery of Jamaica in the Caribbean, where Bond is sent on a mission to investigate the disappearance of a British MI6 station chief name Strangways, and whether this was linked to a joint operation he was conducting with the American CIA looking into the possible jamming of US rocket launches, from the area around a mysterious island known as Crab Key.

Dr No 2

The name’shhh Bond…Jameshhh Bond

Following the initial musical intro, the film begins with the aforementioned Strangways being shot dead by hitmen known as ‘The Three Blind Mice’, who then go on to murder Strangways’s secretary, who’s in the process of signalling London; this sudden loss of communication the event that prompts MI6 to assign 007 James Bond to investigate.

Our first glimpse of the man himself – and the first time we hear the famous line “my name is Bond…James Bond” – is in a casino; a place we would see 007 frequent a lot over the course of the franchise. In this scene, as in every other set in a casino, Bond is taking everyone to the cleaners, notably, in this case, a beautiful woman named Sylvia Trench (Eunice Grayson) – no prizes for guessing what happens afterwards: the first of what would become an insane amount of romantic if, shall we say a little pushy, trysts with stunningly hot women.

It’s a very gentile beginning in terms of pace. We’re introduced to various characters during the first half an hour or so: 007’s boss (the person simply known as M); Q (although, in this particular film, he’s referred to as Major Boothroyd), portrayed for the first and only time by Peter Burton – the role later, of course, defined by the late, iconic Desmond Llewelyn; CIA agent Felix Lighter (Jack Lord) whose mission is the same as Bond’s; and local fisherman Quarrel (John Kitzmiller), who had previously been working with Strangways.

But, even after Bond arrives in Jamaica to begin his investigative work, things never really get going until the end of the movie; we don’t even meet creepy-voiced antagonist Dr. No – played by Joseph Wiseman – until the last knockings of the film.

As we slowly but surely progress through the film, we eventually meet bungling geologist/henchman Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson), who tries and fails a good few times to dispose of Bond, using everything from ‘The Three Blind Mice’ (the unfortunate trio who cop it in the spontaneously combusting car shortly thereafter) to a ‘man eating’ Tarantula that he secretes in James’s hotel room, wherein it meets it’s end via the butt of Bond’s soon-to-be famous Walther PPK (poor spider). Unfortunately for the good professor, his final abortive effort to kill 007 costs him his life.

At this point, having found traces of radioactivity in rock samples retrieved by Strangways from Crab Key, Quarrel reluctantly agrees to ferry Bond over to Dr. No’s highly fortified island to investigate further. And it’s here that we witness one of the most iconic moments in cinema history; buxom blonde beauty Honey Rider (Ursula Andress) emerging from the warm Caribbean Sea; a moment so incredible it inspires Bond to sing for the first and only time in the franchise’s history.

Dr._No_-_Honey_Ryder

Underneath the mango tree…

Conveniently connected to Dr No. via her father, Honey accompanies Bond and Quarrel as they traipse through the island’s radioactive swamp looking for a way into the nefarious doctor’s secret hideout. Before they’ve gone very far, however, they’re assaulted by an armoured, flame-thrower-equipped tractor; Quarrel is incinerated due as much to his own stupidity as anything else, while James and Honey are taken prisoner.

In typical James Bond fashion, after being de-contaminated and then drugged (I’m honestly not sure why this is done; to pass the time is the only reason I can deduce!), Bond and Honey join Dr. No for dinner which, like I said earlier, is actually the first time we see the film’s antagonist on screen. During this incongruous meal (perhaps, shortly after the fish course), we’re given a full account of the evil ne’re-do-well’s backstory; not just his motivations for disrupting the US’s plans for space exploration (because he works for a secret terrorist organisation known as Spectre; you know, the evil conglomerate that would provide the backdrop for most of Sean Connery’s adventures), but even why he has weird tin hands.

