Friday, April 24, 2015

You Only Live Twice (1967) | Music



Maurice Binder is back to create the title sequence for You Only Live Twice, this time using a Japanese umbrella motif over images of volcanoes and the faces of Japanese women. The umbrella design is introduced in a cool way, exploding in red from a patch of blood at the end of the cold open, then turning black and shrinking into a woman's eye. In spite of that strong opening though, I get bored watching faces and lava. I'm much more interested in the song.

John Barry brought back Leslie Bricusse to help with the theme song and this one was less troubled than the song for Thunderball had been. There was one version with mostly different words and sung by Julie Rogers, but Barry ended up going with Nancy Sinatra whose "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" had just come out the year before. Barry redid the orchestra part of the song to fit Sinatra's range and mellowed out the Japanese strings in the process.



The final version is great. It swells beautifully and Sinatra's voice is lovely. Barry of course uses it in the soundtrack and the musical theme is great over scenes of the Japanese countryside.

The lyrics work well, too. Unlike the songs for Goldfinger and Thunderball, "You Only Live Twice" isn't directly related to characters or events in the movie. It follows the From Russia With Love model in that it repurposes the movie's title into a love song (my favorite kind of Bond theme). In the novel, Bond writes the title as part of a haiku: "You only live twice: Once when you are born and once when you look death in the face." In the film, it's a reference to Bond's second chance after his faked death. But in the song, it's about romance and taking hold of your dreams before they disappear.

Barry's getting even more sparing with the Bond Theme in You Only Live Twice, but he uses it to great effect. The only time it appears is during the dogfight between Little Nellie and the SPECTRE helicopters. It's a highlight of the movie, not only because it's a great fight, but because it uses that music and I go, "Ah! This is Bond."

Top Ten Theme Songs

1. You Only Live Twice
2. From Russia With Love (John Barry instrumental version)
3. Dr No
4. Thunderball
5. Goldfinger
6. From Russia With Love (Matt Monro vocal version)
7. TBD
8. TBD
9. TBD
10. TBD

Top Ten Title Sequences

1. Dr No
2. Thunderball
3. Goldfinger
4. From Russia With Love
5. You Only Live Twice
6. TBD
7. TBD
8. TBD
9. TBD
10. TBD

You Only Live Twice (1967) | Villains



What a letdown Donald Pleasance is after all the buildup the series has been doing towards revealing Blofeld's face. The creepy, mysterious head of SPECTRE with the silky voice is now a tiny, non-blinking madman with a high-pitched screech. When he yells, "Kill Bond! Now!" it's not threatening, it's sad. He sounds hysterical. Blofeld is my least-favorite thing in a movie full of bad decisions.



Like I said yesterday, Helga Brandt is the lite version of Thunderball's Fiona Volpe. She may be pretty and have red hair, but she's an incompetent assassin. Fits right in with the rest of these goons.



Actually, there's nothing really incompetent about Hans, but that's a low bar when he has so little responsibility. All he's really in charge of is feeding Blofeld's fish and holding the destruct key. He does both of those things well though and Bond actually has to expend some energy to beat him. He's the best bad guy in the movie.



I have a hard time figuring out Osato's role in all of this. He gets to hang out with Blofeld who treats Osato like an underling, so I assume he's part of SPECTRE. But that doesn't explain why Osato's corporate logo is proudly displayed on the SPECTRE astronauts' suits as if Osato is some kind of corporate sponsor.

I'm also confused about who's making all the decisions in regards to stopping Bond's investigation. Henderson's killer seems to have been working for Osato and numerous attempts on Bond's life are made on Osato property, so it feels like Osato himself is responsible for that incompetence. In Thunderball, Fiona stops Largo from trying to kill Bond because she knows it would let Bond's allies know he was on the right trail. In You Only Live Twice, every single time Bond gets close to a bad guy, Osato tries to have him killed, even if Bond is literally in the Osato parking lot.

