Monday, August 5, 2019

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977, Lewis Gilbert)

What are the classic James Bond films?  Ask most fans and you would probably hear Goldfinger for Sean Connery, The Spy Who Loved Me for Roger Moore and Goldeneye for Pierce Brosnan.  But are these the best James Bond films?  Obviously questions like these are subjective, but is there a reason that fans gravitate towards these three films?  By Goldfinger, the third film in the series, a template was laid that has continued to this day:

1. Pre-title sequence
2. Title sequence with theme song
3. Appearances with M, Q and Moneypenny
4. Villain with henchman
5. Female companion and ill-fated ally/sacrificial lamb
6. Exotic locations
7. Villain lair

Now, not all Bond films have every one of these tropes.  The latest Daniel Craig films have dropped some of these elements, but the basic formula is still intact.  Goldfinger, The Spy Who Loved Me and Goldeneye however are three of the prime examples of "quintessential Bond".  Growing up, I would most likely have counted these three films in my top 10, but as I have grown older, I find that it is the idiosyncrasies in the series that interest me more.

The Spy Who Loved Me begins with one of the most loved pre-title sequences of the series, which finds James Bond (Roger Moore) skiing in Austria.  Gone is John Barry's bombastic score, only to be replaced by Marvin Hamlisch's timely disco theme, "Bond '77".  Though very dated now, it still complements the exciting chase scene and crowd pleasing ski jump.  Carly Simon's classic theme, Nobody Does it Better, kicks in over Maurice Binder's main titles before our adventure begins.  Bond is sent to Egypt to recover a microfilm containing the plans for a deadly submarine tracking system.  While there, he meets up with Russian agent Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach), who was sent by the KGB for the same purpose.  After being pursued by henchman Jaws (Richard Kiel), the agents trace the microfilm back to millionaire Karl Stromberg (Curt Jurgens) and are forced to pool their resources to save the world.

This film is probably the most cookie-cutter 007 film.  It has all of the things Bond fans expect from the series as well as a fan favorite stunt (ski jump) and theme song.  The previous film, The Man with the Golden Gun, was seen as a let down at the box office (compared to the other films) and so the budget was doubled for The Spy Who Loved Me.  This proved to work, as the film was a smash and doubled the box office returns as well.  There are some things I love about this film, but overall it just doesn't grip me.  It feels like the producers were just checking off boxes on the "Bond formula" instead of making something fresh and new.  Karl Stromberg is a villain we have seen countless times before and the whole story is basically just a retread of You Only Live Twice.  The locations left me wanting more, particularly the Egypt scenes which drag on forever.  I did like Jaws, the Lotus Esprit and several of the films stunts, but after marveling over the weird and wonderful world of The Man with the Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me just left me bored.

Monday, July 29, 2019

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974, Guy Hamilton)

One of my favorite topics of conversation is the James Bond 007 film series.  I have been a fan since I was 9 years old and my tastes in the series have changed many times over the years.  There are classics like From Russia with Love and Goldfinger that top many people's lists and those which are frequently at the bottom, like A View to a Kill and Die Another Day.  The Man with the Golden Gun, Roger Moore's second film as Bond, always seemed to be right in the middle for me.  Moore, though great in his first attempt at 007 in Live and Let Die, really didn't settle into the role until his third appearance in The Spy Who Loved Me.  I always thought The Man with the Golden Gun was weird and visually very dull.  Scenes were mashed together haphazardly and then there is the infamous "slide whistle", many fan's least favorite moment in the Bond series.  I was looking forward to rewatching it as many years had passed since my last viewing.  What I discovered was a near masterpiece.

The Man with the Golden Gun, like its predecessor, begins with a pre-title sequence that doesn't feature James Bond.  We are introduced to a gangster named Rodney (Marc Lawrence, who also appeared three years prior in Diamonds are Forever), as he lands on a private island owned by high-priced assassin, Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee).  It is apparent Rodney is not there for pleasure and a cat and mouse game ensues in Scaramanga's home made Fun House.  Scaramanga kills Rodney with his golden gun and is then seen shooting a wax figure of James Bond.  After the title song by Lulu, we meet up with Bond at his MI6 headquarters.  Bond anonymously receives a 007 inscribed golden bullet, similar to the one that killed 002, and is put on holiday for his safety.  Bond seeks out the maker of the golden bullet, hoping to get closer to Scaramanga who is believed to have sent the bullet.  What follows is a globe trotting adventure featuring henchman Nick Nack (Herve Villechaize), the mysterious Andrea Anders (Maud Adams) and allies Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland), Hip (Soon-Tek Oh) and Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James).