After a frankly amusing exchange during which Bond continuously irks Dr. No with disparaging comments about his sanity and goals of world domination, Bond is beaten by the guards and thrown into a holding cell, whilst Honey is taken away to an undisclosed location. Being the world’s greatest sleuth/luckiest human being ever to walk the Earth, it doesn’t take Bond long to escape his prison cell (via a conveniently placed and easily accessible ventilation shaft), and gain access to the main control room. Once there, Bond swiftly thwarts Dr. No’s masterplan by overloading the reactor, killing the Dr. in the process by submerging him in his own radioactive pool.

DrNo4

The man with the tin hands.

With the world safe and Bond’s mission complete, our randy hero finds Honey and escapes the island (with a little help from Felix), stopping halfway to safety for one final quicky. Ah, romance.

Summary

All in all, I would say this is a solid if unspectacular first outing for 007.

Sean Connery makes the title character his own, while the supporting cast do a decent job – particularly Kitzmiller and Jack Lord. However, though Ursula Andress certainly provides some eye candy, her performance is not particularly strong. Moreover, Dr. No is, in my opinion, one of the weakest in the entire Bond franchise, not helped by Joseph Wiseman’s lacklustre performance, with nothing to distinguish him from so many other megalomaniacal villains save his tin hands.

The plot isn’t anything to write home about either, and, as I mentioned at the very start of this review, the pace is rather slow. That being said, it certainly delivers some truly memorable moments, including the aforementioned Honey Rider emerging from the ocean, and some cracking one-liners.

And, though it’s admittedly a rather minor grievance, there are some rather conspicuous mistakes and production issues. First and foremost, there’s a very ‘of its time’ car chase which ends with the car chasing Bond somehow blowing up after falling down a hill, but there’re smaller things too, such as femme fatale Miss Taro seemingly mutable address or that highly amusing moment during one of the earlier fight sequences, for instance, which sees Bond swing with his right hand, only to end up connecting with his left.

Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh; the film was done on a very small budget and was shot in 1962, and yet is, in general, pretty well done.

Rating

Overall, I think a slightly above average rating is fair, due mainly, it has to be said, to its being the first in the series and thus the starting point of cinema’s longest-running franchise.

6.5/10

1 Comment

Filed under Film and TV

Notorious (1946)

Notorious IMDb – 221/250

My unending slog through this list returns to classic Hollywood this week and includes my first foray into Hitchcock cinema, with the 1946 film noir Notorious from 1946. (Not to be confused with the Biggie Smalls biopic from 2009, though the similarities are endless).

Starring legendary actors Carey Grant and Ingrid Bergman, and directed by perhaps Hollywood’s most famous director Alfred Hitchcock, Notorious tells an espionage story straight out of a James Bond flick, involving Nazis, dodgy bottles of sandy wine and a uranium sub plot, which struggles to maintain pace and interest despite a stellar cast and wonderfully written script, with Hithcocks signature style slowly starting to develop and improve, but not fully on show here.

The film starts slowly as it introduces the characters of Devlin (Grant) and Alicia (Bergman), and slowly builds up the key elements of this film; espionage, trust and a love of alcohol that seems prominent throughout much of American cinema at this period of time. (Devlin’s drink driving would certainly not be looked upon favourably now).

Alicia is tasked with being a spy for the American government, sent to infiltrate a Nazi organisation due to her previous relationship with one of its members, Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains). Grant essentially plays Alicia’s handler, but the two in typical Hollywood style of the time begin to develop feelings between each other despite what was for me a startling lack of real chemistry. (Their kiss scene, though thought of as ‘erotic’ at the time and ‘groundbreaking’, seemed out of place and just strange to my modern sensibilities).

Two of Hollywood’s biggest ever stars, Carey Grant and Ingrid Bergman

While their relationship and love for one another felt exceedingly forced, (Alica’s complete devotion to Devlin bordered on the ridiculous), the espionage story was interesting, especially as Alicia ingratiates herself into Alexanders life, even going so far as to marry him.

The dilemma she faces and the danger she puts herself in makes her by far the most sympathetic character of the film, whereas Devlin, despite playing the manly hero at the end, really comes off as arrogant and unlikeable.

In fact Bergman is the clear star of the film over Grant in creating a character we can empathise with and root for, and Claude Rains as well does a fantastic job of managing to create a villain for the film who isn’t some over the top Nazi figure, but instead a character who in some aspects we can sympathise with, a character who seems trapped by those around him, including his tyrannical and shrill mother (Leopoldine Konstaintin), rather than a character of evil himself.

