Monday, 29 February 2016

BITE-SIZED REVIEW: Why Don't You Play In Hell?

Written and directed by Sion Sono, the current enfant terrible of Japanese genre cinema.

At its heart, this movie is a love letter to independent filmmaking. I'm not talking Juno and Little Miss Sunshine, I'm talking get-out-a-camcorder-and-filming-your-friends-in-your-backyard level.

The main characters are fuck-ups. Dreaming of becoming the next blockbuster directors, they are well past the age where getting a normal job is an option. Thanks to an insanely intricate series of circumstances, they get a chance at fulfilling their celluloid dreams.

I don't want to blow the third act, but it involves a lot of yakuza.

This movie is the equivalent of a joke. However, the setup takes over an hour. While this might feel a tad tedious, when the punchline comes, the laughs come hard and fast. As do the bullets, swords and geysers of viscera.

There is so much goodness here and I do not want to spoil it. If you have the chance, please grab a bunch of your more unhinged friends and feast your eyes!

Sunday, 28 February 2016

DEADPOOL: It's Funny

Been a minute since I posted anything so I thought I'd drop a quick word about Deadpool. Saw it a couple days ago, so certain details are a bit foggy.

Overall thought? It's really good. Just a good, fun time. Lots of jokes, good action, interesting characters and a strangely affecting love story all wrapped up into one supremely entertaining package.

Best movie of all time? Nah, but it's good fun, and a heck of a lot more involving than most of the comic book movies I've seen recently.

Maybe it speaks to the darkness in my soul, but the blood-splattered schadenfreude on show here is just perfect.

Ryan Reynolds is terrific. he's finally found a showcase that fits him like a glove. While I have nothing against the guy, he's never done anything that I found that impressive. This is the first role where it feels like no one else could play the part.

He hits all of Wade Wilson's contradictions and makes it feel like one supremely unstable individual.

Morena Baccarin is also terrific as Wilson's love, Vanessa. Their dynamic and chemistry make the movie what it is. The jokes are great, but they would all fall flat if there was not a little heart to it all.

Like Dredd, this is a comic book movie on a low budget but one done right. The story is very small, with a small cast and a limited set of locations. Thanks to strong scripting from Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, and inventive direction from Tim Miller, Deadpool works as a solid one-shot of Deadpool awesomeness.

Biggest surprise: The cost-cutting appearance by the 'X-Men' is almost as good as the Big Cameo from Reese and Wernick's Zombieland.

The re-vamped Colossus is a delight. A big boy scout with a heart as big as he is, the Russian behemoth is the perfect foil for Deadpool's anarchy. And Negasonic Teenage Warhead is just cool. Dig the name, dig the buzzcut.
Everything about these two made me laugh. Even that eyebrow. See? Bahahahahahahaha. 

Anyway, it's a fun movie. If you're keen for some good laughs, blood and a Stan Lee cameo, Deadpool is right up your alley.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Fair Game: Maritime law with explosions

I watched this movie when I was a kid and promptly forgot about it. A year ago, I discovered the podcast How Did This Get Made? which discusses bad movies. After listening their episode on Fair Game, I was curious to re-visit it.

I did. And it sucked.

This movie is the acting debut of Cindy Crawford. She plays a lawyer who wants a boat as part of a divorce settlement. The ex-KGB guys using the boat as their base don't like this and try to kill her. The only man who can stand in their way is William Baldwin.

One of the Baldwin brothers, Billy is not a good actor. But he is frickin' Olivier compared with the dead tree stump he's acting opposite.

Cindy Crawford cannot act. Her delivery is so flat it just sucks all the energy out of the room. The scene where she tries to be 'sexy' to get information out of a computer nerd is one of the most uncomfortable things I've ever seen.

This clip is all cut up to hell, but you get the general idea. I mean, 'sexy' is the only reason she's in this movie, and she can't even do that. If it is not obvious, her chemistry with Baldwin is zero. There is a pot plant sitting on the table in front of me as I write this. We have more chemistry than Crawford and Baldwin do in this movie.

There's a super-90s sex scene that happens midway through this movie (lots of shots of hands and disgusting wet mouths gnawing each other). It's gross, and most of the reasons why I became a Trappist monk. I ship out next week. I never want to see another supermodel ever again (I'll probably go back on that in three days).

Salma Hayek turns up as Baldwin's ex-girlfriend. She plays a hot headed Latina. She displays a range of emotions, from barely repressed rage to homicidal rage. Those hot blooded Latinas!

Steven Berkoff turns up as the bad guy. If you've seen one Berkoff performance, you've seen them all.

Christopher McDonald, he of Terminal Velocity and Happy Gilmore fame, turns up as Baldwin's boss -- he's basically Shooter McGavin in suspenders.

Ugh, writing this review is almost as draining as the movie. What else can I talk about?