This film has been maligned by critics and fans of the series for its prevailing cruelty, particularly by Bond.  Beginning with the next film, The Spy Who Loved Me, Roger Moore had changed Bond into a more sarcastic, lovable super hero.  Though Connery's previous Bond made quips and escaped unbelievable situations, he had not yet become as cartoon-y as Moore would become.  To me, The Man with the Golden Gun shows Moore the closest he would come to Ian Fleming's literary Bond.  From twisting Andrea Anders' arm to pushing an annoying child peddler out of a speedboat, Moore shows that he can be the cruel, no nonsense Bond from the novels.

The structure of the film I find quite enjoyable, including many of the usual elements of the best 007 films.  First, The Man with the Golden Gun begins with an exciting "mini movie" pre-title sequence.  I know there are naysayers against Scaramanga's Fun House, but I think the sets look amazing and the scenes (both in the pre-title and the end) are very suspenseful.  Next, the film's exotic locations are some of the best in the series.  From Scaramanga's private island in Thailand, to the Beirut nightclub, the Hong Kong casino and wealthy businessman Hai Fat's Bangkok estate, the audience are treated to breathtaking locales and Peter Murton's fantastic set designs.  John Barry's score is another highlight, perfectly accompanying Bond's journey across the Far East.  "Hip's Trip" and the beautiful "Chew Me in Grislyland" are two standout tracks, using bits of the theme song as well as the James Bond theme.  Lastly, the film's cast is amazing and features two of the most iconic Bond villains (Scaramanga and Nick Nack), as well as two of the best Bond women (Goodnight and Anders).  Maud Adams is perfect as Andrea Anders, Scaramanga's lover with ulterior motives.  I was never particularly a fan of Ekland's portrayal of Mary Goodnight, but upon revisiting I have changed my mind.  I previously thought her to be helpless and incompetent, but I really enjoy the hard to get games she plays with Bond and her chemistry with Moore is undeniably.

The film is not without its problems though, especially at the mid point.  After we see Bond sleuthing his way to uncover Scaramanga's plot, we suddenly find him in a pointless scene at a Karate school.  Though mildly entertaining, it is an obvious bandwagon jump onto the popular Martial Arts films of the time.  This is then followed by a "chance" meeting with redneck Sheriff J.W. Pepper, who apparently someone thought should come back after bumbling his way through Live and Let Die.  These scenes kill the pace of the film and ultimately feel like filler.  One thing I didn't mention was the side plot about the Solex Agitator, a MacGuffin used to harness the power of the sun.  Not a terrible concept, but one that wasn't completely necessary.

Overall, I would rank The Man with the Golden Gun in my top ten Bond films and my favorite of the Roger Moore era.  For Your Eyes Only, Moore's other "serious" Bond film, comes in a close second due to a weak villain and some slow parts.  This film has zero slow parts, has one of the best casts  and what I consider Moore's best portrayal of Bond.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot (2018, Robert D. Krzykowski)

When a film has a title like "The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot", you can't ignore it.  It is too interesting to not google what this film is.  Who made it?  Who is in it?  Is it zero budget garbage?  Is it a joke?  When you see that the titular man is played by the god-like Sam Elliott, you realize, it's no joke.  When you see the supporting cast include Ron Livingston, Larry Miller, Caitlin FitzGerald and Poldark's Aidan Turner, you realize you must see this film.

Sam Elliott stars as Calvin Barr, a World War II veteran who is living a quiet life by himself.  We see flashbacks from his days in the war, where it is revealed that he played an important, unsung part in history (see film's title) and also that he was in love with a school teacher named Maxine (FitzGerald).  As the film progresses, we see that Calvin has skills that he learned in the army which he may need to use to make history again.