For a supposed film buff, this is rather embarrassingly the first Hitchcock film I’ve actually watched.

Sadly, the film really goes nowhere by the end. Like that feeling you feel when your favourite TV shows ends with a whimper (or a shot to black in one series’ case), Notorious ends feeling incomplete. While you could say the ending is ‘open ended’, I feel this is more of a cop out, as much of the story is left unexplained or unexplored.

Notorious is not one of Hitchcock’s best known works, and perhaps is instead a nice starter into my first taste of his work, but I was hoping for something better or at least something more memorable to make me think, this is why cinema loves Hitchcock. As it is, I just can’t see the hype. Perhaps later films such as Rear Window, North by Northwest or Vertigo might change my mind.

For me I will always associate Notorious with a film about Biggie Smalls and Tupac, not Nazis and uranium.

Notorious: 5/10

Leave a comment

Filed under Film and TV, IMDb 250, Latest Posts

The Truman Show (1998)

The Truman Show – IMDb 222/250

It’s a lovely bank holiday Monday, the sun is shining, the drinks are flowing, and I am inside writing a review for my IMDb 250. What a life.

My review this week is number 222 on the list, The Truman Show (1998), the comedy drama film starring Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank, the first man legally adopted by a corporation, whose life is made into a reality TV show without his knowledge. With a wife and good job Carrey seems to have the perfect life, but he begins to slowly realise that his reality may not be as real as it seems.

I first watched The Truman Show when I was younger and was a big fan of it, for no other real reason than I thought it was a good film well told, so I was intrigued to see how I would see it now as a more mature (cough cough) adult. The first thing I really liked about the film which I didn’t truly appreciate at the time is simply the idea and concept of the film. Writer Andrew Niccol created a truly unique idea which is well worth exploring and debating.

In the last twenty years since its release The Truman Show has only become more relevant with the birth of reality television, social media and ideas around surveillance. Perhaps the father of all reality TV shows, Big Brother debuted (sadly) on British television just one year after the release of this film, and what it has birthed is ‘structured reality’ TV shows like Made in Chelsea, Love Island and I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. Structured reality, essentially meaning not reality in anyway shape or form, is similar to the life Truman lives, only he is an unwilling participant in the show. He lives a ‘simulated reality’, and the audience gets to watch him grow up and live his life.

This may sound like boring TV and ludicrous to watch, and when pitching the films idea to executives I bet director Peter Weir had a hard time explaining it, but as the last twenty years shows us, we can’t seem to get enough of other people’s life and ‘reality’, no matter how tedious or trivial it is. This film wonderfully depicts our early obsession with another persons life before the birth of reality television. I would call it a cross between 1984 and Keeping up with the Kardashians, with Carrey adding some Ace Ventura type comedy in the mixer too.

Did The Truman Show inspire reality TV like Big Brother?

Another interesting theme for me that The Truman Show explores is religion. Although Truman is the central character of the film and show, it is Ed Harris as the creator and ‘God’ of the show Christof that is more interesting to analyse.

He sits in a TV station in the sky looking down on his subjects as the ‘creator’, and this allusion to religion mixed with the idea of the media as a type of God is very interesting. When Truman is trying to escape from Christof and his created world he is attempting to escape his God or father figure, and Christof tries to dissuade him from doing so, trying to say that the real world is far worse than the reality he currently lives in. Without going into theology or depictions of utopias, its possible description as an atheist film, it is something worth looking in to, and gives the film an extra edge and piece of interest for me, and the film has been analysed before in its allusions to Christianity, which is worth looking up.

Ed Harris plays TV exec Christof, but he could also be an allusion to God – his performance earnt him an Oscar nod.

A key element to this film outside the thematic ideas and drama is humour.  I found it to be well executed, not taking away from its overall foreboding message regarding surveillance, the media and reality, but adding to it in its ridiculousness. The people around Truman have to stay in character, and their attempts to do this while he is clearly on to them is very amusing, and I particularly enjoyed Meryl Burbank’s (Laura Linney) attempts to advertise during inappropriate times with Truman.