This movie feels about a decade out of date. For a supposed techno-thriller, the way that people interact with technology is baffling. There's a point where Baldwin doesn't understand how a fax machine works.

The action in this movie is so poorly done it comes off as parody -- the bit where Crawford's house blows up and she flies out into the canal is hilarious. You have to see it to believe it.

Is there anything good in it? I really liked the music over the main titles -- cheesy 'sexy' synths in that late 80s/early 90s way.

In summation: The movie is really bad -- hilariously so. If you are going to see it, make sure it is with a group of open-minded friends with a lot of beer.

This movie is based on the same book that inspired Stallone's Cobra. If you have the time, read the book, watch both movies and write a more in-depth review than this one.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Martin Campbell: New Zealand's most underrated Hollywood export

When one thinks of New Zealand filmmakers, a few names spring to mind: Peter Jackson, Jane Campion, Vincent Ward and Roger Donaldson. In terms of directors who have made the jump to big budget Hollywood and made a career, Jackson and Donaldson are seen as the ones who made it. One name you rarely hear mentioned is Martin Cambell. One of the most underrated action filmmakers of the last 20 years, Campbell has been handicapped by long spaces between projects and a few high profile duds (Green Lantern).

Considering where his career went, Campbell's eclectic early moves make sense: he started out in the early 70s with British sex comedies, developed his action chops working on The Professionals, and solidified his dramatic credentials with his work for the BBC during the watershed years of the 1980s.

Style & influences
There is not a lot of material out there on Campbell's influences, but a few things can be gleaned from what sources are available. During the commentary track for GoldenEye, Campbell repeatedly refers to the influence Sam Peckinpah had on his action staging (especially during Bond's escape from the Russian archives). In an article from Empire magazine from a few years back, he refers specifically to Sergio Leone as a primary influence on the way he conveys character through action.

Rise to prominence
Campbell's rise to respectability began when he directed the well-regarded BBC miniseries Edge of Darkness, which won multiple awards and led to his move to Hollywood (Campbell would later remake it as a movie in 2010 with Mel Gibson). After several years of toiling away at the lower end of the Hollywood machine, working on a variety of minor thrillers and action films, Campbell gained attention with his successful reboot of the Bond franchise in GoldenEye. This gave him the clout to land the job directing one of the best adventure films of the last 20 years, The Mask of Zorro.

Apart from his work on Edge of Darkness, Campbell has made three truly great films: 

GoldenEye (1995)

Campbell was against the wall with this movie. The series had been on ice for 6 years, the action landscape had completely changed with the release of Lethal Weapon, Die Hard and True Lies, the Cold War had ended... If it had not worked, this movie could have put the last nail in the franchise's coffin.

GoldenEye is not perfect. The story lags at points, 006 is more of an idea than a fully realised character and Brosnan has not quite got the measure of the part just yet, and Eric Serra's score is absolutely terrible. Yet the movie manages to work in a way that Brosnan's other entries never did.
A lot of why GoldenEye works so well is down to Campbell's direction. Phil Meheux's photography replicates the lush style established by longtime series DOP Ted Moore, Terry Rawling's editing is tight in a style that approximates contemporary tastes, and Campbell combines both elements in such a way that feels both mindful of the series's aesthetic, yet more visceral and dynamic -- if John McTiernan made a Bond movie, it would probably look a lot like GoldenEye.

Many have praised and criticised Casino Royale for breaking from the established style, but most of what Campbell does in that film is already present in GoldenEye. The way Meheux's camera is choreographed perfectly with Brosnan's movements as he slips into the Russian facility in the pre-title sequence is subtle yet striking. Like Leone, Campbell makes sure that his anti-heroes do, not talk, and while Daniel Craig benefits from this parred down approach, the same is true of Brosnan in his debut.

Brosnan is far less flippant than in the rest of his tenure, and his best comedic moment isn't even verbal: sneaking onto the yacht where Xenia Onatopp is staying, Bond runs into a sailor who he subdues with the aid of a handy towel. In only a few seconds, Brosnan goes from Mr. Smooth to professional killer -- locking the towel around the sailor's neck and throwing him down a stairwell. One beat to take in his handiwork, then a quick wipe of the brow with the towel and then he's back on task.

Brosnan's more subdued and athletic performance is a clear foreshadowing of the physicality Campbell would lend Craig's portrayal over a decade later. Just check out that final close quarters brawl between 007 and 006. You could swap out Brosnan for Craig and it would feel exactly the same.

The Mask of Zorro (1998)

Written by the same team as Pirates of the Caribbean, Campbell's first stab at Zorro remains one of the best old school adventure movies ever made. The cast are on form, the script is fast and funny, and the action is excellent.

And like his Bond flicks, Mask of Zorro manages to feel contemporary without losing that old-school flair. Campbell does not go for unusual camera speeds or lighting effects -- he just pares everything down to the essentials. It always feels like the camera is in the right place, the cut to another angle well timed, the camera move seamless and un-showy.