But before we judge Osato too harshly, we need to realize that Blofeld's just as bad. When Bond flies Little Nellie out to recon the area he thinks the bad guys might be operating from, SPECTRE totally confirms his suspicions by sending out attack helicopters. Every step of the way in this plot, all Bond has to do is accidentally get close to the next clue and the villains will let him know he's on the right track. Stupidist bad guys ever.

I'm actually sorry I still have spaces left at the bottom of my Top Ten Villains and Henchmen lists, because none of these guys deserve to be on the lists even temporarily. What I'm going to do though is separate Blofeld out by portrayals. It's not that I consider each version to be a different character, but most of them are different enough that they should be ranked separately. I don't want You Only Live Twice Blofeld dragging down From Russia With Love/Thunderball Blofeld.

Top Ten Villains

1. Auric Goldfinger (Goldfinger)
2. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (From Russia With Love and Thunderball)
3. Doctor No (Dr. No)
4. Emilio Largo (Thunderball)
5. Rosa Klebb (From Russia With Love)
6. Kronsteen (From Russia With Love)
7. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (You Only Live Twice)
8. TBD
9. TBD
10. TBD

Top Ten Henchmen

1. Fiona Volpe (Thunderball)
2. Grant (From Russia With Love)
3. Oddjob (Goldfinger)
4. Miss Taro (Dr. No)
5. Professor Dent (Dr. No)
6. Morzeny (From Russia With Love)
7. Hans (You Only Live Twice)
8. Helga Brandt (You Only Live Twice)
9. Vargas (Thunderball)
10. Count Lippe (Thunderball)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

You Only Live Twice (1967) Women



The first woman we see Bond with in You Only Live Twice is "Chinese Girl." Her name isn't the only mystery about her; the movie doesn't even care what side she's on. In fact, Bond's whole fake death is hard to figure out. Is Chinese Girl working for SPECTRE to lure Bond into a trap or is she MI6 and in on the charade? What about the guys who shoot Bond? They're apparently not using real bullets, so they have to be good guys, right?

The only thing I can figure is that M must hope that someone witnessing Bond's "death" is going to report that information back to SPECTRE. Otherwise, M could just plant a fake obituary in the paper and be done with it. So if the gunmen aren't SPECTRE agents, CG must be a good guy too. If she were actually working for SPECTRE, why would she contact M's fake assassins to kill Bond? It doesn't make sense that she'd have a real person in SPECTRE to report Bond's death to, but then have to call bogus killers. Even if she thinks she's working for SPECTRE, her actual contact with the organization has to be part of an elaborate sting.

So, who does M hope will provide an eyewitness account of Bond's death? The only thing that makes sense to me is that it's one of the policemen who arrives after Bond is shot. MI6 must know there's a mole in that group. Which may also explain why they go to the trouble to actually bury Bond at sea. Maybe the mole - or another like him - has enough access to have actually seen the burial preparations.

Which is all way more thought than Roald Dahl put into the caper or the character of CG.



Tiger Tanaka's agent Aki is pretty cool. She's apparently a top spy in the organization and she saves Bond's bacon a number of times. But she's too easily dismissed before the ship chase and there's no real chemistry between her and Bond. That is, Bond doesn't really have chemistry with anyone in this movie, but actor Akiko Wakabayashi also delivers a confusing performance. Aki is smart, resourceful, and instigates the romance with Bond, but she kisses him with chaste little pecks that suggest she's not as into him as she pretends to be. Or maybe she's just a bad kisser. Either way, she and Bond don't feel right as a couple and it feels like they're thrown together because that's what's supposed to happen in a Bond movie.



I used to think of Helga Brandt as a sexier substitute for Irma Bunt, Blofeld's wife in the novel, but other than the similar names they don't really have anything in common. There's not a hint of romance between her and Blofeld - quite the contrary, actually - and Bunt doesn't do anything in the book. Brandt is much more active.