However a lot of the film hinges on your opinion of Jim Carrey as an actor. For some you may find his over the top acting adorable or charming, whereas others may find it cheesy and grating (pun intended). For me I think he is well cast in films such as Liar, Liar, The Mask and The Grinch, but I can’t help feel he is a little poorly cast here. With a different leading actor this film could have been greater, and possibly easier to digest as a genuinely thought provoking piece of cinema rather than a comedy film with some dramatic elements and cool ideas.

Although the humour worked and the concept brilliant, I did feel its execution was lacking. Director Peter Weir struggled to keep the world together and the story fizzles out during the latter stages, and the emotional depth of the film was shallow, lacking any real punch or even much sympahty for Truman, which should have been easy. The focus instead was too much on Carrey’s antics and felt like a vehicle for him to get into serious acting rather, than a film about the medias intrusion on public life. I can see why it is in the top 250, but I feel there is another story to be told here which could be far superior.

The Truman Show: 6/10

Leave a comment

Filed under Film and TV, IMDb 250, Latest Posts

La Haine (1995)

La Haine – IMDb 223/250

As I continue you my painfully slow process of watching the top 250 films on IMDb as of June 2015 (2 years I have been doing this…. reviewed 27 films), I’ve found the time/motivation to do my next review, this time of the gritty black and white French film La Haine from 1995.

Described aptly by some as urban cinema, La Haine tells the story of three early 20s, ethnically diverse Frenchmen played by Vincent Cassel, Hubert Konde and Said Taghmaoui, as they spend a day traversing through a divisive and troubled Paris in the aftermath of a riot.

Unlike the Paris we see in Hollywood cinema, director Mathieu Kassovitz stays away from the idealistic vision we usually see of the city of love and instead depicts Paris as a gritty and impoverished place riddled with class divide, racism and societal conflict, highlighted by his use of the black and white filter which creates a moody and inescapable feeling for us as an audience watching our three young protagonists. 

The performances from the cast were really spot on. Cassel does an excellent job of portaying Vinz as a youth in turmoil. His hatred towards the police is relatively justified but his distrust leads to unnecessary violence and anti-social behaviour, but Cassel manages to create sympathy for a character who really acts as an antagonist through much of the film, and someone who will divide opinion on his motivations and beliefs, even more so now on a modern audience.

Vinz (Cassel) becomes obsessed with killing someone when he finds a gun, which further develops his aggressive and antagonistic attitude

But the majority of the sympathy in the story lies on the young laps of Hubert (Konde) and Said (Taghmaoui), who have to deal with racism and abuse on what seems like a daily basis, which is depicted to us most vividly in a deplorable scene when they are racially abused and humiliated by a group of sadistic policemen, fueling their anger and hatred towards those in authority.

Hubert though is the one who seems the most driven to escape the life he has been given, and understands their behaviour of violence and aggression towards their aggressors isn’t the answer. He states poignantly ‘hatred breeds hatred’, and in the last scene of the movie we see this play out first hand, but it is a recurring theme throughout the film.

The most telling aspect La Haine for me though was how relevant it still is in today’s society. As the world inexplicably continues to march towards right wing politics which looks to divide and segregate nations and its people, this film set in 1995 has these same issues playing out on screen.

In fact it mentions Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie Le Pen who like her daughter was the leader of the National Front, an ultra right party in France looking for much stronger immigration rules and a push towards right wing politics. Really the characters of Hubert and Said would be seen by Le Pen as the kind of immigrants who she would believe are ruining France, thus creating the divide we see in the film between them and authority, and the divide we still see in today’s society.

Although I understood the point the film was making though and the France Kassovitz was depicting, I still found La Haine a hard film to watch.

I sympathised with all three main characters, but I didn’t like them. I understood the circumstances that they find themselves in but this doesn’t excuse their at times aggressive and obnoxious behaviour, particularly in the scene at the art museum where rather than being rebellious they were simply hostile and rude, and you couldn’t condone their behaviour. I found it hard to identify with any of the characters without constantly trying to justify their actions, and the black and white filter although adding to this effect of the dark underbelly of Paris, did give the film a drab feeling.