It's a story-driven approach that works well for the films highlighted here, but works less well when the material Campbell is working with is not so strong. There are a few strong directorial moments in his other works, but Campbell's style and approach cannot make up for a good script. It would take him almost another decade to find another strong showcase for his talents.

Casino Royale (2006)

One of the best action films of the last 15 years. I've written way too much about how great Casino Royale is, so I'll try to keep this short and sweet. This movie has everything a great action movie should have: Great action. Believable characters. A genuinely affecting love story. Granted, the movie feels like 3 movies stapled together, yet Campbell's sure hand pulls the whole thing together.

Final thoughts
I recently wrote an article on underrated action directors and I included Campbell. I'm hoping he puts a few more notches on his belt so that he can get away from the 'underrated tag'. Now in his 70s, that hope is probably a bit of a pipe dream. At the moment, he is in the middle of shooting The Foreigner with Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan, and he is set to re-team with Brosnan on an adaptation of Ernst Hemingway's Across the River and Into the Trees.

I've seen a few articles ridiculing the choice of Campbell, but I feel like his approach might be a good match up with Hemingway's economical style. Granted, it is not an action film, and the only real success Campbell has had with non-action material was his work on Edge of Darkness, and that was back in the 80s. However, maybe it will work out. The script is written by some fairly notable people, and when Campbell has a solid foundation story-wise, he is on form.

And if things don't work out, hopefully he has Eon on speed dial so he can jump onto Bond 25/26!

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

The Meyer Files #11: Good Morning and... Goodbye! (1967)

This movie is Stuart Lancaster's vehicle. Sure, we get a return from Alaina Capri, who provides many chuckles as the wife from hell, but there is something so... I don't know if I could call it human, but there is something so open and vulnerable about Lancaster's sad mug here that he cannot help but dominate proceedings.

The story is another re-run of Meyer's favourite scenario: Lancaster's impotent schlub Burt cannot get it up with Angel (Capri), his much younger wife. In turn Angel satisfies her desires with Stone (Patrick Wright), a neanderthal who is a sure thing when it comes to sex and nothing else. Angel rubs her infidelity in Burt's face, who takes it on the chin. He is finally snapped out of his stupor by an encounter with a mysterious forest nymph played by Haji. Rejuvenated by this mystical intervention, Burt goes back home to take down Stone and re-claim his bride.

This synopsis does not really simplify anything. Like last week's film, Good Morning and... Goodbye! (who came up with that title?!?) is short and sweet. The characters are pure archetypes, only their purity comes from Meyer's skewed view of gender relations -- Burt is good, which translates as a bad lay. Angel is bad, which means she needs a good lay. Stone is frankly evil, but he's great in the sack, so... you get the drift.

This is Alaina Capri's last film for Meyer, and after her moment in the sun she would go back to her original profession: teaching at primary school. All lust and malice, her performance is deliciously camp. Angel does not get the same kudos as Vixen or Varla (Faster, Pussycat!), but she is a prime example of the Meyer Superwoman, and has some of the funniest dialogue and scenes in the Meyer canon (at one point, she drives to a construction site and blares her horn until one of the workers heads her way).

In the batshit corner, Haji's performance as the Sorceress is... kind of hard to put into words. She meows, she snarls, she plays with snakes, she appears and disappears at will. It's definitely Haji's most out-there role, and considering her past work, that's saying something.

As Stone, the sociopathic ladies man, Patrick Wright is all shit-eating grins and sunburned pecs. Like Angel, he's a pretty typical Meyer character that lacks that little something to make him stand out.

Ultimately, that description fits the movie as a whole. It's pretty entertaining, with good performances and Meyer's technical expertise in evidence, but, apart from the title, the movie is not as out there as his other works of this period.

Still, it's fun, and makes for a good double bill with last week's Common Law Cabin.

Russ Meyer will return with Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers!

For previous entries...

The Meyer Files #1: The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959)

The Meyer Files #2: Eve and the Handyman (1960)

The Meyer Files #3: Wild Gals Of The Naked West (1962)

The Meyer Files #4: Europe in the Raw (1963)

The Meyer Files #5: Lorna (1964)

The Meyer Files #6: Mudhoney (1965)

The Meyer Files #7: Motorpsycho (1965)

The Meyer Files #8: Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill! (1965)

The Meyer Files #10: Common Law Cabin (1967)

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

The Meyer Files #10: Common Law Cabin (1967)

This movie is great. It's just over an hour long, which is about right for a Meyer movie. It has a pretty simple, melodramatic plot, a collection of out-sized characters who either hate or lust after each other, and a great sense of humour. If you are a neophyte to Meyer and his work, Common Law Cabin is the perfect introduction.