That's mostly only true in relation to Bunt though. Brandt is supposed to be an assassin in the spirit of Thunderball's Fiona, but she's nowhere near as cool or efficient. She bungles her easy chance to kill Bond by trading it in for a chance to sleep with him. Like Aki though, there's no motivation for her to do that. She's just doing it because that's what hot villains are apparently supposed to do.



Finally, there's Kissy Suzuki, who isn't that interesting either. The coolest thing about her is that she's all business at first. In fact, "It's business" seems to be her motto and that's really endearing. But after spending a day with Bond she succumbs to his... I don't know, stone-faced staring? Anyway, they make out a couple of times. She serves the plot, but doesn't turn out to be much of a character either.

One nice thing is that none of the women suddenly turns incompetent partway through the movie. That's still not a thing yet in the series. But of all the women of You Only Live Twice, the only one to crack my Top Ten is Aki. Her relationship with Bond is weird, but she's a cool spy and I wish there was a whole separate movie series of her adventures.

My Favorite Bond Women

1. Paula Caplan (Thunderball)
2. Tatiana Romanova (From Russia With Love)
3. Fiona Volpe (Thunderball)
4. Domino Derval (Thunderball)
5. Honey Rider (Dr. No)
6. Sylvia Trench (Dr. No and From Russia With Love)
7. Aki (You Only Live Twice)
8. Pussy Galore (Goldfinger)
9. Tilly Masterson (Goldfinger)
10. Jill Masterson (Goldfinger)

You Only Live Twice (1967) | Bond

Actors and Allies



After such a wonderful, relaxed performance of Bond in Thunderball, Sean Connery is clearly fed up with the part in You Only Live Twice. He was frustrated with Saltzman and Broccoli for not cutting him a larger slice of the enormous financial pie the Bond series was creating, but he was also irritated by the shoot in Japan and the large crowds of fans who continually disrupted the process. Part of the problem with YOLT's Bond is the script - Dahl's isn't nearly as charming as the one for Thunderball - but Connery looks bored with the whole deal. There are moments of levity, but mostly he's phoning it in. It's especially noticeable in the action sequences where he can barely be bothered to aim.

The Moneypenny scene is again mutually playful. Later on, Tanaka will suggest that Moneypenny is interested in more from Bond, but I don't see that in Lois Maxwell's performance. And I like that Bond calls her "Penny," which I'm guessing isn't her first name, but just a nickname. I don't think that ever comes up again though.

Speaking of Tiger, Tetsurō Tamba was a great choice to play him and he's what I imagine now when I read the book. His ninjas are the worst though. The polar opposite of stealthy, especially when they invade the SPECTRE volcano.

Q shows up and he's cranky as usual, but there's no real animosity between him and Bond.

And then there's Henderson. I mentioned yesterday how he's different from the crude bigot in Fleming's novel, but I still don't like him. Charles Gray's performance is a cartoon. He's a spoof of a stuffy Englishman and impossible to take seriously. And of course there's the famous blunder in which Henderson offers Bond a "stirred, not shaken" martini. Bond's too polite to correct him, but geez, Henderon. You had one job. (Well, that and get murdered.)

Best Quip



"Bon appétit," as the piranhas are eating Blofeld's henchman, Hans.

Worst Quip



"Just a drop in the ocean," in response to Tanaka's fishing for a compliment after dropping some bad guys from a helicopter into the ocean.

Gadgets



Bond doesn't have many British-issued gadgets in You Only Live Twice. Tanaka and SPECTRE both have a few, most notably the cigarette rockets that Tanaka loans Bond, but the only ones provided by Q-Branch are a safe-cracking device and Little Nellie.

The safe-cracker is lame, because it's never mentioned before Bond conveniently pulls it out of a coat pocket to use. There's no reason for him to be carrying it since he'd gone out that evening just to meet with Henderson.

Little Nellie is cool though. The gyrocopter is outfitted with machine guns, missiles, rocket launchers, flame guns, a smoke machine, and aerial mines; almost all of which get used in the excellent dogfight with SPECTRE helicopters.