To take a great title like "The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot" and then make a film that is even better is rare.   First time director Robert D. Krzykowski mixes war, horror, sci fi, fantasy and drama in a movie so well made that I can't think of anything like it.  The characters and screenplay are so well written that you forget at times what you are watching.  Aidan Turner (who I agree would make a great James Bond, as some of the tabloids have stated) does a great job playing the younger version of Calvin Barr and his relationship with Maxine is beautifully portrayed.  Larry Miller also gives a touching performance as Calvin's brother Ed.  I must also mention that Douglas Trumbull did the visual effects for this film.  If you don't recognize the name, he also did the effects for some little films like 2001:  A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  Perhaps you heard of them?  I don't want to really give away too much more of the title's meaning as it is an important part of what makes the film so mesmerizing.  If you get the chance to see this film on the big screen, do it.  You won't regret it.  But by whatever means necessary, see it.  It really is a masterpiece and has risen to become one of my favorite films of all time.  I am really excited to see what Krzykowski does next.

Check out the trailer HERE

Preorder on iTunes HERE

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Last Movie (1971, Dennis Hopper)

Finally released from Arbelos is the long, lost, early 70's masterpiece, The Last Movie.  Directed, co-written and starring Dennis Hopper, this film was derided upon its original release and led to it being buried for many years.  I forget how I first stumbled upon this film, but I know I have waited many years for its re-release.

Hopper stars as Kansas, a stunt man filming a Western in Peru.  After filming has wrapped, he decides to stay in Peru and moves in with a local prostitute.  Along with his friend Neville (Don Gordon), Dallas unsuccessfully tries to persuade a rich man into backing him on a gold mining expedition.  But after being asked by a local priest (Tomas Milian) to stop the locals from hurting themselves trying to recreate the film Kansas was working on, he finds his purpose.

The Last Movie is truly a magical film, that didn't find the right audience at the time of its release.  Though it has similarities to Hopper's more famous Easy Rider, it is far less mainstream, even by counterculture standards.  There is a clear plot (or at least a few of them), but the editing and narrative is jumbled around and may seem incoherent on first glance.  But what makes The Last Movie so brilliant is its fearlessness.  There are shots in the film that are breath-taking and scenes in the film that just feel so real.  My favorite scene features Hopper and Julie Adams (best known as the heroine from The Creature from the Black Lagoon), flirting with each other at a strip club, while their respective significant others watch uncomfortably.  The scene was one of those great cinematic moments that I will never forget.  Also featured in the film, is one of my favorite actors of Italian cinema, Tomas Milian, as well as the debut of Kris Kristofferson, who can be seen performing his classic song "Me and Bobby McGee".  Arbelos's new 4k scan is amazingly clean and rich and their blu-ray is full of many amazing special features, best of all is a documentary by Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid and Nancy).  Of all lost films that finally see the light of day, none are more welcome than The Last Movie.

Special Features:

New 4K restoration from the original camera negative
Scene Missing (2018), a sixty-minute documentary directed by Alex Cox on the making of The Last Movie
Some Kind of Genius (1987), a thirty-minute documentary portrait of Dennis Hopper directed by Paul Joyce
Postcard from Peru (2018), a new series of video interviews with members of the Peruvian crew filmed by Daniel García and Aurelio Medina
The Dick Cavett Show 1971 interview with Hopper
2007 video introduction by Dennis Hopper
2018 U.S. Theatrical Trailer
1971 Theatrical Trailer
1971 Product Reel
Restoration Demo

New essays by Julie Adams, Jessica Hundley and Mike Plante plus a 1971 Evergreen Review report from the set of the film by L.M. Kit Carson.

Purchase The Last Movie directly from Arbelos HERE

Monday, November 19, 2018

Monster Party (2018, Chris von Hoffmann)

Monster Party, just released from RLJE films, is a new film from Chris von Hoffmann, director of last year's Cannibal horror flick, Drifter.  The premise for the film instantly grabbed me and the prospect of seeing Robin Tunney again made it even more enticing.

Monster Party starts out with a group of teens (Casper, Iris and Dodge) breaking into and robbing a house.  We soon learn that Casper (Sam Strike), needs a large amount of money to save his father from being killed over gambling debts.  Iris (Virginia Gardner) mentions that she is going to be working as a caterer for a rich family's party, so the three decide that they will use this opportunity to rob the house to bail out Casper's dad.  We soon learn that the homeowners are not your average family and the guests are far more dangerous than the three young thieves.  Oh, and if that's not enough, wait until you see what is in the basement!

Monster Party was a gory, flashy thriller with some blacker than black humor thrown in for good measure.  The premise is very original and well crafted, with enough spraying blood and faces ripping off to satisfy horror buffs.  A few of the peripheral characters could have been cut out with more focus on the leads, but overall it was a blast.  I liked the cast a lot too, especially Tunney, Sam Strike (fresh off last year's Leatherface) and Julian McMahon.  An overall fun film filled with shocks, gore and humor.