A funny thing about this movie. Originally, it was supposed to be shot in Hawaii. Well, that plan went the way of the dodo and Meyer moved production to a slice of backwater hell that feels like it's just downriver from Lorna's locale. This change in location adds a dark meta-irony to the movie, as we watch a bunch of hapless dupes in Hawaiian shirts and bikinis slog through swamps and deserts.

Meyer gets things started with a bang: Opening with sweeping shots of the Colorado River, John Furlong returns as narrator to offer a series of pompous soundbites about its significance ('leaves like a woman, but a name like a man!'). Signalling Meyer's shift toward outright parody, the main credits are physical signs along the beach.

The story is simple: Dewey Hoople (screenwriter Jack Moran) is the owner of a broken down ranch on the bank of the Colorado river. It's a hellhole surrounded by desert, yet Dewey has, with the help of local boatman Cracker (Franklin Bolger), turned it into an unlikely tourist attraction -- Cracker hangs around a local resort and entices unwary tourists on a day trip to Dewey's place, vaguely described as a hidden treasure.

The saps on this occasion are Dr. Martin Ross (John Furlong, who also performs the opening narration), his wife Sheila (Alaina Capri) and mysterious stranger Barney Rickert (Ken Swofford), who has a gun, a bag full of money and an eye for the good doctor's wife.

It's like a cartoon remake of Knife in the Water, with characters trading barbs like drag queens. Alaina Capri is catty to the extreme, but the real find is Babette Bardot, one of the 'stars' of Mondo Topless!, who plays Dewey's girlfriend. Thank god for closed captioning because her dialogue is almost impenetrable. It does not help that Dewey's daughter is played by German stripper Adele Rein. Between their respective accents, dialogue is almost pointless.

In terms of the male side of the cast, Moran does well as sad sack Dewey, and John Furlong is equal parts hilarious and sad as ultimate chump Dr. Ross. The best performer overall is Ken Swofford. He is terrific as a psychotic cop who hijacks the expedition -- he's another in Meyer's collection of evil he-men, and Swofford gives him a diabolical charm that is both funny and scary. He seems to be completely in tune with the tone of this picture, and it is a pity Meyer didn't put him in more pictures -- he would have been great in Supervixens.

Of the Meyer films I have not seen before, Common Law Cabin is definitely one of the highlights. As an entry point into Meyer's comedic output, it is note perfect.

Monday, 8 February 2016

BITE-SIZE REVIEW: Safe - The Stath does Bronson

Though Jason Statham stepped into Charles Bronson's shoes for his remake of The MechanicSafe is a better evocation of the style of action picture Bronson, Lee Marvin and Walter Hill turned out in their 70s heyday. This is a tight, brutal action thriller in the mould of the work of Walter Hill. Everything in this movie is pared down to the absolute essentials. Written and directed by the inconsistent Boaz Yakin, Safe may be his best film. It is also Statham's best, most unapologetic action flick.

A homeless drifter tormented by his past, Statham is thrown together with a hyper-intelligent child on the run from her unsavoury guardian, a mob boss who does not trust computers and uses her talents to keep track of his holdings.

Marked by short, brutal bursts of violence and leavened by a sense of black humour and invention, Safe  deserves to stand alongside the likes of John Wick and Dredd as a terse, violent throwback to the action films of the 70s and 80s. 

The Single Moms Club: I saw a Tyler Perry movie

At a time when visibility in Hollywood is on everyone's minds, when minority filmmakers and actors are finding themselves pigeon-holed like never before, Tyler Perry's place in pop culture is singularly frustrating.

Tyler Perry is an independent filmmaker-entrepenuer who has built a media empire off the back of a series of comedies and dramas featuring a bevy of contemporary African American actors. Talents as diverse as Idris Elba, Michael Jai White, Taraji P. Henson, Janet Jackson and Kathy Bates have appeared in his films, most of which have struck a chord (and box office gold) with African American audiences. Perry also acts in most of his films, and also appears in other popular features: If the name sound familiar, you might recognise him as Ben Affleck's smooth lawyer from Gone Girl

Perry has been very successful, and is a genuinely talented actor (his performance in Gone Girl is award-worthy). His self-produced work on the other hand...

Perry's movies can broken roughly into two types. The most successful of these films have been his comedies, featuring the deranged but loveable(?) Madea, played by Perry himself in drag. The others are his melodramas, generally about middle class families and their personal issues. While Perry's comedies are broad and silly, his melodramas are the complete opposite,  with an incredibly dark view of humanity, and a disturbing (to this viewer, at least) sense of morality. 

It's a worldview so disconnected from the present that his movies occasionally feel like they were made by a time travelling preacher from 1955. Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counsellor, for example, is about a marriage counsellor who, bored with her square of a husband, has an affair with an internet billionaire. Of course, she realises the error of her ways when it turns out he is a deviant with a violent temper who has given her AIDs. The movie ends with her alone, while her ex-husband enjoys a new life with a new sexy young wife and baby. It's a real heart-warming story (with added Kim Kardashian). Temptation is on its way toward some deranged kind of cult status, with the podcast How Did This Get Made dedicating an episode to this strangely dour film.