Top Ten Gadgets

1. Aston Martin DB V (Goldfinger and Thunderball)
2. Jet pack (Thunderball)
3. Little Nellie (You Only Live Twice)
4. Rocket cigarettes (You Only Live Twice)
5. Attaché case (From Russia With Love)
6. Propeller SCUBA tank with built-in spearguns (Thunderball)
7. Rebreather (Thunderball)
8. Camera-tape recorder; mostly because it reminds me of a camera my dad used to use (From Russia With Love)
9. Seagull SCUBA hat (Goldfinger)
10. Book tape-recorder (Thunderball)

Bond's Best Outfit



I do dig a light gray suit.

Bond's Worst Outfit



Pink shirt. Gray, high-waisted, sansabelt slacks. Brown sandals.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

You Only Live Twice (1967) | Story



Plot Summary

Someone is stealing US and Soviet rockets from orbit and the superpowers aren't happy! Can James Bond and Britain solve the mystery before those maniacs blow up the earth?!

Influences

Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli's plans to produce On Her Majesty's Secret Service had been postponed by the sudden availability of Thunderball as source material, but they didn't come right back to it afterwards. Instead, wanting to take advantage of the Bond movies' huge popularity in Japan, they decided to adapt You Only Live Twice.

I wasn't able to find out exactly why Terence Young didn't return to direct YOLT after Thunderball, but I did learn that even though the previous movie had been a huge financial success, Young had become frustrated with all the underwater shooting and had pretty much abandoned Peter Hunt to finish editing the film alone. Maybe that had something to do with it. Whatever the reason, he was replaced by director Lewis Gilbert. who originally turned down the job, but was convinced to do it because of the huge built-in audience it would bring him.

Richard Maibaum, the defining voice on the first four screenplays, wasn't available for YOLT either, so the producers hired Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, etc. He'd been a close friend of Ian Fleming, but he was an untried screenwriter and didn't think the YOLT novel had a filmable plot. He jettisoned most of it, keeping primarily the Japanese setting, a few characters, and some nods to particular story elements.

How Is the Book Different?

Since the US-Soviet space race had captured the world's attention, Dahl made that the center of the movie. Fortunately, it fit well with a change that Cubby Broccoli wanted to make concerning Blofeld's hideout. Broccoli had scouted Japan for a seaside castle like the one in Fleming's novel, but learned that Fleming had made that up. Tsunamis make it foolish to build castles on the coast. Instead, Broccoli discovered a dormant volcano with a lake in its crater. That would be the site of Blofeld's operation.

In addition to Blofeld, Dahl kept Tiger Tanaka and his organization (including the ninja training facility) and diving girl Kissy Suzuki (though she's one of Tanaka's agents and an orphan in the film instead of a former actresss living with her parents as in the book). He also kept Bond's disguising himself as a Japanese fisherman, though that doesn't work at all onscreen. All that remains of Blofeld's garden of death is the piranha pool in his office, but there's also sort of a nod to Bond's obituary from the end of the novel, since the movie opens with Bond's supposed death and a newspaper headline reporting it.

Moment That's Most Like Fleming



Of the various elements from the novel that sneak their way into the movie, the biggest one is when Tanaka takes Bond out for a bath. It's not an exact replay of the scene from the book, but it serves the same purpose in the story.

Moment That's Least Like Fleming



The movie does weird things with a couple of characters. Dikko Henderson isn't a racist Australian bastard in the movie, but a snooty Englishman who's adopted some Japanese culture while refusing to give up all of his own. As much as I dislike the movie Henderson though (more on that tomorrow), the real crime is what they've done to Blofeld. I'll have more to say about that on Friday, but dang that is not the villain Fleming wrote.

Cold Open



Dahl's newness to the Bond series is felt right away with the cold open. Instead of continuing the previous films' trajectory of increasingly more exciting sequences, YOLT opens with a plot-heavy series of three scenes. First is the space walk in which a mysterious rocket opens up and swallows a US capsule (killing an astronaut in the process). There's a good two minutes of boring control room chatter before the second rocket even shows up. I imagine that might have been fascinating to audiences in the mid-'60s, but it's a long, slow, two minutes today.