As a political piece of cinema La Haine hits all the right notes and perhaps Kassovitz wanted it to be a hard and uncomfortable watch, patricularly for someone like me who doesn’t have to face the hardships Vinz, Hubert and Said go through constantly, but personally I felt we don’t really get a character we can fully get behind, nor a story which truly develops or intrigues until the very last scene, when it was already too late for me.

La Haine: 6/10

If you’re interested in French cinema, check out my review of Three Colours: Red

Leave a comment

Filed under Film and TV, IMDb 250, Latest Posts

Boyhood (2014)

boyhood-poster

Boyhood – IMDB 224/250

6 Academy Award nominations was the prize for Richard Linklater’s brave and ambitious coming of age drama Boyhood, starring Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke as divorced parents of two children, Mason Jnr (Ellar Coltrane) and Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). The film was shot over twelve years, depicting Mason’s and Samantha’s childhood and adolescence growing up in Alabama, Texas.

Mason Jnr is the main focus as he ages from ages 6 to 18, along with the actor that plays him, Ellar Coltrane, and we get to invest in the life of this young boy as he moves from childish disobedience to liking girls to teenage rebellion and finally into university, where he will discover even more about himself and his place in the world, possibly, I just learnt what my drinking limit was and how to muddle through exams.

Although Linklater’s decision to film over twelve years may just sound like a marketing tool and gimmick, it works to perfection in helping us invest in each and every character in the film, as we see the children and in essence the young actors naturally grow up on screen.  Linklater reportedly had this idea and vision for some time before it came to fruition, and he must be very proud how this was brought to life on screen, using the actors own experiences in those twelve years to make the story even more real and natural.

Boyhood was one of the best portrayals of real life I have seen, particularly in its representation of childhood, family life and growing up in the modern world. Essentially Mason Jnr is brought up in a time that I myself was growing up in and this gave the film even more poignancy for me, even if my character traits and household situation is vastly different. (I couldn’t really relate to his success with women… or successful haircut for that matter).

What really helped the film and Linklater’s vision was the strong, accomplished performances of the two young stars Coltrane and Linklater’s daugther Lorelei, who were brilliant when they were younger and kept that confidence throughout the film, and were just as good as the two Hollywood stars Hawke and Arquette whom both received Oscar nominations, with Arquette winning.

Linklater really stood out for me, with clearly no nepotism on the part of the director when he gave his daughter the role, as she was the funniest character when she was younger and grew into her performance as a young woman as she got older. They didn’t need to replace the young stars as they grew up for more prolific actors, Linklater and Coltrane were terrific throughout, which sadly can’t be said for The Walking Dead’s Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs), who comes close to ruining such an amazing show. I needed an excuse to throw the utter awfulness of his performance in somehow to my blog.

As I said earlier I felt Boyhood’s presentation of real life was so realistic, almost to the extent I couldn’t see the film ending, just like life itself it was going to keep going on and on. There was no natural end to the story as it is someone’s life happening before you, and ultimately our final scene is a rather non memorable moment, and like many great films it leaves you wanting to know what happen to these characters after the screen goes dark.

Patricia Arquette received a deserved Oscar for her incredible portrayal as single mother Olivia Evans

Patricia Arquette received a deserved Oscar for her incredible portrayal as single mother Olivia Evans

Boyhood is a very underplayed and underacted film, which is a style that works really well when it is as well directed and written as Boyhood is. There is an improvisational tone to the film which worked with its attempt at recreating real life, with every actor in the film clearly believing in the idea Linklater wanted to get across.

The film just perfectly highlights the fleeting quality of life, how quickly it moves and changes. As I grow older this is something I notice more and more, each year moving quicker than the last. This is shown in one of the end scenes when Particia Arquette, (Olivia Evans), cries when her son leaves for university. She speaks about the importance of milestones, and has a bleak realisation that her own life and experiences are growing thinner on the ground. Although the film is a slow burner, really we have witnessed by the end a young boy grow up into a college student in just under 4 hours, working as a kind of microcosm of our own lives.