The Single Moms Club was released in 2014, and, as of 2016, is Perry's last theatrically released feature. Having never seen a Tyler Perry movie before (and remembering Spike Lee's criticism of Perry), I decided to give it a shot and boy... it was something.

This movie is Tyler Perry's attempt to appeal to women. If that sentence has not sent you running for the hills... this movie is for you, I guess?

If you don't know anything about 'single moms', this movie will teach you three things:

a) Single mom-ing is hard

b) It's so hard, you better get a man  

c) Men also suck. But see B for instructions.

c) Latino people only live, work and hang out at Mexican restaurants

This movie is bad -- and I mean, gloriously bad. I have not laughed so hard in a long time. No real comedy has had this effect on me in years. I also have not felt so bad for a movie's cast.

Nia Long is the lead, I think. She comes top of the cast list, but her screen time is about the same as the others. Like everyone else in this movie, she's a good actress trying her damnedest to make something out of this material. She does an okay job, all things considered, but the script has her character in a headlock that prevents her from exercising any kind of agency: when she tries to strike out on her own, she almost loses her kid. She then gives up on her dream of being published, and it takes another character to fulfil her dream.

Amy Smart's career has been on the downturn for awhile, but she is better than this. She gets stuck playing this rich housewife who has to cut back on her expenses and lose the maid who raised her daugh -- Oh god, I just don't care. Anyway, she's in this movie.

Cocoa Brown plays the sassy working class black woman, Lytia. She might have the best role in the movie, but that's not saying much considering she is playing another caricature: a single mother who cannot control her kids without a man around to provide... something. Speaking of the 'man' in her life, I don't know what Terry Crewes is doing in this movie. He basically spends the whole movie aggressively hitting on Brown until he literally has her against a car door, when she finally relents. This scene and Brown's character as a whole are strong examples of what Spike Lee, Jamilah Lemieux and even Idris Elba have taken issue with: the way Perry's films perpetuate stereotypes about African Americans.

For some reason unknown to god or man, the very talented comedienne Wendi McLendon-Covey is also in this movie. Guess she needed to do some renovations on her house. She plays a cold career woman with no time for relationships or her daughter. By the way, her character's name is Jan Malkovitch -- Jan MALKOVITCH. That goes beyond lazy.

Out of this whole mess, the one I feel the most sorry for is Zulay Henao. Not only is she stuck playing another thankless Latina role (a recently divorced woman who is being blackmailed into celibacy by her asshole ex-husband, who will kick her out of her house if he finds out she is seeing anyone), she is currently reprising her character in the spinoff TV show in which they retcon her sweet immigrant boyfriend so that he turns out to be involved with South American drug cartels ('cause all Latinos have something to do with drugs, right?).

This movie is so shoddily executed, but in such a specific way that feel totally Tyler Perry. All of Perry's movies  feature flat lighting and simple camera setups that make his films feel alternately like a 90s sitcom or a CW show. This one is no different -- just a bunch of good looking people in bland locations shot in a completely boring and un-cinematic way.

The blocking in this movie is completely insane. There are dialogue scenes which consist entirely of talking heads, and then Perry will end the scene from a completely different angle that reveals a bunch of new characters that have been there the entire time. It's like that joke from Arrested Development, where Lucille Bluth tears Michael a new one and then the camera zooms out from a two shot to reveal a room full of people. It's as funny as that, but completely unintentional.

The other thing that stands out (if it was not already obvious) is Perry's complete ignorance of how the world works.

Prime example: Publishing. Nia Long's character has written a book, but she cannot get it published. McLendon-Covey's character works in publishing, finds the manuscript and A FEW DAYS LATER presents Long with a finished hard copy and a big publishing deal. Now I do not know a lot about publishing, but I do know the first thing you need is the author's permission -- not to mention the time it would take to proof, format, print and bind an entire run.

Oh, if you're wondering what the plot is: there isn't one. These four ladies form a club and stuff  just kind of sorts itself out.

Final verdict? This movie is absolute garbage, and it has some sequences which are absolute howlers, but ultimately it just feels incredibly depressing. It speaks to the dire state of women's roles in Hollywood that such a drought of good characters has brought this film's ensemble together. There are plenty of unintentional laughs to be had here, but the sad truth it reveals about Hollywood makes those chuckles ring hollow.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Underrated Bond: Villains

There have been many great Bond villains. Here are a few that do not get as much love.

Emilio Largo, Thunderball

Wedged between Auric Goldfinger and Donald Pleasance's iconic (though grossly overrated) Blofeld, Largo is the forgotten badass of the Connery years.