After that, the movie cuts to some kind of summit meeting where the US and USSR stubbornly threaten each other over the crisis while Britain calmly, but sternly encourages them to focus their attention on finding a third party. Britain's portrayed as a powerful mediator, which is really interesting considering the novel's theme about Britain's declining influence in the post-WWII world.

Finally, the cold open cuts to Japan where Bond is supposedly investigating the rocket's disappearance, since the mysterious rocket supposedly landed somewhere around there. But we don't see any investigating, because Bond is immediately shot and killed in bed. There's no action anywhere in the cold open; just this cliffhanger. Sadly, that lack of excitement will plague the rest of the film.

Top 10 Cold Opens

1. Thunderball
2. Goldfinger
3. From Russia With Love
4. You Only Live Twice
5. TBD
6. TBD
7. TBD
8. TBD
9. TBD
10. TBD

Movie Series Continuity



Bond obviously didn't die before the credits. It's all MI6's trying to fool SPECTRE into thinking they'd got rid of him. Which makes sense because they've known all about him since From Russia With Love. What doesn't make any sense is that MI6 actually goes to the trouble to bury the real Bond at sea. Couldn't they just have dumped a dummy or something? The way Bond gets on board the submarine is convoluted and unnecessary.

Once he's there though, we get another hatrack gag when he tosses his naval cap onto one in Moneypenny's office. And we've now set a precedence for M's taking his entire office and staff into the field. This will happen a few more times in the series and it's never convincing to me.

After his briefing, Moneypenny tries to give Bond a Japanese phrase book, but he tells her that he "took a first in Oriental languages at Cambridge." The obituary in the novel doesn't mention Cambridge, but it comes up again later in the movies.

Following up on Bond's excellent knowledge of alcohol from Goldfinger, Bond knows the correct temperature for serving saké. And speaking of alcohol, there's a strange bit of discontinuity when Bond meets with Henderson, but I think I'll talk about that tomorrow.

Finally, Blofeld makes an odd comment about Bond's being the only agent SPECTRE knows who uses a Walther PPK. I thought it was pretty firmly established in Dr. No that those were standard issue for Double-O agents, of whom we saw in Thunderball that there are nine. I might be adding 2 and 2 and getting 5, but this looks like a ridiculous case of the movie series' getting too big for itself. Audiences associate the Walther PPK with Bond, so the villains apparently do too. The snake is eating its own tail.

If you haven't guessed yet, I really don't much care for You Only Live Twice.

Woe in Westeros: The Game of TV Thrones [Guest Post]



By GW Thomas

SPOILERS BELOW FOR GAME OF THRONES THROUGH LAST SEASON

The battle ax of success is a two-bladed bitch. Take George RR Martin for example. He wrote for decades, publishing award-winning science fiction, novels of fantastic depth of character, and even worked in television for a time. Now with the success of The Game of Thrones, GRRM has everything. The fattest bestsellers, the hottest cable show, the possibility of a feature film. Martin has even won the name "The American Tolkien." How many of us haven't wished for that kind of success?

But that ax has a second side, remember? That sharp edge has shown itself recently as execs at HBO have turned up the pressure on George to write the sixth book of what will be his seven-part masterwork. Martin has told avid readers before that it takes him two years to write one of his Song of Fire and Ice books. And therein lies the rub. TV shows are made every year, not every two. So what does Martin do with this kind of JK Rowling-level pressure?

He could do two things I hope he'd never do: 1) let other people make up the next season (as HBO has threatened to do), or 2) hand in some quickly written crap. Both of these choices will produce a sad end to what has been an amazing run of television. Hacks (even talented ones) watering down Martin's vision would be the low road to another Legend of the Seeker. Martin quickly throwing together the last two books could lead to storylines that remain unfinished or faltering like the mysteries in Lost. HBO should think carefully on all of this.