The only issue Boyhood faces is it may not have mass appeal, as it does require a lot of patience, and you really have to like or at least empathise with the main characters to appreciate it. (Mason Jnr does get rather pretentious as he gets older).It goes on for a long, long time, (at near 4 hours) and really in that time very little happens outside of the dialogue and story of these children growing up in modern USA.  And although I related to them growing up in a time of technological advancement in the 90s and 00s, there is some displacement as it is set in Alabama, which is such a different setting to my own life. I related in the end to their emotions rather than their actions or lifestyle. But for anyone wanting to get lost in a magic piece of cinema and settle in for the night, Boyhood would be one of my top recommendations.

BEST ACTOR: Patricia Arquette

BEST MOMENT: When Olivia prepares Mason Jnr for University, expressing her sadness about life’s fleetingness is very poignant.

BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE: Both Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater really shine, keep an eye out for them, big futures potentially ahead.

Boyhood: 9/10

Leave a comment

Filed under Film and TV, IMDb 250, Latest Posts

Wild Tales (2014)

wild-tales-cover-poster

Wild Tales – IMDB 225/250

It is another first for me in my long and arduous trek through the IMDb 250, as I got to watch my first ever Argentinian film, and if all their films are as good as this, I might have to dabble more in the Argentine market. Wild Tales is a 2014 dark comedy anthology film, telling six completely separate stories around seemingly everyday situations, all united by themes of revenge, violence, anger and frustration.

Expertly directed and put together by Damian Szifron, Wild Tales succeeds where the majority of Hollywood anthology films fail, such as 2016s Mother’s Day or the atrocious Movie 43 (2013), what I can only describe as the worst 98 minutes of my life sitting through it. Szifron does an excellent job of creating six unique stories, with characters and plots that you can invest in despite each story lasting no longer than 20 minutes.

Some of the best literature comes in the short story format, such as Henry James’ ‘Turn of the Screw‘ or even Charles Dickins’ ‘A Christmas Carol‘, and Wild Tales feel more like a well told piece of literature than it did a cheesy and clunky anthology film. As long as each scene is unique whilst staying in the overall theme of the film, it is well acted and the story intrigues, Szifron proves that anthology themes can really work. Just like ‘Love Actually‘ (2003) (Perhaps a bad example… but I don’t think so).

The first story ‘Pasternak’ is probably the weakest of the six, but as the film progresses each tale gets more interesting, well told and the darkly comedic aspects of each story comes into play. This all culminates in the final story, ‘Hasta que la muerte nos separe’, which tells the story of a bride finding out the groom has cheated on her with one of their guests at their wedding. Complete and utter madness soon prevails, but the story is as funny as it is tragic.

This would certainly be an interesting wedding to go to

Romina (Erica Rivas) and Ariel’s (Diego Gentile) wedding resembles more of a Quentin Tarantino film than it does Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994).

Although described as a black comedy I actually preferred Wild Tales for its drama, plot building and its excellent portrayal of frustration than I did for its overall comedy. With perhaps the exception of the last story it never really made me laugh out loud, but the sense of frustration in each story was palpable, I genuinely found myself getting annoyed with the situations the characters found themselves in. As one critic put it, each character seemed to be on the verge of a mental breakdown, fighting to stay calm and sane against the ridiculous and sometimes unfair situation they have been placed in.

For the most part it is a very dark story and as life can be sometimes it is very maddening, making the film very easy to invest in and relate to. Rage flows through the film and into the characters as they look to escape their individual fates. This maddening effect it had on me was helped by the wonderful acting from the likes of Ricardo Darin as Simon Fischer, a demolitions expert who looks to get out of a parking ticket, and Erica Rivas as Romina, the bride who descends into madness after discovering her husbands infidelity. These two performances helped make their stories the most memorable of the six.

Wild Tales won numerous awards in 2014 and deservedly so, including the Best Film Not in the English Language at the British Academy Film Awards, as well as an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language film, but it had completely escaped my knowledge or attention.