Largo fixes my one bug bear about the Bonds (and action movies in general): in most of the movies, they make the head bad guy a brain, but delegate the muscle to other characters. For once, this is not the case. Largo does not need anyone else to do his dirty work, and is more than happy to join his men in their tasks (retrieving bombs, fighting US navy divers), and in the final showdown, he throws down with Bond all by himself. In fact, Largo wins the fight and has Bond dead to rights, with a gun aimed right at him -- until he gets a spear to the back.

If it were not for the fact that he royally pissed off his mistress, Largo would still be alive and James Bond would not have lived twice (nailed it!).

Max Largo, Never Say Never Again

Sure, he fulfils the same function as the villain of Thunderball, but Max is a completely different fish. Where Emilio was a big, swaggering brute with an appetite for women and gambling as big as Bond's, Max is a quiet, smiling psychotic.

Klaus Maria Brandauer is a terrific actor, and his subtle choices in performance gives the unstable Max an unpredictability that is electric to watch.

Franz Sanchez, Licence to Kill

This movie is not a big favourite of mine, but Sanchez ranks pretty high in the villain stakes.

The great thing about Sanchez is how menacing he is without any of the usual trappings: he has no big scheme, he just wants to continue to expand and profit from his business. To that end, he does not waste time when he has a problem -- he acts quickly get rid of it. 

No matter if that is recovering his mistress after she flees him; seeking bloody vengeance on the DEA agent who arrested him, or killing a rogue British agent who is trying to mess with his operation.
Although he feels more like the bad guy from an 80s action movie, Sanchez falls firmly in the Bond tradition. The writers dress up his character with distasteful bits of business from the Fleming books (whipping his girlfriend; feeding an enemy to sharks) which feel like natural outgrowths of his ruthless, ultra-paranoid personality.

Le Chiffre, Casino Royale

Forgotten after Raul Silva swaggered in nattering on about rats and coconuts, Le Chiffre still has a lot to recommend him.

One of the most straight forward villains in the series, like Sanchez, he has understandable motivations which make him far more threatening than your average megalomaniac. He also has no hesitations when it comes to eliminating obstacles -- like Bond, he is a professional who will do anything to complete his job. He is also incredibly mercenary when it comes to his compatriots. He will sell out anyone if it will help him -- even his loyal girlfriend.

With his back against the wall and creditors after his literal blood, Le Chiffre is far more driven than any other Bond villain -- unlike the others, he will do whatever it takes to get himself out of the red.

For other relevant posts:

Underrated Bond: Women

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Underrated Bond: Henchwomen

The female hench woman is an iconic archetype that has influenced everything from Frau Farbissina (Mindy Sterling) in the Austin Powers movies to Sofia Boutella's Gazelle from last year's Kingsman: The Secret Service. Strangely, for such iconic characters, there are not enough of them in the series they are associated with.

The female hench woman falls into two distinct types: the butch and middle aged Rosa Klebb (From Russia With Love), and the more physically appealing femme fatale. Both are based on their inability to be ideologically re-aligned by Bond: either because they are disinterested in him as a sexual partner (the clearly lesbian Rosa Klebb) or they are up for a tumble, but still refuse to be swayed in their allegiance (Fiona Volpe). It's an old fashioned attitude that the series has never really dealt with, or altered.

Anyway, enough ranting. Onto the bad 'uns!

Irma Bunt, On Her Majesty's Secret Service

One of the more successful hench persons in the series, she kills Bond's wife and, thanks to offscreen shenanigans, she is the only one to escape alive.

Taken from the same mould as From Russia With Love's Rosa Klebb, Bunt is not as imposing as her more famous predecessor, but she is is far more ruthless. In a break from the traditional bad guy-henchman dynamic, she has a more genial rapport with Blofeld than Klebb, who is openly terrified of her superior. This bond is an outgrowth of the novels, in which Bunt and Blofeld's relationship extends beyond the purely professional.

Sadly, actress Ilsa Steppat died shortly after the film's release, and with the return of Connery, any possibility of a return engagement between Bond and Bunt was off the table.

Trivia: However, the brief appearance of a stocky German woman at the SPECTRE briefing in Spectre hints that a new Bunt may be in the oven...

Fiona Volpe/Fatima Blush, Thunderball/Never Say Never Again 
The blueprint for the more (in)famous Xenia Onatopp, these ladies deserve a shared entry.

Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi) is the first femme fatale in the series. The archetype has no antecedent in the books, although the character was present in the treatments for the Bond movie Thunderball was based on.

Beautiful but cold as ice, Volpe is basically a female mirror of Sean Connery's James Bond. She'll can  kill anyone, she can seduce anyone and she can look great doing both.

The first woman to have sex with Bond who does not change her colours to switch allegiances, Fiona is one of the best villains in the series -- one hopes that the return of her employer in last year's Spectre might lead to a return match with 007.