I think I have a solution. There has been some discussion around how many seasons the show will go. The producers say seven. HBO says ten. George says, "Let's see." So what will they do after the seven bestsellers? My answer is TALES FROM WESTEROS, an anthology show based on the larger show. Imagine it. Ten episodes about different characters in different parts, different times, of that amazing world. These, of course, would be written by others under GRRM's watchful eye, with Martin providing the last and best episode (probably about the dragons). This would buy HBO and GRRM another year. And whenever they needed more time, do another one. Or after all the regular books are done, fill out the ten years with more. (Martin was producer on the new Twilight Zone and edited a tribute book to Jack Vance set in his world, The Dying Earth, so he has experience at this kind of thing.)

Some episodes I'd like to see would include:

Another nice part of this idea is we could see some past characters return, like Ygritte played by Rose Leslie, who died in last season's storyline. I'd love a smaller story about Ygritte and Jon Snow before he left the Free Folk. More info on the dangers of the land beyond the wall, please.

Arya and the Hound traveled together for most of Season Four. Lots of opportunities for stories on that journey. The same for Brienne of Tagarth and Jaime Lannister as they made their way south. This would be before Jaime lost his hand, perhaps? Jojen and Meera Reed, Brandon Stark, Hodor's journey to the frozen north has plenty of room for things to happen too.

Grey Worm and the Unsullied have tons of potential still. I'd like a story without too much Daenerys Targaryen or dragons in it (I'm probably in the minority there.) Jorah Mormont is a favorite so he'd be in it for sure. If Jason Momao would return as Drogo, a Dothraki tale would be as welcome too.

Nothing says you have to stay within the current time frame either. Theon and Asha Greyjoy as children is intriguing. Of course, you could do this for lots of characters, but the bizarre Greyjoy childhood would work well. The Lannisters as children is another way to go but not as interesting to my mind. (The opening scene of Season 5 featured a young Cersei Lannister and a friend visiting a fortune teller. Imagine same but as part of an hour drama.)

Bronn and Tyrion Lannister are probably the best buddy team since Fafhrd and Grey Mouser. (Though in Season Five, it's Bronn and Jaime Lannister!) You could do an entire show about these two. Petyr Baelish and Varys are naturals for a convoluted story of matched wits. Of course, you'd have to include Pycelle because Julian Glover is Fantasy royalty. There are plenty of other groups of characters matching wits. You could even bring Joffrey back (Don't wait too long. Jack Gleeson is a growing boy, of course. You want a avoid any Harry Potter stubble.)

In a show with a zillion characters (and there will be new ones this season), small episodes around two or three of them would not be hard to do as long as you gave the viewer some way to know when in the chronology they are watching. Smaller stories could allow the show to explore different kinds of narratives: romantic encounters, horror tales, magical and mysterious questions, military and martial matters. The smorgasbord of storytelling could be as wide as Westeros itself. Unlike allowing HBO writers to finish the series, these episodes are contained within Martin's greater vision and would not lead to anything as awful as Lena Headley in a skin-tight leather suit carving up white walkers in slow-mo. (Legend of the Seeker fans, you know what I mean!)

George, HBO, I hope you're listening.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Unused literary Bond scenes that need filming, Part 001



I teamed up again with the Artistic Licence Renewed site to discuss our favorite scenes from the Bond novels that haven't yet shown up in the movies. It's the first of two parts counting down our Top 10.  Take a look and see if you agree. And see if you can guess what's in the Top 5!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Michael and Jason at C2E2



Jason Copland and I will be at C2E2 this weekend, hanging out at Table L2 in Artist Alley (right next to Eric Freaking Powell!). C2E2 is the one, big show I do every year and there are friends that I don't see any other time. This year I also get to meet the Nerd Lunch guys in person for the first time.

But one of my favorite things about the show - or any convention really - is just sitting at the table and meeting readers. If you're there, I hope you'll come by and say hello.

Kill All Monsters is coming to Dark Horse Comics!