Monster Party is available now to stream or purchase digitally, as well as Pre Order the Blu Ray and DVD versions (which will be released on December 18, 2018) HERE.

Friday, November 16, 2018

King Cohen (2017, Steve Mitchell)

Going back through my old reviews always brings a tear to my eye.  I can still vividly remember watching some of the films for the first time and how much of an impression they had on me.  I used to work at a gas station and had many hours to sit and watch movies, which I more than took advantage of.  Sometimes I would fit up to 10 films in over one weekend.  At the time, I was just getting into cult films and my knowledge of the genre (and many sub-genres) was limited, to say the least.  I had no idea if a film was going to be an absolute gem or unwatchable garbage, so I would just watch anything.  One director whose films had a real impression on me, and always ended up being gems, was Larry Cohen.

King Cohen follows the amazing career of Larry Cohen, from his time as an aspiring comedian to the present, which still finds him writing constantly.  In the 1960s, Cohen was writing for television and created such shows as Coronet Blue, The Invaders and Blue Light.  After being fed up with producers, Larry then decided to go out on his own and produced, wrote and directed his first film in 1972 titled Bone.  Though misunderstood at the time, Bone has since become a cult classic and was one of the films I remember watching back in my gas station days.  Next up was the hugely successful Black Caesar with Fred "The Hammer" Williamson, and its sequel, "Hell Up in Harlem".  Cohen then went on to a successful career, probably best known for directing horror films (Q: The Winged Serpent, It's Alive, The Stuff) and later, a surprising turn as a Hollywood screenwriter (Cellular, Phone Booth).

Director Steve Mitchell (who wrote his own classic cult film, Chopping Mall), gets very in depth as we learn how Cohen managed to break away from the big studios and make the films he wanted to make without compromise.  These films are so great because they are the work of a pure artist who was determined, wouldn't take no for an answer and who put every penny of his admittedly small budgets on the screen.  We also see many of Cohen's stars (Fred Williamson, Michael Moriarty, Eric Roberts) and fellow directors (John Landis, Martin Scorsese, Mick Garris) stress the importance of what Cohen was doing and how there will probably never be anyone like him again.  La La Land Records (aka the Soundtrack Gods!), enter into the home video market with King Cohen, their first film release (and hopefully the first of many).  The Blu Ray also comes with a CD soundtrack of original music by Joe Kraemer, the composer of such films as Jack Reacher and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.

Purchase King Cohen directly from La La Land Records HERE

The Mentors: Kings of Sleaze (2018, April Jones)

As a long time lover of Punk Rock,The Mentors were one of those bands I was always a little too scared of to get into.  As mentioned in this film as a common misconception, I always assumed the hoods the band members wore were Ku Klux Klan hoods, not Executioner hoods.  I was familiar with the name "El Duce" and knew the band had shocking song titles ("Wine You, Dine You, Sixty Nine You", and "Service Me or Be Smacked" are two of my favorites), but other than that I knew very little.  Luckily, April Jones' new ROCKumentary, The Mentors: Kings of Sleaze, has filled in that gap in my musical knowledge.

This film focuses heavily on Eldon "El Duce" Hoke, lead singer and drummer of The Mentors, whose hilarious antics and songs became the stuff of legends.  Along with founding guitarist Sickie Wifebeater (Eric Carlson) and bass player Dr. Heathen Scum (Steve Broy), The Mentors blazed a trail of debauchery in a genre they created called "Rape Rock".  Basically this term describes the band's mix of punk rock and heavy metal with hilariously, politically incorrect song titles and lyrics.  We learn about the band's formation, many lineup changes, downfalls, the death of El Duce and the resurrection of the band.  Along the way we also hear from the many old and new band members of The Mentors as well as members of other legendary bands, such as Raven, St. Vitus, The Dwarves, Gwar, Fang, Exodus.

The Mentors: Kings of Sleaze proves itself to be a successful documentary because it not only entertains you, but also teaches you the history of a crucial, underground band.  The film could also be somewhat of a cautionary tale of the dangers of alcohol, but it is more of a celebration of the life of an important figure whose music and memories will live on forever.  The fact that The Mentors are still active (with Sickie and Heathen in tow), is a testament to the band's legendary status.

Kings of Sleaze is available to stream or purchase (either on demand or DVD), as well as other merchandise HERE