Her spiritual successor Fatima Blush is one of the few shining features of Sean Connery's final, unofficial return to Bondage. Where Fiona is ice cool, Fatima is all fire and passion. Fatima loves killing, snakes and random bursts of dancing. She also enjoys sex, and, in a perverse show of ego, takes pleasure in forcing her partners to admit that she is the best -- before killing them. Her wardrobe is ridiculous, and Barabra Carerra's performance goes to 11, but somehow it fits.

For a character that is so over the top, it is oddly appropriate that her death involves a massive explosion. The cackle she gives as she goes up in flames is the final, camp touch that cements Fatima's place in the canon. While she is technically not a part of the official rogues gallery, Fatima's influence can be felt in the baroque, psycho-sexual characterisations (and wardrobe) of Mayday (A View To A Kill) and Xenia Onatopp (GoldenEye).

For other relevant posts:

Underrated Bond: Women

Underrated Bond: Henchmen

Friday, 5 February 2016

Underrated Bond: Henchmen

Bond henchmen are a dime a dozen. Good ones are hard to come by. A few have gained iconic status  (Oddjob, Jaws, Xenia Onatopp) while others are lauded by die-hard fans (From Russia With Love's superlative Red Grant).

Here are a few that deserve bigger profiles.

Mr. Wint & Mr. Kidd, Diamonds are Forever
These guys are great. So weird, so creepy. So detached from the main action of the plot, and yet they are one of the most memorable things about Sean Connery's last (official) outing. Indeed, ask anyone what they remember from this movie and it is either that endless moon buggy chase or those two creepy killers.

With their bizarre, shared sense of humour and assassination methods that feel more like macabre performance art, Wint and Kidd are a true one of a kind.

Simultaneously camp and menacing, the odd dynamic between Bruce Glover's OTT performance as Mr. Wint and non-actor Putter Smith should not work, and yet adds to their odd charm. Apparently, Putter Smith (a jazz musician) caught the eye of director Guy Hamilton after he saw him playing at a concert.

Locque, For Your Eyes Only

Locque shows that you do not need any gimmicks or super abilities to be a great henchman: he proves that professionalism and boring features can go a long way.

I would contend that Locque holds the title for being the most unassuming yet cold of Bond's foes.

The fact he looks so nondescript is a big part of why I like him. Like Necros, he is just a professional -- he's not out to make a statement with any kind of calling card, he just gets the job done.

His death scene, in which Bond kicks his car off a cliff, is one of the most memorable in the franchise.

Necros, The Living Daylights

I included Necros in an article I wrote last year on underrated villains. The best villain of Dalton's tenure, and easily the best of the 80s, Necros is the heir apparent to Red Grant's throne as the most effective and unstoppable of Bond's foes. In a decade not known for its iconic henchmen, Necros stands out, and even when placed next to the more iconic Oddjob and Jaws, his effectiveness cannot be denied.

Necros's greatness is cemented in one unjustly un-celebrated sequence -- his one-man assault on the MI6 safe house. Employing his talents for disguise, accents, martial arts and improvised explosives, this sequence acts as a bloody CV of his abilities.

No other henchman could have accomplished this sequence -- Oddjob and Jaws are too recognisable, and their very specific skills would have been useless in both getting into and out of the compound. The fact that Necros manages both difficult tasks with calm and efficiency emphasise how truly underrated he is in the pantheon.

The final fight between Bond and Necros out the rear end of a cargo plane, with both men holding on for dear life, packs a visceral punch not just because of the immediate stakes of being hundreds of feet in the air, but because we've already seen how capable Necros is when the odds are (seemingly) against him.

Trivia: Actor Andreas Wisniewski would later play Tony, John McClane's first kill in Die Hard.

Renard, The World Is Not Enough

Often mis-labelled as the villain of Brosnan's third outing, Renard is really just the lap dog of the film's real villain.

Simultaneously the kidnapper/tormentor/lover/partner/servant of Elektra King, their bizarre, psychosexual dynamic is the most original relationship in the series's long history.

With a bullet in the brain that has killed off his pain receptors and will eventually kill him, Renard is literally a man with nothing to lose. His eventual demise is all part of the plan, and the resulting chaos a parting gift to the woman he loves. 

Robert Carlyle's performance is too subtle and layered for the movie he is in, but he makes it more worthwhile to watch.

Since the filmmakers are always plundering past movies for ideas, hopefully some day we will get a re-write of Renard and Elektra in a better movie.

For other relevant posts:

Underrated Bond: Women

Thursday, 4 February 2016

CLUE: An underrated comic gem

The only adaptation of a board game that manages to emerge from the shadow of its source as a great movie, Clue bombed on release but has since gained a dedicated cult following for its fast-paced mix of slapstick and screwball dialogue.

On a dark and stormy night in 1954, a group of disparate guests arrive to attend a party at a gothic mansion in New England. To disguise their identities, each guest has been given a code name. None of them know why they have been invited, and the butler Wadsworth (Tim Curry) is unwilling to explain what is going on until after dinner.

As it turns out, each guest has been the victim of blackmail by Wadsworth's employer, Mr. Body.