Dark Horse's solicitations for July are out, including the announcement of a Kill All Monsters story in Dark Horse Presents #12. As the first year of the relaunched DHP comes to a close, Jason and I are ecstatic to be part of the legendary anthology series. Having Kill All Monsters published by Dark Horse is seriously a dream come true. I can't even tell you how much without totally embarrassing myself.

This will be a brand new story, serialized over three issues and - for the first time ever - in FULL COLOR thanks to the breathtaking Bill Crabtree. Extraordinary Ed Brisson is still on the KAM team too, lettering the story.

The blurb for the issue also mentions that it's "a tie-in to the Kill All Monsters hardcover," which is certainly true. That the hardcover is "on sale now" isn't accurate though. We're working on that and it's going to be amazing, but it'll be a while longer yet. We'll keep you updated. For now, Dark Horse Presents is puh-lenty to be excited about.

One last thing. There are plans to collect the DHP story at some point, but not in color. If you want to read it that way (and you totally do, because I've seen the finished version and wow), the Dark Horse Presents issues are the way to do it.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

7 Days in May | While We're Young Guns

The Big Country (1958)



As I said last week, we watched a lot of Westerns getting ready for our trip to Arizona, but they all had something to do with the state. They were either filmed there or set there. As we were watching them though, I kept thinking of a couple of others that I really wanted to share with David, so we watched those when we got back.

The first is The Big Country, which is probably my favorite Western. People talk a lot about how Unforgiven deconstructed and commented on the Western genre (and it did), but The Big Country did it 34 years before. Gregory Peck plays a greenhorn from the East who's moved out to an unidentified part of the West (I always assume it's Texas, but most of the movie was shot in California) to marry his girl. I say "greenhorn," because that's how he dresses and that's what everyone takes him for. We learn quickly that he's a sea captain, so that's cool, but then we also learn that his father owns the shipping company he works for, so we don't know right away if he's any good at his job or if Daddy just gave him the job. I mean, it's Gregory Peck, so we can make a really great guess about which of those is true, but the movie lets us learn about James McKay along with the other characters.

There's a plot about a feud between McKay's future father-in-law and another rancher (played by Burl Ives in a way that's more wicked than I'm entirely comfortable with from the guy who sings "Pearly Shells"), but the thrust of the movie is about how everyone in the West judges McKay and finds him wanting, mostly because he refuses to prove himself to them. He has plenty to prove to himself though and that's the stuff that hooks me right through the cheek. He's an amazing, inspirational character and reveals the macho posturing of the cowboys (Charlton Heston in particular as the foreman of the father-in-law's ranch) for the childishness that it really is. The movie's got a great cast (Jean Simmons is also in it as the best friend of McKay's fiancé and Chuck Connors plays Ives' son), powerful themes, and a humorous touch that makes it super engaging.

Young Guns (1988)



The other Western I was excited to share was Young Guns. I'm the same age as most of the guys in this cast, so Young Guns made a big impact on me when it came out. It's got some of my favorite actors, great action, and a lot of humor, which are what I thought I was responding to back in the day. Looking back on it though, I realize that subconsciously I was also very into the concept of young men who didn't feel like they had any power, but learned that they could make a difference in their world. Sadly, it wasn't as big a hit with David and Diane, but I enjoyed the heck out of watching it again.

While We're Young (2015)



As an old guy who enjoys hanging out with younger people, I was intrigued with the idea of Noah Baumbach's latest film. I like Ben Stiller more often than I don't and I'm becoming a huge Adam Driver fan thanks to his performances in This Is Where I Leave You and What If. Naomi Watts will always be cool to me thanks to King Kong and Amanda Seyfried is endlessly interesting to watch. And then there's Charles Grodin, whom I can never get enough of.