This goes right up there with Paris, Texas (1984) for the best film I’ve seen on this list that I had never heard of, let alone seen before, and was a really pleasant surprise for me. For anyone that can be bothered with the subtitles (or perhaps you speak Spanish), and wants to see their own projection of anger on screen, this is a film for you.

BEST ACTOR: ERICA RIVAS

BEST SCENE: The ending to ‘Hasta que la muerte nos separe’ will leave you surprised, and maybe wanting cake.

BEST STORY: ‘Bombita’ was the most frustrating tale, ‘El mas fuerte’ the most intense, but the best told was ‘Hasta que la muerte nos separe’.

Wild Tales: 8/10

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Film and TV, IMDb 250, Latest Posts

Jurassic Park (1993)

jurassic-park

Jurassic Park – IMDB 226/250

After a long hiatus waiting for NOW TV rather than buying the DVD, I’m back with a Christmas edition of my IMDb reviews. A Christmas edition if only because it is the 22nd of December.

And really what is more Christmassy than dinosaurs going terrorising humans, as the latest film in my IMDb top 250 list is Steven Spielberg’s modern classic, Jurassic Park.

Starring the likes of Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum and the late great Richard Attenborough, Jurassic Park tells the amazing story of a new type of theme park opening in Costa Rica by John Hammond (Attenborough), who by ‘sparing no expense’ has managed to create real life dinosaurs, using DNA and mosquitos and some loose science type things. (That’s a technical term),

It isn’t long before said dinosaurs get out of control and out of their captivity, and start raging havoc through the park, as Sam Neill desperately tries to get Hammonds’ two grandchildren to safety from the parks Jurassic inhabitants.

Jurassic Park is a film that has become synonymous with my childhood, as I remember watching and being terrified by it as a child. It has so much nostalgia which I’m sure it has with many children across the world, especially having been fascinated by dinosaurs as I was when I was younger, and still am to a degree.

Moments such as the first time we hear the thud of the T-Rexs’ approach, with the brilliant image of the water rumbling, and then when it eats the lawyer (Martin Ferrero) on the toilet, are all iconic moments that have been written in to the history of cinema.

The arrival of the Tyrannosaurus Rex is an iconic moment in modern cinematic history

The arrival of the Tyrannosaurus Rex is an iconic moment in modern cinema – Many peoples pre-conceptions of T-Rexs’ now come from Jurassic Park – at the time it was considered the biggest and baddest dinosaur

But the scene that has always stuck with me is when the main villain of the film Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight), encounters a Dilophosaurus. I remember for some reason being petrified of this scene, and whenever I watch it now it brings back memories of watching it through closed fingers.

The whole film just had an endearing quality to it. The stunning and at the time ground-breaking visuals are perfectly complimented by the memorable score from film legend John Williams – which is still instantly recognisable to this day. My Mum has it on her Classic FM at the Movies CD. You know you’ve made it big when you get on this.

It truly is a modern classic, which can be loved by kids and adults, with an excellent blend of action and adventure, like many of Spielberg’s films such as Indiana Jones or E.T. And though I enjoyed Jurassic World (2015), it didn’t have the same heart or energy the original provides.

The ominous looking Dilophosaurus. As a kid, this scene was terrifying

The ominous looking Dilophosaurus. As a kid, this scene was terrifying

It may be aimed more towards children, but Jurassic Park still poses serious questions as well. It questions the power and our use of science and technology, and whether or not we are going too far in our advancement of it. Like Dr Ian Malcom (Goldblum) says “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” These sorts of questions are still raised in TV programmes today such as Humans and Westworld, and clearly writer Michael Crichton is occupied with this question as well.

But it isn’t a film without its flaws. The writing is somewhat simple and at times stale, but this may be largely because the focus was always going to be on the visuals and action of the dinosaurs. And due to the progress and new discoveries we have made in the last 23 years regarding dinosaurs, some of the science here is very wrong. But you can hardly blame Spielberg or Crichton for that.

My main issue with this movie is sadly Richard Attenborough. Though his performance is as usual charming and his character an interesting one, the Scottish accent he provides left a lot to be desired.