When their loathsome host finally arrives, the estate's power fails. In the darkness, there is a shot and a cry. When the power comes back, the guests find Mr. Body dead. 

Frantic to leave, the guests and house staff try to figure out who killed Mr. Body. All the while, the body count rises as someone in the house begins to settle some scores...

Clue boasts a great cast: Madeline Kahn, Lesley Ann Warren, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Colleen Camp, Martin Mull, Eileen Brennan and Tim Curry as the level-headed butler.
For a movie based on a board game, Clue works amazingly well on its own merits. The structure of the game is perfect for this kind of ensemble caper, and the filmmakers take great pains to make sure that the mystery is an integral part of the story. The characters all come with their own backstories, and the actors (particularly Curry and Kahn) have great fun pushing their eccentricities to the extreme, without turning into full-blown caricatures. The gags come thick and fast and -- surprisingly, for a movie set in the 50s -- all of them land.

The pace of the film is truly something to behold. There are entire scenes which feel like they could be pulled straight out of a 30s screwball comedy. This influence is evident in the penultimate revelation sequence, as a manic Curry leads the surviving cast around the house in a whirlwind re-telling of how each murder was committed, why the victim had to die, and who the culprit is. Curry deserves some kind of award for endurance for this sequence alone.

One wonders what the cinema experience was like -- each screening came with one of three different endings. All are featured at the end of the video release, adding another level of meta-nuttiness to the film that manages to tie it back to its source material.
Clue is a terrific comedy and is just as much fun as the game it is based on. Check it out.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

The Meyer Files #9: Mondo Topless! (1966)

This movie is mad. Completely and utterly off its rocker.

Right from the outset, this movie sets out to destroy any conception of rational thought. It's all about moving from one 'buxotic' to the next, with little rhyme or reason beyond Meyer's peerless editing, the never-ending rock soundtrack and the mighty John Furlong's unbelievable narration to link the whole thing together.

Together it makes a strange kind of sense -- a fever dream of breasts, lips, cars, signs, trains and transistor radios. In its individual set pieces, it makes a different kind of sense -- like glimpses into a live action Road Runner cartoon with Mansfield-shaped women to lend perspective. Does that make sense? Of course not! Let's move on.

Boiling it down, this movie is a souped-up version of Europe in the Raw. The reason for its creation was not artistic. The fact is Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! was a massive flop which drained Eve Productions of funds. In need of a quick hit, Meyer shot a bunch of random scenes with a bunch of new discoveries, cut in some old b-roll he'd shot of Lorna Maitland, pilfered whole scenes from Europe in the Raw, locked Furlong into a closet with some scribbled sheets of paper and a microphone, and boom: he had an instant smash that brought him back into the big time.

The major difference between Raw and Mondo is where Raw comes across as somewhat solemn and sterile (it's pretending to be a documentary, after all), by Mondo, Meyer had lost all pretence of respectability. His focus no doubt sharpened by his need for profit, Meyer cuts straight to the point. There is no attempt at context -- just get to the bosoms, and then the next ones, and the ones after that. Mondo is Meyer playing on his audience's most basic urges, but taking it to the next level.

While this relentless approach may sound exhausting (and it is), without the berserk editing, watching a topless woman swing on powerlines while another go-go dances beside a speeding train would be dull as ditch water. As cut together in Mondo Topless, they are glorious snippets of Meyer's insane universe, a place where big bosoms and square jaws rule supreme. And then there's John Furlong, the unseen wizard who keeps the whole thing afloat.

A supporting player in several Meyer epics (he was the sympathetic lead in Mudhoney), the narration in Mondo Topless! is Furlong's greatest contribution to the Meyer canon. Bellowing without respite, he encapsulates the madcap, OTT nature of the whole enterprise. Completely straight-faced against the backdrop of Meyer's visual fireworks, Furlong's narration feels like soundbites from a deranged Cronkite broadcast.

Lustily describing San Fransisco's 'bulging peaks and deep canyons' and the Coit Tower 'thrusting its bulk majestically to the sky', Furlong turns everything onscreen into a reference to the film's main attractions. Without him, this movie would be unwatchable -- with him, it's a deranged, strangely innocent view of late 60s California.

On top of all this, Meyer clearly felt that the movie made too much sense. Originally, he had recorded interviews with the film's female cast to lend some kind of context to proceedings. For some reason, he chose to eliminate his questions, resulting in a series of bizarre monologues about the women's personal lives which veer out of nowhere to punctuate Furlong's bluster. It's a surreal aural patchwork which adds to the movie's diabolical sense of anarchy.

This review has probably been the least illuminating of the set. Frankly words cannot describe Mondo Topless -- well, only John Furlong's can and the only way you can hear them is to gather a group of friends and watch the film.

Russ Meyer will return with Common-law Cabin!

For previous entries...

The Meyer Files #1: The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959)