So with all that going for it, I was surprised to not enjoy While We're Young more. It's got some cool ideas and funny moments and it raises good questions about age and art and truth and ambition and success. That's all great. But it hangs all of these things on the relationship between Stiller and Driver's characters. I had a hard time buying them as people who would want to spend a lot of time together. Or maybe I just didn't understand why anyone would want to spend a lot of time with Stiller's character. He has so many quirks and hang-ups that not only is he insufferable, he's also dealing with such specific issues that I wasn't able to relate to his point of view. And that's a problem when his point of view is the filter through which the movie's big questions are looked at and explored.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Thunderball (1965) | Music



After the worldwide success of Goldfinger, the budget for Thunderball got much much bigger. One of the improvements with the new money was to film the whole thing in Panavision anamorphic widescreen, which meant reshooting the opening gun barrel sequence. In the first three films, the Bond that walks into the gun barrel, turns, and shoots is stuntman Bob Simmons. And he's in black and white. With Thunderball, they replaced Simmons with Sean Connery on color film.

According to title designer Maurice Binder, who had resolved his dispute with Saltzman and Broccoli and was back after sitting out the last two films, he'd seen the pre-title sequence and knew that it ended with the Aston Martin's shooting water at the screen. He decided to merge that into the title sequence and went the opposite direction from the two Robert Brownjohn sequences. Instead of projecting light onto women's bodies against a dark background, Binder filmed swimmers and projected their silhouettes against colorized images of bubbles in the water. The effect was a huge success and became the template for almost every Bond title sequence that followed. It's a good sequence, hinting at the underwater motif that's so important to the film, and I love the way the titles come in looking like light reflecting on water.

Meanwhile, John Barry brought back "Goldfinger" co-writer Leslie Bricusse to help write the new title song and they came up with "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" after a nickname for Bond created by the Italian press. Shirley Bassey was also brought back to record it, but Saltzman and Brocolli weren't totally happy with her version.



Part of why they didn't like it was the arrangement, so the second version featured a longer intro that works in the Bond theme and allows the lyrics to start after we've seen the name of the film. But they could have rerecorded that and still used Bassey, so there was apparently something about her performance that they also didn't care for. In the second version, they used Dionne Warwick. I don't know what the producers' specific issues were, but Bassey's version is bombastic while Warwick's is sultry. I love Bassey, but if they were going for a seductive quality, I can see why they preferred Warwick's take.


It was United Artists that put the halt on even that version though. They thought the theme song ought to actually mention the name of the movie (and generally speaking, they weren't wrong), so they sent Barry back to start over. This time he teamed up with Don Black, who was the manager and occasional song-writer of From Russia With Love singer Matt Monro. Barry and Black quickly banged out the "Thunderball" theme, brought in Tom Jones to sing it, and the rest is history (though elements of "Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" are still in the soundtrack, particularly in the song the band's playing at the Kiss Kiss Club when Fiona's shot.

Incidentally, Johnny Cash also submitted a song using the film's name. It's a pretty good Johnny Cash song, but - and I say this as a huge fan of Cash - it's not a passable Bond theme. Maybe Barry could have done something with it, but I still think he made the right choice.



I love Tom Jones and I love the music of the final song, but I don't love the lyrics. Maybe it's because I've never been able to decide whom they refer to. Is the song about Bond, like "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang"? Or is it about the villain - Largo, in this case - like the theme to Goldfinger? The words are ambiguous enough that they could refer to either, which sort of makes them refer to neither. They're generic.

As with Goldfinger, Barry doesn't use the James Bond Theme a lot in Thunderball. It shows up during the pre-credits fight (helpful for getting audiences in the mood) and again to close things out at the very end, but for the most part Barry uses elements of the two theme songs and also the 007 Theme he created for From Russia With Love. I guess another way of looking at it is that Barry's using the Bond Theme more and more sparingly as the series goes on.

Top Ten Theme Songs

1. From Russia With Love (John Barry instrumental version)
2. Dr No
3. Thunderball
4. Goldfinger
5. From Russia With Love (Matt Monro vocal version)
6. TBD
7. TBD
8. TBD
9. TBD
10. TBD

Top Ten Title Sequences

1. Dr No
2. Thunderball
3. Goldfinger
4. From Russia With Love
5. TBD
6. TBD
7. TBD
8. TBD
9. TBD
10. TBD

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