He keeps going in and out of the accent, like he forgets his character is supposedly Scottish, particularly at the end when it seems he decides to drop it altogether. So rather than watching and listening to what he said, I couldn’t help but concentrate on whether or not a Scottish accent would creep out.

But though it has its issues, Jurassic Park is still an extremely enjoyable film. It really is the sort of movie that will be on television at home at 5 o’clock on a Sunday, you’ll be curled up on the sofa eating some crisps or chocolate or whatever you people eat, and no matter what point of the film it’s on, you’ll start watching.

BEST ACTOR: JEFF GOLDBLUM

BEST SCENE: Many would say the arrival of the T-Rex, I’m going for the Dilophosaurus bringing justice to Dennis

BEST LINE: Dr Ian Malcolm: ‘Remind me to thank John for the wonderful weekend’

Jurassic Park: 8/10

Leave a comment

Filed under Film and TV, IMDb 250, Latest Posts

A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

1-a-fistful-of-dollars-1964

A Fistful of Dollars – IMDB 227/250

An iconic Western scored by the legendary Ennio Morricone and the film that turned Clint Eastwood into a household name, A Fistful of Dollars is number 227 on my IMDb 250 films of all time list.

In the first real spaghetti western to come out of Hollywood, Eastwood plays The Man With No Name, a mercenary like cowboy who wanders into a town where anarchy rules, particularly by two rivalling families, the Rojo brothers and the Baxter family.

Eastwood’s character begins too play off the two families against each other winning favour with both sides, as he attempts to install some order into this town, particularly after seeing a woman essentially a slave to the barbaric Rojo brother Ramon (Gian Maria Volonte).

The film really felt like a star making vehicle for Eastwood, more than a serious attempt at making great cinema. A Fistful of Dollars is completely centred on his mysterious character, and Eastwood has enough raw energy and charisma to make it work to a point.

His character is pretty cool for a classic western hero, relatively over the top and highly clichéd but it does work in this type of film.

Later on in the film as well we see a more human side to his character when he is badly beaten by the Rojo’s, which shows his vulnerability. But ultimately he was simply the tough Western cowboy who deep down had a heart of gold.

the-man-with-no-name

The Man With No Name has become a legendary film character

The character he most reminded me of weirdly was James Bond. It felt almost as silly and over the top as Sean Connery’s portrayal of Bond in the 60s; he was the action hero and superman type character you knew would save the day from the moment he strutted on screen.

A Fistful of Dollars as a whole had a Bond feel to it, with its cheesy action and over the top acting, but just a different genre of film.

My main issue with this movie was however its inability to suspend my disbelief. At times it was just way too over the top. The Gatling gun scene was simply mental, the kind of thing you would see on a countdown of the worst movies ever made.

What was presumably supposed to be a dramatic moment was ruined by its nonsensical action, over the top acting from Gian Maria Volonte and to be fair the limitations of filming techniques at the time. It is the kind of scene where I would argue modern cinematic techniques would help greatly.

For me modern western films such as the remake of True Grit or Slow West have more artistic merit than A Fistful of Dollars, which I think is ranked higher more as a nostalgic piece than actually because it is a better film.

But there is one thing you can’t ignore or disrespect in this film, and that is the music score by Ennio Morricone. Possibly the most famous film composer of all time, Morricone created something legendary for this film, and it was from this movie where his genius first came to light.

Morricone really gives this film and all his others a certain ambience and mood, still scene today in the flawed The Hateful Eight, which benefited greatly from his work.

A Fistful of Dollars was a simple story told well. Our hero walked in to town, saved the day and rode out again, with a simple ‘Adios’ as a way of goodbye (I did like that scene).

The second half of the film is vastly superior to the first, as the film transitioned from the ridiculousness into a deeper and darker film, with our main characters fleshed out so that we could actually invest in them.

A Fistful of Dollars essentially invented and followed many of the troupes we see in Spaghetti Western films, which is a genre I personally dislike, but as a film that had such a large impact on the industry, it would be hard to deny its place on any list of the best films ever made.

A Fistful of Dollars: 5/10

Leave a comment

Filed under Film and TV, IMDb 250, Latest Posts